Not long after his arrival in Arles, Van Gogh starts making studies ‘in the wheat and grass’ to familiarise himself with his new surroundings. To him, the region seems just as beautiful as Japan ‘for the clearness of the atmosphere and the gay colour effects’ and it reminds him of Japanese prints.
He becomes aware that he can use colour to express an emotion. Colour doesn’t need to be ‘locally true’, but should be ‘suggesting some emotion, an ardent temperament’. In this landscape, he uses intense colour contrasts to underscore the impressive richness of nature.
Van Gogh paints Pollard willows at sunset in March, just as the new leaves are sprouting on the trees. He uses bright yellow, orange, red and blue colours and applies them with a confident touch of alternately longer and shorter erratic brushstrokes. The clear blue stripe behind the pollard willows probably represents the distant Alpilles mountain range.