A painting that zooms in on the low vegetation under trees, the forest floor or ivy is called a sous-bois (‘undergrowth’). Van Gogh paints sous-bois motifs throughout his entire career. He also calls them ‘eternal nests of greenery for lovers’.
Van Gogh creates this work in the lush, overgrown garden of the asylum. He paints it using various shades of yellow (ochre), green, brown and blue, and applies the paint in a thick impasto, wet-on-wet with a fluent, lively touch. The short brushstrokes form a rhythmic pattern that accurately depicts the dense vegetation.
While painting outdoors, the artist sometimes draws the attention of other residents in the asylum: ‘They all come to see when I’m working in the garden, and I can assure you are more discreet and more polite to leave me in peace than, for example, the good citizens of Arles’.