Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890), Arles, June 1888
oil on canvas, 50.5 cm x 64.3 cm
We can tell that Van Gogh painted this view of the sea from the beach, as grains of sand have been found in the paint layers. It was done at the fishing village of Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, during a trip he took from Arles in the south of France.
In addition to the blue and white that he brushed onto the canvas with bold strokes, he used green and yellow for the waves.
He applied these colours with a palette knife, neatly capturing the effect of the light through the waves. Van Gogh was enthusiastic about the colours of the Mediterranean Sea. He wrote that it ‘has a colour like mackerel, in other words, changing – you don’t always know if it’s green or purple – you don’t always know if it’s blue – because a second later, its changing reflection has taken on a pink or grey hue’. The bright red signature has been placed prominently in the foreground: it was intended as a ‘red note in the green’