The Trinquetaille Bridge was an iron road bridge built in 1875 that crossed the Rhne at Arles, connecting the town with its suburb Trinquetaille. During 1888 van Gogh sketched and painted this bridge on several occasions from a variety of viewpoints.
This scene shows the Rhne from the Arles side with the bridge stretching across to the suburb on the far side of the river. Van Gogh concentrates on the curving embankment in the left foreground, where he depicts a handful of figures, most notably a girl walking toward the viewer with her head down and her right hand holding her hat on her head, evidently against a sudden gust of wind. The perspective of the picture is rapid, and thus there is a sense of disjunction between the figures in the foreground and the bridge in the middle distance. The palette is vivid and intense.
The painting was made on Sunday 17 June 1888. At the end of that day, van Gogh wrote his friend John Russell, and mentioned the painting in his letter:
For ever so long I have been wanting to write you--but then the work has so taken me up . . . And when I sit down to write I am so abstracted by recollections of what I have seen that I leave the letter. For instance at the present occasion I was writing to you, and going to say something about Arles as it is--and as it was in the old days of Boccaccio.
Well, instead of continuing the letter I began to draw on the very paper the head of a dirty little girl I saw this afternoon whilst I was painting a view of the river with a greenish yellow sky.
This dirty 'mudlark' I thought yet had a vague Florentine sort of figure like the heads in the Monticelli pictures, and reasoning and drawing this wise I worked on the letter I was writing to you. I enclose the slip of scribbling that you may judge of my abstractions, and forgive my not writing before as such. Do not however imagine that I am painting old Florentine scenery--no, I may dream of such--but I spend my time in painting and drawing landscapes or rather studies of color (LT 501a).
The present work is the "view of a river with a greenish yellow sky" described in the letter; and the drawing of the girl surivives (fig. 1). Van Gogh also made a painting of her, although it is not known whether he made the picture from memory or asked her to pose for him (F535).
Van Gogh also describes Le pont de Trinquetaille in a letter to his brother Theo:
I have a view of the Rhne--the iron bridge at Trinquetaille--in which the sky and the river are the color of absinthe; the quays a shade of lilac, the figures leaning on their elbows on the parapet blackish, the iron bridge an intense blue, with a note of vivid orange in the blue background, and a note of intense malachite green. Another very crude effort, and yet I am trying to get at something utterly heartbroken and therefore utterly heartbreaking (LT504).
As the letters make very clear, the painter conceived of this work principally in terms of color; moreover, his use of color was not neutral or abstract, but meant to generate intense emotional power: to be heartbreaking. To this end, van Gogh departed from a naturalistic palette, instead choosing absinthe-drenched green for the river and the sky. Transforming the light of a late afternoon, this gives the painting an eerie and unearthly beauty.
In making this picture, van Gogh was more concerned with light, than with details of the figures, and all the figures are rendered largely in terms of their silhouettes. Van Gogh only sketched out the main elements of the girl in the foreground. It is sometimes said, mistakenly, that she has no face; but in fact she is shown with her head down, and what one sees is the top of her hat, held with her hand.
In the depiction of the figures, van Gogh's main concern was their contribution to the overall mood of the painting. John Walker, the former director of the National Gallery of Art, wrote of the figures in the picture: "These are studies of light, of moods; it is their emotional rather than their literal content that is their prime concern" (Exhibition of The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Andr Meyer, op. cit., p. 6).
The space of the picture, with its plunging perspective and sharp caesura between foreground and background, seems to have been inspired by the study of Japanese prints, a major influence on van Gogh at the time. An indication of the kind of model he may have had in mind is given by comparison with Hiroshige's Nagakubo--No. 28 (fig. 2). Near mirror images of one another, the two share many compositional elements: the foreground filling one corner at an angle; the bridge at a slight diagonal across the middleground; the two zones linked by a vertical in the foreground (the lamppost in the van Gogh, the tree in the Hiroshige). The disjunction between foreground and background also seems to be one of the features that attracted him to Hiroshige's print of A Sudden Shower over Ohasi and Atake, which he had copied the year before (fig. 3).
Van Gogh's love of Japanese prints is well-documented. Shortly after painting Le pont de Trinquetaille (only a day or two later according to Hulsker's chronology of the letters), Vincent wrote to Theo, "I find it dreadful sometimes not to be able to get hold of another batch of Japanese prints. Then better try to make some oneself" (LT505).
Moreover, his letters show that he thought of the new boldness and flatness of color in his works as a Japanese effect. In June van Gogh wrote to Emile Bernard that he was attempting to achieve "simplification of color in the Japanese manner . . . For the Japanese artist ignores reflected colors, puts flat tones side by side, with characteristic lines marking off the movements and the forms" (B6).
Van Gogh also viewed the new certainty and spontaneity of execution in his work as something Japanese. He wrote to Theo, "The Japanese draw quickly, very quickly, like a lightning flash, because their nerves are finer, their feeling simpler" (LT500).
At the time he made Le pont de Trinquetaille, van Gogh was reading Pierre Loti's Madame Chrysanthme, a novel set in Japan; indeed, according to Pickvance, the artist started reading the novel on the evening of June 16th, the day before he painted the present picture. Vincent was fascinated by the novel, and recommended it to all his correspondents; for instance, writing to Theo, "Have you read Loti's book, Madame Chrysanthme? Very interesting" (LT505).
Indeed, van Gogh imagined that Arles resembled Japan. He told Gauguin "There is still present to my mind the emotion produced by my own journey from Paris to Arles. How I peered out to see whether it was like Japan yet! Childish, wasn't it" (B22). In March of 1888, he wrote Bernard:
Having promised to write you, I will begin by telling you that this country seems to me as beautiful as Japan as far as the limpidity of the atmosphere and the gay color effects are concerned. Water forms patches of a beautiful emerald or a rich blue in the landscapes, just as we see it in the crpons. The sunsets have a pale orange color which makes the fields appear blue. The sun a splendid yellow (B2).
And in June, he told his brother:
We like Japanese painting, we have felt its influence, all the impressionists have that in common; then why not go to Japan, that is to say to the equivalent of Japan, the South? I think then after all, the future of the New Artist is in the South (LT500).
About one month after making Le pont de Trinquetaille, van Gogh pinned all his recent paintings to the wall of his studio, and made a series of drawings after them. He eventually sent fifteen of these drawings to his friend Emile Bernard, including a sheet made after Le pont de Trinquetaille (fig. 4). He made several subtle changes; for example, he altered the stance of the walking man at the left, and gave him a stick; the couple in the background now carry an umbrella; and he raised the position of the head of the girl in the foreground, and eliminated her hat.
Van Gogh painted another picture of the bridge on 13 October 1888 (fig. 5). For the second painting, he chose a viewpoint far closer to the bridge, and on the southern, rather than northern, side of the embankment.
This painting has been requested for the exhibition Van Gogh to be held by the Foundation Pierre Gianadda Martigny in June 2000.
(fig. 1) Vincent van Gogh, Tte de jeune fille, 1888.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
(fig. 2) Hiroshige, Nagakubo-No. 28, circa 1834-1842.
(fig. 3) Vincent van Gogh, Japonaiserie: Bridge in the Rain, 1887. Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam.
(fig. 4) Vincent van Gogh, Le pont de Trinquetaille, 1888.
(fig. 5) Vincent van Gogh, Le pont de Trinquetaille, 1888.
Sold, Christie's, London, 29 June 1987, lot 78.
Le pont de Trinquetaille
Oil on canvas
Vincent van Gogh
Paris, Pavillon de la Ville, Salon des Artistes Indpendants, March-April 1891, no. 248 (as Soleil couchant sur le Rhne).
Munich, Kunstaustellungsgebude, Secession, Spring 1903, no. 236 (as Die Rhnebrcke).
Groningen, Vincent van Gogh, 1904.
Berlin, Kunstsalon Paul Cassirer, Vincent van Gogh, Spring 1905, no. 30 (as Sonnenuntergang an der Rhne).
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Musuem, Vincent van Gogh, July-August 1905, no. 109.
Hamburg, Kunstsalon Paul Cassirer; Dresden, Kunstsalon Ernst Arnold; and Berlin, Kunstsalon Paul Cassirer, Vincent van Gogh, September-December 1905, no. 16 (as Sonnenuntergang an der Rhne).
Vienna, Kunstsalon H.O. Miethke, Vincent van Gogh, January 1906, no. 37 (as Sonnenuntergang b.d.Rhne).
Vienna, Internationale Kunstschau, Secession, May-October 1909, no. 5 (as Sonnenuntergang ber der Rhne).
Paris, Exposition des peintres de l'cole post-impressionniste, 1910.
London, The Lefevre Gallery (Alex. Reid & Lefevre, Ltd.), Exhibition of the Post-Impressionist Masters: Gauguin, van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec and representative pictures by Renoir, October-November 1923, no. 19 (as Bords du Rhone Arles).
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., A Century of French Paintings: An Exhibition Organized for the Benefit of the French Hospital of New York, November-December 1928, no. 30 (illustrated).
San Francisco, The California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Exhibition of French Paintings from the Fifteenth Century to the Present Day, June-July 1934, p. 62, no. 156 (as Arles: The Bridge of Trinquetaille; dated 1888-1889).
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Van Gogh: Fourteen Masterpieces, Loan Exhibition for the Benefit of the Home for the Destitute Blind, March-April 1948, no. 2 (illustrated).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Exhibition of the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Andr Meyer, June-July 1962, p. 26 (illustrated).
25 x 31 in. (65 x 81 cm.)
R. Jacobsen, Onze Kunst, 1904, p. 4, pl. 7 (illustrated).
G. Coquiot, Van Gogh, Paris, 1923, p. 312 (illustrated).
J. Meier-Graeffe, Vincent van Gogh, Munich, 1926, p. 76 (illustrated).
J.-B. de la Faille, L'Oeuvre de Vincent van Gogh, Catalogue raisonn, Paris, 1928, vol. I, p. 120, no. 426; vol. II, pl. CXX (illustrated).
W. Scherjon and J. de Gruyter, Vincent van Gogh's Great Period: Arles, St. Rmy and Auvers-sur-Oise (Complete Catalogue), Amsterdam, 1937, p. 78, no. 49 (illustrated).
J.-B. de la Faille, Vincent van Gogh, Paris, 1939, p. 324, no. 452 (illustrated).
V. van Gogh, The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh, London, 1958, vol. II, pp. 592-594 (letter 501a), and pp. 597-598 (letter 503).
J.-B. de la Faille, The Works of Vincent van Gogh: His Paintings and Drawings, Amsterdam, 1970, pp. 197 and 628, no. F426 (illustrated, p. 197).
P. Lecaldano, L'opera pittorica completa di Van Gogh, Paris, 1971, vol. II, p. 209, no. 516 (illustrated).
J. Hulsker, The Complete van Gogh, Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Amsterdam, 1977, p. 335, no. 1468 (illustrated; as View of a River, Quay, and Bridge).
R. Pickvance, Van Gogh in Arles, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1984, p. 137, fig. 38 (illustrated).
W. Feilchenfeldt, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cassirer, Berlin: The Reception of van Gogh in Germany from 1901 to 1914, Amsterdam, 1988, p. 93, no. F426 (illustrated).
I.F. Walther and R. Metzger, Vincent van Gogh: The Complete Paintings, Cologne, 1993, vol. II, p. 379 (illustrated in color).
J. Hulsker, The New Complete Van Gogh, Paintings, Drawings, Sketches: Revised and enlarged edition of the Catalogue raisonn of the works of Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam, 1996, pp. 324, 326 and 334, no. 1468 (illustrated, p. 335).
Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, Amsterdam.
Paul Cassirer, Berlin (1906).
Galerie Ambroise Vollard, Paris.
Mr. and Mrs. Josef Redlich, Vienna.
Galerie Hodebert, Paris.
Galerie Etinne Bignou, Paris.
Mrs. R.A. Workman, London.
The Lefevre Gallery (Alex. Reid & Lefevre, Ltd.), London.
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York.
Mrs. William A. Clark, New York (1934).
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York.
Mr. and Mrs. Andr Meyer, New York (1962); sale, Sotheby's, New York, 22 October 1980, lot 27.
Acquired at the above sale for The Akram Ojjeh Collection.