Seascape near Saintes Maries de la Mer

Seascape near Saintes Maries de la Mer

"I leave early tomorrow morning for Saintes-Maries, on the Mediterranean; I’ll stay there till Saturday evening. I’m taking two canvases but I’m a little afraid there could well be too much wind to paint. You go by diligence, it’s 50 kilometres from here. You cross the Camargue, grassy plains where there are herds of bulls and herds of small white horses, half-wild and quite beautiful..."
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In late May and the first few days of June in 1888, Vincent rides in a stagecoach or “diligence” from Arles to the seaside village of Saintes Maries de la Mer.  The 50 kilometer dusty ride ends with his first views of the Mediterranean Sea where the Rhone river empties.  More about the naming of the village and its French Catholic roots here.


Vincent sets his easel in the sand near the sea’s edge and captures the fishermen coming in to beach their brightly painted boats on the sand after a day on the waves.  The sky and sea meet about two thirds of the way up the canvas and both are composed of blues and whites with the sea adding greens and a deeper blue violet.  Vincent varies his stroke and volume of paint application with the breaking waves in the foreground being thickest in white swirls.


The sail of the boat reflects the blues of the sea and the sky with deep green and red divided by thick lines of black against a horizon seemingly higher on the left side of the boat than right.  Vincent is gleefully seeing through the eyes of a Japanese artist and leaning closer to Bernard and Anquetin’s “cloisson-esque” style in this and the other pieces he paints of Saintes Maries.


Vincent paints three canvases and creates several drawings over the two and a half days he stays in the small fishing village.  When he returns to Arles, he will paint several canvases based on the drawings he made on site during his stay.   Already planning to return by the time he boards the stage home to Arles, unfortunately Vincent will never come back to Saintes Maries nor the Mediterranean.


The related items include the other seascape canvas begun on the same windy day in early June; several reed pen and ink on paper drawings Vincent created while at the sea, and a painting of the fishing boats along the beach.   The two seascapes have small particles of windblown sand encased in Vincent’s thick “impasto” application of paints.




My dear Theo,
If the roll isn’t too big to be accepted at the post office, you’ll receive another large pen drawing that I’d very much like the Pissarros to see if they come on Sunday. I’ve just received part of the order for colours, and I thank you very much for it.


I leave early tomorrow morning for Saintes-Maries, on the Mediterranean; I’ll stay there till Saturday evening.  I’m taking two canvases but I’m a little afraid there could well be too much wind to paint.


You go by diligence, it’s 50 kilometres from here. You cross the Camargue, grassy plains where there are herds of bulls and herds of small white horses, half-wild and quite beautiful.


I’m taking everything I need in order to draw, especially. I have to draw a lot, for the very reason you were speaking of in your last letter — things here have so much style. And I want to arrive at a more deliberate and exaggerated way of drawing.


To Theo. Arles, Tuesday, 29 or Wednesday, 30 May 1888


My dear Theo,


I’m writing to you from Saintes-Maries on the Mediterranean at last — the Mediterranean — has a colour like mackerel, in other words, changing — you don’t always know if it’s green or purple — you don’t always know if it’s blue — because a second later, its changing reflection has taken on a pink or grey hue.


It’s a funny thing, the family — quite unintentionally, and despite myself, I’ve often thought here from time to time of our uncle the seaman, who has certainly seen the shores of this sea many times.


I’ve brought three canvases and I’ve covered them — two seascapes — a view of the village — and some drawings which I’ll send you by post when I get back to Arles tomorrow.  I board and eat for 4 francs a day — they started by asking 6.  As soon as I can I’ll probably come back to do some more studies here. The beach here is sandy, no cliffs or rocks — like Holland — without the dunes and with more blue.


You eat better fried fish here than beside the Seine — only there isn’t fish to eat every day, as the fishermen go off to sell in Marseille. But when there is some it’s darned good. If there isn’t any — the butcher’s is no more appetizing than Monsieur Gérôme’s fellah butcher’s — if there’s no fish it’s rather hard to find something to eat here, it seems to me.


I don’t believe there are 100 houses in this village or town.  The main building after the old church, an ancient fortress, is the barracks.7 And what houses at that — like those on our Drenthe heaths and peat bogs, you’ll see some specimens in the drawings.  I have to leave my three painted studies here, because of course they aren’t dry enough to subject them to 5 hours’ jolting in a carriage with impunity.  But I expect to come back here.


To Theo. Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, on or about Sunday, 3 or Monday, 4 June 1888.



My dear Theo,


Many thanks for your kind letter and the 50-franc note that was enclosed with it.  We’ll still have to write to Gauguin. The problem is this bloody journey, since we urge him to make it, and afterwards we’d be in an awkward position if it doesn’t suit him. I think I’ll write to him today and will send you the letter.


Now that I’ve seen the sea here I really feel the importance there is in staying in the south and feeling — if the colour has to be even more exaggerated — Africa not far away from one…


…I’ll make you a consignment of rolled-up paintings as soon as the seascapes are dry.


To Theo. Arles, on or about Tuesday, 5 June 1888


Painting, Oil on Canvas – 51 x 64 cm
Saint Maries – Arles: June 4, 1888
Van Gogh Museum
Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe
F: 415, JH: 1452

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