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Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer


As early as 1882, Van Gogh spoke of his desire to paint a seascape with sand, waves and sky, and six years later, while living in Arles, he decided to take a short one-week trip to the seaside fishing village of San Matilamo, 48 km away. In the few days that followed, Van Gogh painted a number of seascapes and views of the fishing village.

Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

Vincent van Gogh
Oil on canvas
50.5 x 64.3 cm
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

In this work, he painted a vibrant picture with quick, bold brushstrokes. Faced with rough waves, Van Gogh tried to capture the variations of light within them. In a letter to Theo in June 1888, he mentions, "The Mediterranean Sea has the color of a mackerel, in other words, it is very changeable, neither always green nor purple, nor always blue, for the next moment it will take on shades of pink or gray."

The fishing boats of San Madiramo

Pencil and pencil drawing
Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis

To emphasize the color of the sea, Van Gogh also included the fishing boat that is heading toward the fishing village and the large red signature in the lower left. In addition, the artist created another small-scale copy of the pen drawing based on this work. In comparison, the oil painting shows Van Gogh's control of color, while the pen drawing shows his use of line and the influence of Japanese prints.

The returning sailing ship in the distance connects the sea to the sky, and the raised horizon compresses the proportions of the sky so that the viewer's visual focus is on the sea in the foreground and feels the churning waves.

At the bottom left of the painting, closest to the viewer, Van Gogh used the most complex combination of colors - blue, green, purple, white, and red - in conjunction with a thick painting technique, resulting in a strong expression of texture. In addition, the layers of paint are laced with gravel, suggesting that the work was created outdoors on a sandy beach.

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