The Langlois Bridge with Women Washing

The Langlois Bridge with Women Washing

"As far as work goes, I brought home a no.15 canvas today, it’s a drawbridge, with a little carriage going across it, outlined against a blue sky — the river blue as well, the banks orange with greenery, a group of washerwomen wearing blouses and multicoloured bonnets."
Currently Located:
Painting Date
19th of March 1888
Detailed Image Links
This is the first of four oil on canvas works Vincent does of a drawbridge just outside of the ancient roman Arles city walls.  He will also paint a water color and create three drawings and a sketch of the canal and its drawbridge over the next three months.  Vincent is optimistic and excited to be painting outside again after a stubborn Provence winter finally loosened its grip.
Vincent finds the washerwomen of Arles on the banks of the Arles-Bouc canal next to the Langlois drawbridge. He pulls out his perspective frame and captures the scene in oil on canvas on the easel he sets by the side of the canal.  His Parisien-Dutch version of french lead him to misunderstand the locals and he errantly refers to the location as the Pont L’Anglais in his letters, but it is known he is referring to Pont Langlois.
Vincent contrasts the dramatic lines of the bright yellow drawbridge against a soft blue sky, very thinly and evenly applied to the top third of the canvas.  The blue of the sky is repeated in the rippled water with the shaded undersides of the bridges crossed upper beams being repeated in the water as well.
The washerwomen in bonnets created wakes as they clean their loads and a horse-drawn carriage crosses the bridge above them.  The sun reflects brightly off the walls supporting the bridge and Vincent mixes strokes of green and ochre for the hillsides and vegetation in spring growth.
The painting has very few shadows and a “more flat” feeling to it because of this chosen effect, honoring again the brothers’ shared love of Japanese woodblock prints.  The color selection can be compared to Hiroshige’s “Sudden  Shower over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake” – 1857, a related item in honor of whom Vincent had already painted an homage.
Vincent was reminded of home by this type of drawbridge as they are common in the Netherlands and he mentions this in a letter a few months later. Nearly all critics agree that his final effort at the bridge is one of his masterpieces and the other repetitions of the scene show great experimentation with color combination, juxtaposition of fields of color and a stained glass or “cloissonne-esque” way of dividing those fields of color.
There is a distinct Japanese woodblock print “feel” to many of Vincent’s canvases in this first Spring in Provence as he synthesizes the theories of Seurat, Bernard, Guillamin, Anquetin and his heroes, Millet and Monticelli with color theory principles becoming more accepted in second half of the 19th century.
These compositions were among Vincent’s favorites to date and he decides to make variations of the original color schemes he selects in this first canvas.  In other related versions, Vincent will try varying shades and color combinations when he is driven into the studio by the fierce mistral winds of Provence or the spring showers that settled the dust on the streets and roads of the environs of Arles.
Vincent will create a rendition for his brother and intended this first canvas for Tersteeg, an art dealer and friend of the Van Gogh family – one who is not very fond of Vincent’s art or personality.  Tersteeg gave Vincent his first art supplies and lessons and encouraged him to pursue his new passion but later withdrew his support of Vincent while maintaining a business relationship with Theo. Vincent believes this is the canvas that will turn Tersteeg in his favor and make him reconsider his earlier rejections of his paintings.
The counter-balanced and gracefully designed Pont de Langlois, was named for a former bridge keeper and connected Arles to the Bouc canal and the Mediterranean sea.  The bridge Vincent stood by along the canal banks in the Spring sunshine of Provence in 1888 was built in the 1850s but removed in 1930 without much concern after Vincent left Arles as its design became dated.
The concrete structure that replaced it was destroyed by bombs during World War II and only one wooden drawbridge was left crossing a canal.  After the war, the people of Arles moved this similar wooden drawbridge to a place about about two miles from where the original once stood.  This is what is shown in the “Street View” selection and where you can contemplate a view similar to Vincent’s today.
Shown in Compare Two is a fragment of a later painting of the same scene that fetched over 7 million dollars in 2013 at auction. It is next to a sketch of the painting Vincent drew for his friend Emile Bernard in a letter.  Vincent felt he had ruined this later canvas by re-working it and all but the scrap of lovers walking on the path was either reused or discarded and lost forever.


“My dear Theo,
I thank you very much for your letter, which I hadn’t even dared to expect so soon as regards the 50-franc note you included with it.
I see you’ve had no response yet from Tersteeg — I don’t see the need to press the point from our end in a new letter — however, if you had some official business to transact with the firm of Boussod Valadon & Cie in The Hague you could make it clear in a P.S. that you’re quite surprised that he hasn’t let you know that he received the letter in question.
As far as work goes, I brought home a no.15 canvas today, it’s a drawbridge, with a little carriage going across it, outlined against a blue sky — the river blue as well, the banks orange with greenery, a group of washerwomen wearing blouses and multicoloured bonnets.
And another landscape with a little rustic bridge and washerwomen as well. Lastly an avenue of plane trees near the station. 12 studies altogether since I’ve been here.

The weather’s changeable, often windy and cloudy skies — but the almond trees are starting to blossom everywhere. All in all I’m very pleased that the paintings are at the Independents.*

You’ll do well to go and see Signac at his place. I was very pleased at what you wrote in today’s letter, that he made a better impression on you than the first time. In any case I’m happy to know that from today you won’t be on your own in the apartment. Be sure to say hello to Koning for me. Is your health good? As far as mine goes, it’s better, but eating’s a real chore as I have a fever and no appetite, but it’s just a passing thing and a question of patience.”

To Theo. Arles, on or about Friday, 16 March 1888


*(The fourth exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants was due to be staged in Paris from 22 March to 3 May 1888. This society, founded in 1884 by Odilon Redon, Albert Dubois-Pillet, Georges Seurat, Paul Signac, Charles Angrand and Henri Edmond Cross, invited artists to exhibit at its alternative Salon, where the works were not adjudicated.  Theo chose to show:  Montmartre: behind the Moulin de la Galette (F 316 ) and Vegetable gardens in Montmartre (F 350) and Piles of French novels and roses in a glass (‘Romans parisiens’) (F 359)


Theo interpreted Vincent’s offhand attitude towards the selection of the works as a sign that he did not really care about being represented at this exhibition: ‘He himself doesn’t attach much importance to this exhibition, but here, where there are so many painters, it’s essential to make himself known and the exhibition is the best means of doing it’ (FR b915, Theo to Willemien, 14 March 1888).   Van Gogh Letters 


“I regret that living here isn’t as cheap as I’d hoped, and until now I haven’t found a way of getting by as easily as one could do in Pont-Aven. I started out paying 5 francs and now I’m on 4 francs a day. One would need to know the local patois, and know how to eat bouillabaisse and aïoli, then one would surely find an inexpensive family boarding-house. Then if there were several of us, I’m inclined to believe we’d get more favourable terms. Perhaps there’d be a real advantage in emigrating to the south for many artists in love with sunshine and colour.
The Japanese may not be making progress in their country, but there’s no doubt that their art is being carried on in France. At the top of this letter I’m sending you a little croquis of a study that’s preoccupying me as to how to make something of it — sailors coming back with their sweethearts towards the town, which projects the strange silhouette of its drawbridge against a huge yellow sun.
I have another study of the same drawbridge with a group of washerwomen. Shall be happy to have a line from you to know what you’re doing and where you’re going to go. A very warm handshake to you and the friends.”


Yours truly,

To Emile Bernard. Arles, Sunday, 18 March 1888


Relevant Letters – Van Gogh Letters website


Painting, Oil on Canvas – 54 x 65 cm – size 15
Arles: March 15, 1888
Kröller-Müller Museum
Otterlo, The Netherlands, Europe
F: 397, JH: 1368

Where Vincent Was:

Start Discussion

Leave your email address and Vincent will write you with a painting and his thoughts...

(Don’t worry, Vincent is busy painting and doesn’t send more than one a week!)

You have Successfully Subscribed!