Coal Barges (The Stevedores)

Coal Barges (The Stevedores)

"I saw a magnificent and very strange effect this evening. A very large boat laden with coal on the Rhône, moored at the quay. Seen from above it was all glistening and wet from a shower; the water was a white yellow and clouded pearl-grey, the sky lilac and an orange strip in the west, the town violet. On the boat, small workmen, blue and dirty white, were coming and going, carrying the cargo ashore. It was pure Hokusai. It was too late to do it, but one day, when this coal-boat comes back, it’ll have to be tackled"
Details:
Painting Date
22nd of August 1888
Detailed Image Links
Description:

Vincent first draws this quay in August of 1888 when, from a high vantage point, he sees men unloading sand from a barge moored along the Rhone (see Street View) not far from his new Yellow House on Place LaMartine in Arles.   Soon thereafter, he paints the same view back in his studio based upon the drawing (see Compare Two), in a palette similar to Christ in the Tempest by Delacroix.  Finally, in the weeks that follow, he will see coal barges being unloaded at sunset and paint two canvases of the scene, both having a very Japanese feel to them.  The Stevedores or Coal Barges was done first. The other nightfall scene of the same quay was probably created in the same week as Vincent eliminated a few elements of the first sunset – see Compare One.

In mid-August of 1888, Vincent and Theo’s prominent art dealing Uncle ‘Cent passed away.  After having a falling out with Vincent 10 years earlier, he strikes him one last blow from the grave by specifically excluding him from a large inheritance and calling out the fact in the testament.  Theo receives enough inheritance that he will never have to again worry about money, even moreso after his aging mother passes who receives the bulk of the inheritance.  The effect is to further free Vincent to pursue his dream of a studio in the south in Arles where he and his fellow post impressionist friends will work and live in austerity and deliver canvases for sale to Theo in exchange for rent.  Gauguin is the first step of the plan but it will fail after less than two months after his arrival in October – a couple of months after Vincent paints the coal barges being unloaded.

In The Stevedores, Vincent creates a glowing yellow Rhone river topped by an even brighter yellow sky which cover two thirds of his canvas.  The town of Trinquitaille across the river is in view above banks of lavender with cypresses and trees of dark green.  The Trinquitaille Bridge is visible at center left as we look down on workers unloading coal from a barge.  The sky is dashed with brilliant diagonal strokes of cream and red clouds with the trip-color French flag echoing the sky and clouds close to the horizon.  A coal loader with his shovel on his shoulder is silhouetted against the thickly stroked Rhone as another worker pushes a wheelbarrow across a plank to the quay.  Other workers look on or are caught in poses that capture their action or inaction.  Vincent would send “The Stevedores”, a work he was pleased with, to his friend Emile Bernard in the coming months as they corresponded about new directions beyond Impressionism.

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“I saw a magnificent and very strange effect this evening. A very large boat laden with coal on the Rhône, moored at the quay. Seen from above it was all glistening and wet from a shower; the water was a white yellow and clouded pearl-grey, the sky lilac and an orange strip in the west, the town violet. On the boat, small workmen, blue and dirty white, were coming and going, carrying the cargo ashore. It was pure Hokusai. It was too late to do it, but one day, when this coal-boat comes back, it’ll have to be tackled”

To Theo. Arles, Tuesday, 31 July 1888.

 

 

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From the Museum Folkwang, Germany:

“Van Gogh painted this oil study in the summer of 1888 in Arles. In a letter to his brother Theo, he described the motif, which he had previously captured in a drawing: ‘At the moment I am working on a study […] boats, seen from a quay, from above. The two boats are purplish pink, the water is very green, no sky, a tricolor flag on the mast. A workman with a wheelbarrow is unloading sand. I have a drawing of it too’

Specifically, the scene is situated on the landing-place on the left bank of the Rhone, not far from the Place Lamartine, just a few steps away from van Gogh’s studio at the time. The filigree depiction of the boots and their loads, the landing stage, the rudder and the masts give the impression of a rocking, unsteady plane over the water which supports the massively reinforced bank and the heavy chain.  

Together with other studies and a dedication, van Gogh sent the painting to Bernard in October 1888. In his letter he left it open to his friend – if he did not like the painting – to remove the dedication and to return it in exchange for other paintings. “But I think that you will like it, especially after you look at it for a while.”  Bernard kept the study and showed it in an exhibition organized in memory of his friend, who had died two years previously, in Le Bare in 1892.”

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“I have a whole heap of ideas for new canvases. Today I saw that same coal-boat again, with workers unloading it, that I’ve already told you about; in the same place as the sand-boats, of which I’ve sent you a drawing. It would be a grand subject. Only I’m beginning more and more to look for a simple technique that perhaps isn’t Impressionist. I’d like to paint in such a way that if it comes to it, everyone who has eyes could understand it. I’m writing in haste but wanted to send a line to our sister enclosed herewith. Handshake, I must get back to work.”

Ever yours,
Vincent

 

To Theo. Arles, Tuesday, 21 or Wednesday, 22 August 1888

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From the Van Gogh Letters website:

Van Gogh did actually carry out this plan some time later, although with sand barges rather than the coal boat. He split the subject he describes here into two, perhaps because he realized that a high vantage point and a sunset are very hard to reconcile in a single composition.

In the second half of August 1888 he pictured the boats from a high viewpoint, with small figures and with no horizon, giving the scene a Japanese feel. He painted the effect of the sunset. We do not know exactly when the latter two studies were made; there may be a connection with letter 697, in which Van Gogh says he has painted a sunset.

 

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“Well then, I believe your duty as well as mine is to wish for comparative wealth, precisely because we’ll have some very great artists to feed. But at present you’re as happy, or at least happy in the same way as Sensier, if you have Gauguin, and I sincerely hope that he’ll go for it. It’s not urgent, but in any case I believe that he’ll like the house as his studio well enough to agree to be its head. Let’s wait half a year and see what comes of it.

Bernard has sent me another collection of ten or so drawings, with a gallant piece of verse — the whole thing’s entitled ‘at the brothel’.
You’ll see these things soon, but I’ll send you the portraits after looking at them for some time.
I hope you’ll send me your letter soon; I’m very hard up because of the stretching frames and frames that I’ve ordered.
What you say about Fréret pleases me. But I dare believe that I’ll do things that will please him more, and you, too.

Yesterday I painted a sunset.”

To Theo. Arles, Thursday, 4 or Friday, 5 October 1888

 

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Painting, Oil on Canvas – 71 x 95 cm Size 30 Figure
Arles, France: August 22, 1888
Collection Carelton Mitchell
Annapolis, Maryland, United States of America, North America
F: 437, JH: 1570

Where Vincent Was:
Arles

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