Saintes-Maries is the subject of a series of paintings that Vincent van Gogh made in 1888. When Van Gogh lived in Arles, he took a trip to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer on the Mediterranean sea, where he made several paintings of the seascape and town.
In June 1888 Van Gogh took a 30-mile stagecoach trip from Arles to the sea-side fishing village of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer on the coast of the Mediterranean sea. Van Gogh's week-long trip was taken to recover from his health problems and make some seaside paintings and drawings. At that time Saintes-Maries was a small fishing village with under a hundred homes.
In just a few days he made two paintings of the sea, one of the village and nine drawings. One of the paintings was Van Gogh Museum's Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (F413), which he described to his brother, Theo: "I made the drawing of the boats when I left very early in the morning, and I am now working on a painting based on it, a size 30 canvas with more sea and sky on the right. It was before the boats hastened out; I had watched them every morning, but as they leave very early I didn't have time to paint them". Some of the work on the painting was finished in the studio, such as capturing the light in the sand, sea and sky.
Another seascape Van Gogh made was The Sea at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (F415) in which he sought to capture light's effect on the sea.
He wrote that the "Mediterranean Sea is a mackerel color: in other words, changeable – you do not always know whether it is green or purple, you do not always know if it is blue, as the next moment the ever-changing sheen has assumed a pink or a gray tint".
The setting includes fishing boats returning to the village. To emphasize contrast to the color green in the painting, Van Gogh signs his name in large bright letters.
Fishing Boats at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (F1433) is one of Van Gogh's reed pen drawings of Saint-Maries which he based on his painting The Sea at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (F415). The fluid movements of Van Gogh's pen bring an energy to the drawing, not intended to be a mimetic copy. Both his choice of the reed pen and the "placement of tiered-patterned strokes" reflect the influence of Japanese prints. He brings life to the painting through technique. The Pointillist dotted sky accentuates the clouds. Whitecaps are evoked by the vertical lines and horizontal lines portray the calmer sea in the distance.
Seascape at Saintes-Maries (Fishing Boats at Sea) was painted six years after Van Gogh wrote that he wished to paint a seaside painting of sand, sea and sky. In this painting the combination of a high horizon and boats close to the top edge of the frame, draw the audience in to the choppy sea in the foreground and center of the picture. He also made three drawings of this composition.
In the painting View of Saintes-Maries (F416) Van Gogh painted rows of what is likely lavendar from the foreground to the town of Saintes-Maries in the center of the frame, thereby drawing the viewer into the painting. A wall encloses the town in which a large church becomes the focal point. The painting takes upon a three-dimensional appearance, starting with relief-like layers of blue paint in the sky. Finer brushstrokes were used on the field and town buildings.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art owns a drawing that Van Gogh made titled The Road at Saintes-Maries. It is also known as Cottages in Saintes-Maries (F1436).
Vincent van Gogh Street in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
Artist: Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, Zundert 1853–1890 Auvers-sur-Oise)
Date: ca. July 15, 1888
Medium: Reed pen, quill, and ink over chalk on wove paper (backed with wove paper)
Dimensions: Sheet: 9 9/16 x 12 1/2 in. (24.3 x 31.7 cm)
Credit Line: Bequest of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, 1948
Accession Number: 48.190.1
In the summer of 1888, Van Gogh, who was then living in Arles, made a trip to the small Mediterranean fishing village of Saintes-Maries de la Mer, where he made a painted view of this street with its thatched roofs and smoking chimneys. This drawing was one of fifteen that were sent, in the month of July alone, to Van Gogh's friend, the artist Émile Bernard, in Brittany, to keep Bernard up to date on the work he was doing. In these vibrant drawings, Van Gogh captured the essence of the paintings while creating the compositions anew in a different medium. | © The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
Arles, June 1888 Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)*
oil on canvas, 50.5 cm x 64.3 cm
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
We can tell that Van Gogh* painted this view of the sea from the beach, as grains of sand have been found in the paint layers. It was done at the fishing village of Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, during a trip he took from Arles in the south of France. In addition to the blue and white that he brushed onto the canvas with bold strokes, he used green and yellow for the waves. He applied these colours with a palette knife, neatly capturing the effect of the light through the waves.
Van Gogh was enthusiastic about the colours of the Mediterranean Sea. He wrote that it ‘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’. The bright red signature has been placed prominently in the foreground: it was intended as a ‘red note in the green’.