In early 1888, after staying in Paris for almost two years, Vincent van Gogh has had enough of the city. He wants to return to the countryside. Artist friends tell him about the south of France, ‘the land of the blue tints and cheerful colours’, and he decides to make Provence his next destination.
It proves to be a good choice: ‘I’ve never had such good fortune; nature here is extraordinarily beautiful. Everything and everywhere. The dome of the sky is a wonderful blue, the sun has a pale sulphur radiance, and it’s soft and charming, like the combination of celestial blues and yellows in paintings by Vermeer of Delft’.
Fairly soon after arriving in Arles, Van Gogh paints different versions of the drawbridge just south of the town: four paintings, two drawings, a watercolour and a sketch. This painting has a dynamic composition. The canal forms a diagonal that carries the total image. This leads the eye toward the bridge and the covered wagon that crosses it.