The Painter on the Road to Tarascon by Vincent van Gogh, 1888.


by Matt Gonzalez

Laden with his brushes and props, one is struck by the spring in his step, his single-minded purpose. Yet anticipation hovers over the Provencal landscape, for one cannot help but guess what subject the painter will capture later this day. Straw hat firmly on his head, blazing sunlight cascading over the path… One can get thirsty looking at this painting.

But the thick, seemingly wet paint, masks an unexpected truth: The painting does not exist. For though the artist painted it, only technology, the very thing that today spoils the once calm rural landscape depicted, allows us to still view the painting. The original was lost during WW II, believed destroyed when Allied forces bombed Magdeburg, setting fire to the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum where it was housed.

Striding along a row of trees the painter is alone, but for the presence of his shadow that figures prominently in the lower right foreground of the canvas. His bold walking companion could easily pass for a bullfighter, but now runs alongside and only barely keeps up with his friend to whom he’s tethered.

Wearing a broad-brimmed yellow hat and carrying a camp stool and easel strapped to his back, rolled canvas also, and walking cane in his left hand… the painter on the road to Tarascon cuts the very image of the plein-air painter…off to find his ground, to peer at the world from. Painted in July 1888, it prefigures so much for Vincent van Gogh. Within a month Paul Gauguin will join him in Arles. By the end of the year he will suffer his first seizure, and within two years he will both sell his first painting in Brussels, and fatally shoot himself in the chest at Auvers-sur-Oise. Dead at the age of thirty-seven.

This rural thoroughfare then, running north from Arles to Tarascon, is his last peace before so much turmoil envelopes and overtakes him. But that is later… I believe the painter on the road to Tarascon to be content.

–Matt Gonzalez

4 thoughts on “VINCENT VAN GOGH

  1. Nice piece, Matt. Might I humbly suggest you do your own homage to this piece using found object but figurative more like fellow Frisco artist Jason Mecir? Best, Mark in PA


  2. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this painting and my first impression of it was to admire the beautiful color of the golden path and to worry over the shadow.

    It looks like the man with the groovy straw hat is trying to run away from his own shadow.

    It’s so difficult to appreciate the gorgeous countryside because you keep looking back at the shadow, with the corner of your eye, constantly checking to see if the shadow’s moved up or changed shape. The reality isn’t the “painter walking” but the shadow following him.

    The shadow at first light looks so much like a soldier with a gun in his backpack that it’s hard to imagine anything else, and the painter looks as though he’s trying to lose the shadow, step on him, or shake his stick at him or at least use his stick to keep ‘S’ at a distance.

    The beautiful, color blinding, and freeing surroundings of golden paths and open fields contrasted so sharply with the painter’s drab mono-colored clothes, somber & shadowed features, as well as with his crooked, almost concave, travel-worn body (which is so bogged down by packages and luggage) that it causes you to feel sympathetic toward the traveler and wonder where he’s going with so much baggage. You want to reach out to help me but then there’s that shadow always on his tail and the painter’s soulless eyes.

    Also, it’s rather startling how the man is looking straight at us or “into the camera lens” so to speak, as if he’s trying to say something, then at other times he doesn’t even look like he’s real or even has ‘ojos.’

    More than once, you get unwillingly mesmerized and lost in the black orbs, or rather in the dark holes where his eyes are supposed to be. He almost looks like one of those scarecrows that you’d nail to a crosspiece to scare birds away. He doesn’t seem animated enough to even notice the scenery or be alive to appreciate the fact that he’s on the road to Tarascon.

    In the end, I felt like the painter looked tired and in need of a rest, so he could stop looking over his shoulder.
    I just read your entire discourse and I really liked your interpretation. It made me look at everything differently.

    I thought it so ironic that you said Van shot himself when my first thought of the shadow is that it had a gun.

    Also, I keep wondering what that white amalgam is on the ground in front of him.

    Nice painting, but haunting, and a little disturbing.


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