Bridges across the Seine at Asnieres

Bridges across the Seine at Asnieres

"I saw Tanguy yesterday and he put a canvas I had just done in his window, I’ve done four since you left, and I have a big one on the go. I’m well aware that these big, long canvases are hard to sell, but in time people will see that there’s open air and good cheer in them. Now the whole lot will make a decoration for a dining room or a house in the country."
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Painting Date
30th of July 1887
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In this colorful canvas from the Summer of 1887, Vincent has framed the railroad bridge known as the Pont du Chemin de Fer and the bridge behind it in the distance is the Pont d’Asnieres.  Vincent uses short horizontal and vertical strokes and more of an impressionistic blend of colors as he seeks to employ what he has learned from the new artists of the Grand Boulevard and applies his own experimentation with simultaneous color contrasts.

He is working to infuse the color theories of Charles Blanc and one of his painting heroes, Adolphe Monticelli, by the calculated placement of certain colors alongside one another. Oranges close to deep lavender and greens juxtaposed with reds to make each more vibrant to the viewer.  Vincent also is moving from the careful lines of a dutch trained draftsman to a looser and more interpreted variety of brushstrokes with short lines and dabs of paint doing the work of expressing his mind’s eye.

This more industrial part of the suburbs was across the Seine from Clichy with the Ile de Le Grande Jatte (of Seurat fame) separating the two.  Asnieres was a popular perspective for the impressionists beginning with Monet in the early 1870’s and Seurat a decade later in 1883 to 1886 with Renoir in between.   In the summer of 1887 Paul Signac and Vincent put their easels down outside, in the plein air, and painted where the Parisians beat the summer heat with a swim or row in the river as the artists captured their reflections and impressions of them.

Vincent was painting and collaborating and vehemently discussing art and color with fellow Atelier Cormon student Emile Bernard in Asnieres Sur Seine in the Summer of 1887.  He had met the younger and very talented Bernard during his tutelage at the Cormon studio the previous year where Bernard attended along with Lautrec and Anquetin and other post impressionist artists.  Bernard grew up in the Paris suburb of Asnieres Sur Seine (“ahn-yair sir sen”), now famous as the birthplace of Louis Vitton luggage and a good walk down the hill from the Van Gogh brother’s apartment on Rue Lepic in Montmartre.

Vincent will create this canvas of the steel and riveted bridges in the summer, probably with Bernard set up nearby, painting the same scene but with his own style.  Emile Bernard and Louis Anquetin create what they call “cloissonism” with large areas of flat color demarcated by thick, dark edges — similar to a stained glass window.  A wave of Japanese fever is bubbling in Paris and at the art store where all the young artists buy their paint and the owner allows them to display their latest canvases – Pere Tanguy’s shop.

Bernard, Anquetin, Lautrec, Vincent and Paul Gauguin will all seek to employ the techniques of the Japanese wood block print masters like Hiroshige, Hokusai and Eisen for a period in their own work.  The influence is evident as the art becomes accessible and popular in the Paris art scene as Japan’s opening trade to the west in the 1850’s flooded the art market with prints of their woodblock print masters.

The related images include a map of Paris in 1886 and a black and white photograph of Vincent with his back to us, sitting with Emile Bernard at a small table on the Seine just above the bridges at Asnieres, probably taken in 1887 .  Bernard’s depiction of the same bridges, also done in the summer of 1887, “Iron Bridges at Asnieres” might have been one of the things they discussed as fall approached.

Also related to this location are Paul Signac’s “Le Clipper, Asnieres” done in 1887 and Seurat’s “Bathers at Asnieres“, completed in 1884 after a year of studies and work in the studio.  This was in advance of the nearby located “Sunday Afternoon on the Grand Jatte“, Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece completed in 1886 which set Paris’ art world on fire.  All the works are from slightly different but adjacent perspectives and include these bridges.

The Compare images are Vincent’s and Emile Bernard’s interpretations of essentially the same view in the summer of 1887, when Vincent and Emile Bernard and Paul Signac painted canvases in Asnieres Sur Seine, a few kilometers from Montmartre and the Isle de La Cite. Note in street view below how you can see the Pont d’Asnieres in between the pylons of the railroad pont.  5 avenue de Beaulieu was the Bernard family address in Asnières.

The Audio Guide selection has a brief narrative of the setting in Paris in 1887 when Vincent created this canvas.



Vincent writes his brother in early summer of 1887:


“Now I have two louis left, and I fear I won’t know how to get through the days from now till you get back.  Because remember when I started working at Asnières I had lots of canvases and Tanguy was very good to me. He still is, when it comes down to it, but his old witch of a wife noticed what was going on and objected to it.
Now I gave Tanguy’s wife a piece of my mind and said it was her fault if I wouldn’t buy anything else from them. PèreTanguy’s wise enough to keep quiet, and he’ll do what I ask of him all the same.  But with all that it isn’t easy to work.
I saw Lautrec today, he’s sold a painting, through Portier, I think.   Someone brought in a watercolour by Mrs Mesdag, which I find very beautiful.
Now I hope you’ll enjoy your visit over there, give my motherCor and Wil my warm regards. And if you can see that I’m not in too much trouble from now till you get back by sending me something more, I’ll try to make some more paintings for you — because I’m perfectly calm as far as my work goes.”

To Theo. Paris, between about Sunday, 17 and Tuesday, 19 July 1887

Vincent writing his sister Willemein in late summer:
“What I think about my own work is that the painting of the peasants eating potatoes that I did in Nuenen is after all the best thing I did. Only since then I haven’t had the opportunity to find models, but on the contrary have had the opportunity to study the question of colour. And if I do find models for my figures again later, then I hope to show that I’m looking for something other than little green landscapes or flowers.
Last year I painted almost nothing but flowers to accustom myself to a colour other than grey, that’s to say pink, soft or bright green, light blue, violet, yellow, orange, fine red. And when I painted a landscape in Asnières this summer I saw more colour in it than before. I’m studying this now in portraits. And I have to tell you that I’m painting none the worse for it, perhaps because I could tell you very many bad things about both painters and paintings if I wanted to, just as easily as I could tell you good things about them.”

To Willemien van Gogh. Paris, late October 1887


Deeper Analysis on this canvas and some related canvases mentioned above.


Painting, Oil on Canvas – 52 × 65 cm (20.5 × 25.6 in)
Paris, France: Summer, 1887
Foundation E.G. Bührle
Zurich, Switzerland, Europe
F: 301, JH: 1327

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