Les Alyscamps was a famous ancient burial ground dating back to Roman times. All that remained of it when Van Gogh went to Arles was what is shown here: a wide aenue lined on either side by rows of poplars and ancient sarcophagi. Van Gogh painted this scene four times as part of a series featuring the different seasons. Before completing these he wrote to Theo explaining that he had already represented spring, seen in works such as Peach Trees in Blossom (Souvenir of Mauve) (1888) and summer, portrayed in paintings like Haystacks in Provence (1888), and now wanted to paint the other times of theyear.
Almost symmetrical in format, Van Gogh has animated the composition by making one side distinctly darker than the other. Nevertheless, one is still struck by the central position we find ourselves in, with everything receding to a blurred green focal point of distant foliage. Even the sky forms a shape that points in that direction. As usual, however, the illusion of pictorial space is contradicted by the painting's flatness. Again the sky is significant: rather than being painted as something airy and etheral which theoretically continues to exist behind the trees, here it appears as a triangular block of color in its own right. The paint is layered thickly and steadily in the manner of Gauguin, whocse influence was alrelady visible in Souvenir of the Garden at Etten. Gaugin's Symbolist ideas could also have affected Van Gogh's choice of subject matter in this picture - the sarcophagi are ripe with morbid symbolisy potential.