“The heart of man
Is very much like the sea
It has storms, it has tides
And it has depths. ”
~ Vincent Van Gogh
June 1888 Vincent 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. It is a spiritual place, said to be the place where Mary Magdalene journeyed with Joseph of Arimathea with the cup of Christ.
It was a place where Van Gogh was taken to recover from his health problems and to make some seaside paintings and drawings. At that time Saintes-Maries was a small fishing village.
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, which he described:
“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.”
He capturing the light in the sand, sea and sky.The Sea at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in which he sought to capture light’s effect on the sea. He wrote:
“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 fluid movements of his pen brings energy to the drawings, not intended to be a mimetic copy. Both his choice of the reed pen and the “placement of tiered-patterned strokes”, the 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
“I wish to paint
a seaside painting of sand,
sea and sky.”
Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, 1888. Permanent Collection. Van Gogh Museum. 2005–2011.
The Sea at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, 1888. Permanent Collection. Van Gogh Museum. 2005–2011.