|Courtesy of www.VincentVanGogh.org|
The town of Arles is on the Rhone, and that busy waterway appears in a number of Van Gogh's works. He painted the quayside with stevedores at work as well as more panoramic views of the river as it sweeps its way through the town. But in such works there is something stylized and remote about his treatment, as if it was difficult to come to terms with this aspect of Arles. There is a quality of ambivalence reminiscent of Monet's evasive treatment of signs of modern labour and industry on the banks of the Seine near Argenteuil. The painting is curious. The barges and their workmen are solidly and attentively painted; but the setting is minimal and unfinished. Nothing indicates exactly where this is all taking place. A small stretch of quayside suddenly gives way to a sketchy river bank, a beach even. Beside the barges a man in a rowing boat is fishing, but his relation in space and scale to the barges is not clear. Van Gogh sent the painting to his friend and fellow artist Emile Bernard.
A dedication was painted on the canvas which has since been erased. In the accompanying letter Van Gogh admitted that the painting was only an attempt at a picture. But he stressed that although it was painted directly from the motif it was not in the least 'impressionist'. Perhaps he was intending to take on the older Impressionists like Monet on their own territory - using their subject-matter - and to transform it by a more solid handling and a greater solidity of form. But apart from the foreground this has hardly been accomplished.