The Tarascon Coaches (Diligence)

The Tarascon Coaches (Diligence)

"Simple foreground of grey sand. Background very simple too, pink and yellow walls with windows with green louvred shutters, corner of blue sky. The two carriages very colourful: green, red, wheels yellow, black, blue, orange. A no. 30 canvas once again. The carriages are painted in the style of Monticelli, with impastos. You once had a very beautiful Claude Monet, of 4 colourful boats on a beach. Well, here it’s carriages, but the composition is of the same kind."
Painting Date
12th of October 1888
Detailed Image Links

Conceived in Vincent’s imagination, a scene from a book about Provence is the subject of this Autumn work completed in Arles in 1888.

He will paint four other large canvases over the next couple of days, but only in this one does he follow Gauguin’s admonitions and paint from his mind’s eye.  When Gauguin arrives in the coming weeks, Vincent will create several more canvases that are dreamed or imagined with exaggerated color selections and move away from depicting what he sees in front of his easel.

As he imagines and paints two brightly colored Provence stagecoaches or “diligences” of the day, he is filled with excitement and anticipation as his friend and artistic mentor, Paul Gauguin, is soon coming to live and work with him.  After months of correspondence between the Van Gogh brothers and Gauguin, they have finally come up with a financial arrangement that suits them all with Gauguin exchanging art for room and board in the Yellow House on Place Lamartine in Arles.


Vincent creates the coaches out of his memory and his imagined scene from the book he has been urging his brother Theo to read again – “The Tartarin of Tarascon” by Daudet.  Vincent is in a frenzy of preparation in advance of Gauguin’s arrival and is exhausted by the time he completes the stagecoaches and other canvases. They will hang along with the sunflowers Vincent has selected as appropriate for their home and studio and comforting for his new roommate.  A few months earlier, Vincent had ridden a diligence to and from Saintes Maries de la Mer where he painted the mediterranean in June and July of 1888 and he returns to his mind’s eye to create “The Tarascon Diligence” from a book and his experience.


The coaches become an exercise of complementary colors as Vincent captures them between runs and places a contrasting lavender shadow on the quilted yellow wall they front to bring vibrancy to both.  Reds and greens placed alongside each other and orange placed near violet blue do the same calculated work.

He leaves some canvas unpainted between the spokes of the back wheel of the front coach and otherwise brushes on his color in wide, thick (impasto) diagonal, horizontal and cross-hatch strokes.  He follows the circle of the wheel in rough curved strokes and there is little evidence of studio re-touching in the days after he composes the work.


Vincent is following Gauguin’s advice to paint not necessarily what he sees in front of him, but rather use memory and bold color to achieve the essence of the subject.  In this canvas, Vincent has done just that.


Vincent will create five canvases in two days, most of which serve as decoration in the studio/apartment.  The Trinquetaille Bridge, Public Garden with Fir Tree and CoupleEntrance to the Public Garden, and The Railroad Bridge were the other works with all the locations within easy walking distance of the Yellow House for the painter to place his easel and work.  The Street Views of these related works are similar to the views Vincent saw over a century ago.  He also includes a sketch of the Diligence composition to Theo in a letter dated October 13, 1888, viewable via the Compare feature.  The other of the related items is “Boats on the Beach at Etreatat” by Monet (mentioned by Vincent as being similar to The Tarascon Coaches work in its composition).




“My dear Theo,
I had hardly dared hope so soon for your new 50-franc money order, for which I thank you very much.  I have many expenses, and it sometimes distresses me greatly when I increasingly come to realize that painting is a craft that is probably practised by extremely poor people, since it costs a lot of money.


But the autumn still continues to be so fine! What a funny part of the country, this homeland of Tartarin’s! Yes, I’m happy with my lot; it isn’t a superb and sublime country, it’s all something out of Daumier come to life. Have you re-read the Tartarins yet? Ah, don’t forget to! Do you remember in Tartarin the lament of the old Tarascon diligence — that wonderful page? Well, I’ve just painted that red and green carriage in the yard of the inn. You’ll see.

This hasty croquis gives you its composition.
Simple foreground of grey sand.  Background very simple too, pink and yellow walls with windows with green louvred shutters, corner of blue sky.
The two carriages very colourful: green, red, wheels yellow, black, blue, orange. A no. 30 canvas once again. The carriages are painted in the style of Monticelli, with impastos. You once had a very beautiful Claude Monet, of 4 colourful boats on a beach. Well, here it’s carriages, but the composition is of the same kind….
…I’m knocked out from painting this Tarascon diligence, and I can see that I haven’t a head fit for drawing. I’m off to have supper, and I’ll write to you again this evening. But this decoration is coming along a bit, and I believe that it will broaden my way of seeing and doing things.  It will be open to a thousand criticisms; very well, but never mind, as long as I manage to put some spirit into it.  But yes, good old Tartarin’s country, I’m enjoying myself there more and more, and it will become like a new homeland for us. I don’t forget Holland, though; it’s precisely the contrasts that make me think of it a lot. I’ll get back to this letter shortly.

 Now I’m getting back to this letter again. How I’d like to be able to show you the work that’s in progress!  I’m really so tired that I can see that my writing isn’t up to much.  I’ll write to you better another time, because it’s beginning to take shape now, this idea of the decoration.

I wrote to Gauguin again the day before yesterday, to say once again that he would probably recover much more quickly here.  And he’ll do such fine things here.
He’ll need time to recover. I assure you that I believe that if ideas for work are coming to me more clearly and more abundantly at present, then eating good food has a lot to do with it. And that’s what everybody in painting should have.
How many things that still have to change! Isn’t it true that all painters ought to live like manual workers? A carpenter, a blacksmith, normally produces infinitely more than they do. In painting too, there should be large studios where each person would work more steadily.
I’m really falling asleep standing up, and I can’t see any longer, my eyes are so tired.  More soon, because I still had lots of things to say, and I should make you some better croquis. Probable that I’ll do it tomorrow.
Thank you many times again for your money order. I shake your hand firmly.
Ever yours,

To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Saturday, 13 October 1888


“My dear Theo,
Letter from Gauguin, who tells me that he’s sent you a consignment of paintings and studies.
Would be very pleased if you could find the time to write and give me some details of what they are.
His letter was accompanied by a letter from Bernard, to say that they’d received my consignment of canvases, that they’re going to keep all 7 of them. Bernard will make another study for me in exchange, and the three others, MoretLaval and a young chap, will also send portraits, I hope.
Gauguin has my portrait, and Bernard says that he’d like to have one like it, although he already has one of me, which I exchanged with him at the time for the portrait of his Grandmother. And it pleased me that they weren’t averse to what I had done in figure painting.


I was, and still am, almost knocked out by last week’s work.
I still can’t do anything, but in any case there’s a very violent mistral, which raises clouds of dust that turns the trees on boulevard des Lices white from top to bottom. So I’m pretty well forced to take it easy. I’ve just slept for 16 hours at a stretch, which has gone a long way to making me myself again.
And tomorrow I’ll have got over this exhaustion.
But I made a good week of it, eh, with 5 canvases; if it gets a bit of its own back this week, well, it’s natural.  1v:3If I’d worked more calmly, you can see clearly that the mistral would have caught me out again.
Ah, if the weather’s fine here you have to take advantage of it, otherwise you’d never do anything.


But tell me what Seurat’s doing. If you see him, tell him on my behalf that I have in progress a decoration which at present amounts to 15 square no. 30 canvases, and which, to make an ensemble, will take at least 15 more, and that in this work on a broader scale it’s often the memory of his personality and of the visit that we made to his studio to see his beautiful big canvases that gives me courage in this task.


I’d very much like us to have Seurat’s portrait of himself.
I had told Gauguin that the reason I had urged him to make an exchange of portraits was because I believed that he and Bernard would certainly have made several studies, each of the other. That as that wasn’t the case and he had done the portrait especially for me, I didn’t want it as an exchange, considering the thing too important. He writes to say that he really does wish me to take it as an exchange. His letter is again very complimentary, as I don’t deserve it, let’s pass over it. I’m sending you article on Provence which seemed well-written to me. These Félibres are a literary and artistic circle: Clovis HuguesMistral, others, who write quite good, even sometimes very good sonnets in Provençal and sometimes in French.


If one day the Félibres stop being unaware of my existence, they’ll all visit the little house. I prefer that it not happen before I’ve finished my decoration. But loving Provence as whole-heartedly as they do, I perhaps have a right to their interest. If ever I insist on that right, it will be so that my work remains here or in Marseille, where, as you know, I’d like to work, believing that the Marseille artists would do well to continue what their Monticelli started.
If Gauguin and I write an article in one of the papers here, that will be enough to make contact. Handshake.


Ever yours,


To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Monday, 15 October 1888



“My dear Vincent,

Enclosed you’ll find 150 francs – for Mr Peyron and for your journey to Arles. I had said in my letters to Mr Peyron that he ought to tell me if he’d had additional expenses, he has never spoken of them. Ask him then, if you will, to tell me if anything is owing to him each time he acknowledges receipt of my monthly letter, then it doesn’t mount up. I hope that you’re still well and that you have good luck with work.

I’ve had several people to see your paintings. Israëls’ son, who has been living in Paris for a while, Veth, a Dutchman who does portraits and who writes in De Nieuwe Gids, that journal you’ve perhaps heard about that makes people so indignant but in which good things often appear, and then Van Rijsselberghe, one of the Vingtistes from Brussels, the latter also saw everything there is at Tanguy’s, and your works seem to interest him a great deal. In Belgium they’re already more accustomed to brightly coloured painting, the Vingtistes’ exhibition did a lot of good in that respect, despite the fact that nobody’s buying anything there.
The Independents’ exhibition is finished and I have your irises back; it’s one of your good things. I consider that you’re strongest when you’re doing real things, like that, or like the Tarascon diligence, or the child’s head, or the upright undergrowth with the ivy. The form is so well defined and the whole is full of colour. I clearly sense what preoccupies you in the new canvases like the village in the moonlight or the mountains, but I feel that the search for style takes away the real sentiment of things. In Gauguin’s last consignment there are the same preoccupations as with you, but with him there are a lot more memories of the Japanese, the Egyptians etc.

As for me, I prefer to see a local Breton woman than a Breton woman with the gestures of a Japanese woman, but in art there are no limits, so it’s quite permissible to do as one sees it. Guillaumin was in Auvergne this summer, from where he brought back some good canvases. He doesn’t search for much that’s new in the coloration. He’s content with what he’s found, and one always finds his same pink, orange and violet blue patches again, but his touch is vigorous and his view of nature is quite broad. Pissarro has left and will be busying himself with that worthy fellow in Auvers. I hope that he’ll succeed, and that next spring, if not sooner, you’ll come to see us.

Jo is well, she’s getting considerably bigger and can already feel the child quickening, but that doesn’t cause her too much inconvenience. Mother sent us a letter from Cor. He has arrived in Johannesburg. It’s a very wild country where you have to walk around with a revolver all day. There are no plants, nothing but sand. Except in places that are like oases. My letter must go off. Jo sends her warm regards. Accept a good handshake, and


Ever yours,

Theo to Vincent. Paris, Tuesday, 22 October 1889



Painting, Oil on Canvas – 72 x 92 cm – Size 30 Figure
Arles: October 12, 1888

Princeton University Art Museum
Princeton, New Jersey, United States of America, North America

F: 478a, JH: 1605

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