'Practical palette'

In the summer of 1882, Van Gogh is able to buy his own oil paints for the first time, thanks to a financial bonus from his brother Theo. He chooses ‘a practical palette with healthy colours’ that he doesn’t have to mix himself. He also purchases a perspective frame that can be set up on uneven ground. One of the first paintings he subsequently makes is Girl in a wood.

 ‘Air’ into the composition

He selects browns, yellows and greens from his ‘practical palette’, and uses the perspective frame to correctly depict the narrowing of the tree-trunks towards the background and the distances between them, so that ‘air’ is introduced into the composition. He explains to Theo that he thereby aims to ensure ‘that one can breathe and wander about in it – and smell the woods’

On his knees

He most likely painted it on his knees. This is apparent from the low perspective, but research has also found that pieces of oak leaves from the forest floor have become lodged in the paint.

Images: detail of one of the 3 leaves / the spot where the leaf was found in the painting