From Museum Folkwang, Essen:
Van Gogh painted this oil study in the supper of 1888 in Arles. In a letter to his brother Theo, he described the motif, which he had previously captured in a drawing: »At the moment I am working on a study […] boats, seen from a quay, from above. The two boats are purplish pink, the water is very green, no sky, a tricolor flag on the mast. A workman with a wheelbarrow is unloading sand. I have a drawing of it too.« Specifically, the scene is situated on the landing-place on the left bank of the Rhone, not far from the Place Lamartine, just a few steps away from van Gogh's studio at the time. The filigree depiction of the boots and their loads, the landing stage, the rudder and the masts give the impression of a rocking, unsteady plane over the water which supports the massively reinforced bank and the heavy chain. Van Gogh hoped to found an artists' community in Arles. He courted Gauguin, who did in fact come to Arles for a short time, and Émile Bernard. Together with other studies and a dedication, van Gogh sent the painting to Bernard in October 1888. In his letter he left it open to his friend – if he did not like the painting – to remove the dedication and to return it in exchange for other paintings. »But I think that you will like it, especially after you look at it for a while.« Bernard kept the study and showed it in an exhibition organized in memory of his friend, who had died two years previously, in Le Bare in 1892.
To Theo van Gogh. Paris, between about Sunday, 17 and Tuesday, 19 July 1887.
My dear friend,
Enclosed a letter that arrived yesterday but which the concierge didn’t pass on to me straightaway.
I’ve been to the Tambourin, because if I didn’t go there people would have thought I didn’t dare.
So I told Miss Segatori that I wouldn’t pass judgement on her over this affair, but that it was up to her to judge herself.
That I’d torn up the receipt for the paintings — but that she had to give everything back.
That if she hadn’t had something to do with what happened to me she would have come to see me the next day.
That as she didn’t come to see me I would take it that she knew people were trying to pick a fight with me, but that she’d tried to warn me by saying — go away — which I didn’t understand, and besides would perhaps not have wanted to understand. To which she replied that the paintings and all the rest were at my disposal.
She claimed that I’d tried to pick a fight — which doesn’t surprise me — knowing that appalling things would be done to her if she took my side.
I also saw the waiter on my way in, but he made himself scarce.
Now I didn’t want to take the paintings straightaway, but I said that when you got back we’d have a chat about it, because those paintings belonged to you as much as to me, and while waiting I urged her to think again about what had happened.
She didn’t look well and she was as pale as wax, which isn’t a good sign.
She didn’t know that the waiter had gone up to your place. If that’s true — I would be even more inclined to believe it was more the case that she’d tried to warn me people were trying to pick a fight with me, than that she’d been up to something herself. She can’t do as she’d like. Now I’ll wait till you get back before doing anything. I’ve done two paintings since you left.
Now I have two louis left, and I fear I won’t know how to get through the days from now till you get back.
Because remember when I started working at Asnières I had lots of canvases and Tanguy was very good to me. He still is, when it comes down to it, but his old witch of a wife noticed what was going on and objected to it. Now I gave Tanguy’s wife a piece of my mind and said it was her fault if I wouldn’t buy anything else from them. Père Tanguy’s wise enough to keep quiet, and he’ll do what I ask of him all the same.
But with all that it isn’t easy to work.
I saw Lautrec today, he’s sold a painting, through Portier, I think.
Someone brought in a watercolour by Mrs Mesdag, which I find very beautiful.
Now I hope you’ll enjoy your visit over there, give my mother, Cor and Wil my warm regards. And if you can see that I’m not in too much trouble from now till you get back by sending me something more, I’ll try to make some more paintings for you — because I’m perfectly calm as far as my work goes.
What bothered me a bit in this business was that by not going (to the Tambourin) it looked cowardly. And having gone there restored my peace of mind. I shake your hand. Vincent