Van Gogh’s characteristic long brushstrokes run vertically – only in the hat and facial features do they sometimes seem to curve or swirl.

This is a very controlled painting, although the clashing colours used in the face seem to suggest turmoil.

These colours seem to be original, although Van Gogh often used unstable pigments that changed colour over time: the cadmium yellow of the background, for example, has turned grey brown in places due to a chemical alteration.

Van Gogh’s technique has often been described as expressionistic, but this expression comes from a closely observed version of nature. He, like Cézanne and Gauguin, was described by the British twentieth-century art critic Roger Fry as a ‘Post-Impressionist’, and his use of strong outlines and regular brushstrokes does separate him from the earlier generation of Impressionists.

Close examination of the white paint on the bare canvas that sits on the easel suggests that Van Gogh may have planned to depict another Japanese figure there in a red pigment but the image has faded due to mixing with white. Japan, like Arles, had been an ideal that was now shattered.