Spontaneous or planned?

Seascape at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

Van Gogh liked to paint outdoors, with his subject matter in front of him. But he also made paintings in his studio, often from memory or on the basis of an earlier painting or drawing. If you look carefully at the details, you can see which of the two paintings was made outdoors: Seascape at Saintes-Maries (Fishing Boats at Sea).

The brushwork in this painting has an immediate, spontaneous character, because Van Gogh worked in the open air. Fishing boats on the beach, made in the shelter of his studio, has a much more calm, calculated quality.

Details of the sky of Seascape at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, with spontaneous brushwork.

Details of the sky of Fishing boats on the beach at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, with more calculated brushwork.

Notes about the colours

After returning home to Arles, Van Gogh made three more paintings from the drawings he had done in Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. In the drawing of Fishing boats on the beach, he had even made notes about what colour to use for each part of the painting.

I did the drawing of the boats as I was leaving, very early in the morning... It was before the boats cleared off; I’d watched it all the other mornings, but as they leave very early, hadn’t had time to do it.

Letter to Theo van Gogh. Arles, on or about Tuesday, 5 June 1888.

Look for the notes on colour on the drawing of the fishing boats and compare with the painting Van Gogh made after the drawing.

Compare the drawing that Van Gogh made 'at the spot', with the painting that he made back home in his studio.

Take a look at the painting and investigate whether it deviates from the drawing.