Van Gogh’s Langlois Bridge (1888)

Van Gogh's iconic image of this wooden bridge hung as a small reproduction near my bed as a child. I learnt to associate the scene and its color with Holland. Wrong. It was one of the first pictures Van Gogh painted after arriving in the south of France. A few miles outside Arles, the bridge itself is long gone, but a similar one remains.

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Van Gogh, The Langlois Bridge (March 1888) Oil on canvas. Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo

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There used to be several bridges of this type on the same river near Arles but the authorities demolished all but this one in 1935.1 Now known mistakenly as Pont Van Gogh it is said to exude a quiet, reverent atmosphere as in a sacred space, an attraction Vincent might have felt as well. Our first question, though, must be: why did he choose this type of bridge and what has it to do with art and its creation?

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John Vanderslice, A bridge similar to the Pont Langlois outside of Arles (2008) Photograph

© John Vanderslice at www.creatingvangogh.blogspot.com

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I thought I had the answer in an 1882 letter in which the artist discusses how he had built a perspective frame based on a diagram that Albrecht Dürer had included in his sixteenth-century manual on painting.2 By looking through the strings of the frame and matching objects against a similar pattern of lines on a canvas, an artist can draw scenes in correct perspective easily. In fact I have already argued that Van Gogh's Weavers (1884) with their wooden looms were inspired by the same wooden contraption.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Van Gogh, Letter with drawing of a perspective frame (1882) Letter 223, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

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Then a kind artist who uses this site sent me an image from another of Van Gogh's letters in which Vincent sketches the instrument set up on a shoreline somewhat like the riverbank in The Langlois Bridge.3

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I have little doubt now that the inspiration and meaning behind Van Gogh's paintings of the Langlois Bridge was his use of a perspective machine to create them. He has imagined his eye paired with the bridge just as his eye, in making the image, was linked to his wooden contraption. As so often in art, the artist's "eye" is where a river runs under a bridge. The river is an endless stream of creative water running through his eye into (or out of) his mind.

For other examples of eyes linked to bridges and rivers, see works by Titian, Rembrandt, Goya and Matisse.

Captions for image(s) above:

Van Gogh, The Langlois Bridge (March 1888)

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Notes:

1. Vincent van Gogh: Paintings (Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh) 1990, p.100

2. Sjraar van Huegten, Vincent van Gogh Drawings: The Early Years 1880-1883, v.1 (Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum), pp.22-5

3. I am grateful to Sue Binkley Tatem for bringing this letter to my attention.

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 12 Jan 2013. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.