Van Gogh’s Langlois Bridge
At the age of 35, Vincent van Gogh seemed drawn to the Langlois Bridge in Arles, France. During his stay in Arles in 1888, he completed four oil paintings, one watercolor, and four drawings of the bridge.
The Langlois Bridge was a drawbridge that crossed over the Arles to Bouc canal. It was one of eleven draw bridges built by a Dutch engineer over the channel that ran from Arles to Port-du-Bouc. In the first half of the 19th century, new canals were built in southern France to expand the canal network leading to the Mediterranean Sea.
Outside of Arles, the first bridge was officially named “Pont de Réginelle” but was known instead by the bridge keeper’s name, “Pont de Langlois”. The original bridge was replaced by a reinforced concrete structure in 1930. Later that structure was destroyed by Germans in 1944. As tourists visited Arles and asked about the bridge, it was reconstructed and named “Pont Van Gogh”. It is now owned by the Arles tourist board.
When Van Gogh painted the bridge, he was clearly inspired by the Japanese techniques that he admired. He employed clear simplified colors using contrasts such as yellow and blue to create a vibrant statement. He emphasized linear patterns of the bridge against the sky. In a letter to his brother, Theo, on March 18, 1888, Van Gogh said,
“Having promised to write, I want to begin by telling you that the country struck me as being as beautiful as Japan for the limpidity of the atmosphere and gay colour effects. The water makes patches of a beautiful emerald and a rich blue in the landscapes, such as we see in crepons [Japanese prints]. The pale orange setting sun making the land appear blue. Splendid yellow suns.”