Memory of the Garden at Etten (Ladies of Arles) is an oil painting by Vincent van Gogh. It was executed in Arles around November 1888 and is in the collection of the Hermitage Museum. It was intended as decoration for his bedroom at the Yellow House.
The "Garden at Etten" refers to the parsonage garden at Etten (now Etten-Leur) where Vincent's father, pastor Theodorus van Gogh, had been called in 1875. Vincent spent periods of time there, notably from Easter to Christmas 1881 when he returned to join his brother Theo, an art dealer, determined to become an artist. This period at Etten represents the beginning proper of Vincent's 10-year career as an artist. He had drawn since boyhood, and the previous year had enrolled in a beginners' class in Brussels where he met the painter Anthon van Rappard, but he now began to draw in earnest. He rapidly developed an accomplished technique in landscape drawing but remained rather more uncertain in his figure drawing, which he practiced assiduously with the aid of Charles Bargue's drawing course. Rappard made a 12-day visit during this time, and they sketched together in the marshes and heaths round Etten. Vincent also visited his cousin-in-law Anton Mauve in The Hague, a celebrated artist of the time, who had expressed an interest in his drawings and who encouraged him further. At this time Vincent had not progressed as far as painting, though he did wash some of his drawings with watercolor. At the end of the year he made an extended visit to Mauve, who introduced him to painting. He returned to Etten with the intention of setting up a studio there.
...The painting is plainly influenced by Gauguin's Arlésiennes (Mistral) painted at the same time. In his letters about the painting Vincent makes it clear he was at pains to use his imagination in the way Gauguin was countenancing.
In Gauguin's painting the figure of the older woman is recognisably Madame Ginoux who ran the Café de la Gare where Vincent had lodged and which he and Gauguin continued to patronise after moving into the nearby Yellow House. Vincent's figures are generally taken to be his mother and sister Willemien. Vincent 's biographer Marc Edo Tralbaut, however, was of the opinion that the younger woman was, consciously or unconsciously, a representation of Kee Vos Stricker. Vincent was somewhat enigmatic on the subject in a letter to his sister...
In a later letter, he says he has spoiled the painting and refers to it as "that thing I did of the garden at Nuenen" (i.e. his later family home and not Etten), leading Hulsker to suggest he really had no particular location in mind. Hulsker is puzzled by the remark that Vincent thought he had spoiled the painting, describing the painting as fascinating and enigmatic, "rich in subdued yet sparkling colors". Both he and Tralbaut are reminded of medieval stained-glass windows.