Tarascon Stagecoach, 1888
Closed shutters in the courtyard of the inn at Arles suggest it is siesta time, and short shadows indicate the early afternoon. Van Gogh wrote that the subject of this painting was suggested by Alphonse Daudet’s novel Tartarin de Tarascon (1872), in which an old stagecoach from Provence, now being used in the French colonies in North Africa, reminisces about its glory days on the Tarascon–Nîmes route. Dating from the artist’s period in Arles (1888–89), the painting expresses his nostalgia for the old ways of Provence that were quickly disappearing. The composition also shows another influence: the Japanese prints the artist loved, with their bold compositions, non-Western perspective, and bright colors.
Both unfinished and overworked, the canvas untouched in places, overloaded in others, it looks like the absolute painting, exposing every stage of creation —including inspiration. In Tartarin of Tarascon (1872), Daudet’s novel that made a deep impression on Van Gogh, the old stagecoach has been exiled to Algeria, and laments her new life. A newcomer to Arles, Van Gogh would long remain an outsider there, like everywhere else, what did he hear in this complaint? What did he see in this car without a horse? The journey had ended, for now.
André Benhaim, Associate Professor, French and Italian
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