Van Gogh painted this picture of busy barge activity in August 1888, and also made a pen and ink drawing of the same scene, altering a few details. He had heard the news that Gauguin would
be joining him in Arles, and he was beside himself with nervous excitement at the thought of establishing a joint studio, and even perhaps an artists' colony of sorts.
Here his colours are vibrant and pure, and sing with clarity. The summer was at its height and the strong sun illuminated oil that he saw with a particular exoticism that he identified with Eugene Delacroix's experiences in Morocco. The very linear composition of these barges was typical of his style at this time, and combines a childlike simplicity with an accomplished eye for perspective and form. This can be seen in the busy figure wheeling a barrow, which is little more than outline with no sense of modelling, but retains its three-dimensionality through its suggested form. This synthesis of simple drawing with assured form and colour makes his paintings so convincing and distinct.