GOGH, Vincent van
(b. 1853, Groot Zundert, d. 1890, Auvers-sur-Oise)

Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries

June 1888, Arles
Oil on canvas, 65 x 82 cm
Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam

Catalogue numbers: F 413, JH 1460.

In June 1888 van Gogh travelled by coach across the Camargue, which reminded him of Holland, to the seaside resort of Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer on the Mediterranean. The village was famous for its fortified cathedral, built like a ship, the curious design of the thatched roofs of its cottages, and its fishing fleet. Van Gogh recorded all of these. But the novel opportunities of the place were the sea and the colourful boats. In the years 1881-83 van Gogh had often visited Scheveningen, a fishing village and holiday resort on the North Sea, a few miles from The Hague. There he drew the great fishing smacks drawn up on the beach, in the manner of Hague School painters such as Henrik Mesdag and Anton Mauve. Van Gogh's excursus into marine painting in June 1888 recalls their pictures and his own early essays in this genre. In a letter about this trip to the seaside he explicitly compares Les Saintes-Maries with Dutch seascape; it was different only in the greater brilliance of its colours.

Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries is a reworking in paint of a sketch (F 1434) done on the spot. This painting is one of the painter's most accomplished attempts to establish a harmony of motif and colour.

The motif of small boats drawn up on the beach also occurs in the work of Monet in the 1880s.