Van Gogh’s bridges – then and now

Vincent van Gogh went to Arles in search of Japan – according to David Dale, author of A traveller’s alphabet of essential places. In reality he was looking for the light and colours that he saw in Japanese prints, and he found them in Arles. This post is about how we bridged the distance between France and Japan through Van Gogh’s paintings.

He did several versions of the Pont Langlois bridge at Arles in southern France. The original bridge traversed the Arles-to-Bouc canal and was a simple but functional drawbridge enabling canal boats to pass underneath when raised. A series of these bridges were built along the canal in the first half of the 19th century. The one nearest Arles was called Pont de Réginel but was more popularly known for its keeper, Monsieur Langlois – hence it was known as Langlois’ bridge.

Pont Langlois

Pont Langlois [source: Wikipedia]

I had heard that the bridge was still around and could be seen today. Actually, that’s not quite true, as we found. The original bridge became structurally unsound and was replaced in the 1930s by a concrete bridge – and that in turn was destroyed by retreating Germans in 1944 – they destroyed all but one of the bridges along the canal, leaving only the one at Fos sur Mer. This was of the original bridges on the canal and was the same design as the one Van Gogh painted in 1888. In 1959 the Fos bridge was dismantled with a view to relocating it at the site of the Langlois bridge, but the canal had since been widened and it was decided to move it to its current location near the Montcalde Lock. It is not easy to find.

Pont van Gogh, Arles

Pont van Gogh, Arles

It took a few goes and finally, we turned down a little side street on the outskirts of the town and there was Pont Van-Gogh – its new name – restored to working order. Some might consider it a reproduction or a fake, but since it is from the original series and contemporary with the Langlois bridge, by the same builder, I think it is close enough to original. Again I was struck by how accurately Van Gogh represented the structure and how faithfully he painted the chains and support beams and pulleys for raising the bridge.

He painted four oil paintings and one watercolour of the bridge and completed a number of drawings.

Little did I realise that this bridge was a key to his link with Japan. In the late nineteenth century, Europe was Japan crazy – high quality lacquer furniture, boxes, ceramics and pottery were being exported to Europe by the shipload. As it turns out, many of these were wrapped in fine paper prints, some by famous Japanese artists, others, like the prints of Japanese women were adverts for Geishas.

The different perspective and flat use of colour in these images inspired the post-impressionists to look differently at the world. One print that came to Van Gogh was of a famous painting by Hiroshige of the Edo period bridge that led into the Emperor’s palace in the centre of Tokyo. The bridge is depicted in rain and elegant lines and unusual foreshortening inspired Van Gogh to paint a copy.

Hiroshige bridge

Hiroshige bridge [source: Wikipedia]

 And this is Van Gogh’s version:

Van Gogh-Hiroshige bridge

Van Gogh-Hiroshige bridge [source: Wikipedia]

And we found this connection in Tokyo, at the Edo-Tokyo Museum – which has a full-size replica of the Edo bridge within the museum. It is extraordinary and surprising how connections turn up in the places you least expect. So here is my photo of the replica bridge in Tokyo

Edo-Tokyo bridge

Edo-Tokyo bridge

So from a painting in the Musee d’Orsay, to a bridge in the South of France where Van Gogh sought to connect with his vision of Japan seen through a print of a bridge, we found an extraordinary connection with a reproduction bridge in a museum in Tokyo. This is what makes travel so worthwhile!

What connections have you made across the world in unexpected places? Let us know in the comments below 🙂

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Van Gogh’s Yellow House – Arles: Then and now

In May 1888 Vincent Van Gogh rented several rooms at 2 Place Lamartine, near the railway bridges in Arles. He shared the house with Gauguin from late October that year.

“My house here is painted the yellow colour of fresh butter. The shutters a garish green. It is bathed in sunlight and stands on a square with a garden of verdant plane trees, rose laurels and acacias. Inside, I am able to live and breathe to contemplate and paint.”

This was the house of the famous bedroom painting and the chair with pipe.

Van Gogh's yellow House

Van Gogh’s yellow House [source: Wikipedia]

The painting was done in September 1888 – we were there in October 2013 and found the light similar to that discovered by Van Gogh.

The square is still there – complete with its plane trees, but the house was bombed on 25 June 1944 during the liberation of Arles, and demolished shortly afterwards. However, as you can see, the building behind survives to this day along with the railway bridges in the background. The bridges are easily recognised from Van Gogh’s depiction of them.

Site of Yellow House

Site of Yellow House

The house was just two minutes’ walk from the site where he painted the ‘Starry Night over the Rhone’. If you turn around from where this photo was taken you will find a modern ‘Monoprix’ supermarket – so if you are looking for the location, just look for the Monoprix first and it is just across the road.

The Yellow House painting currently hangs in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Starry Night over the Rhone – Arles

This post has moved to which is a travel blog written by Jerry

Follow the link for an updated version of Then and Now: Van Gogh”Starry Night over the Rhone”

London to Brighton with a camera and some interesting cars

As Sharon went off drawing at the British Museum, I decided to take another route and follow the London to Brighton Veteran Car Rally to Brighton. The challenge with something like cars, old or new is to find an interesting way to photograph them.

One solution is to find some interesting detail that says something about the car as a whole.


Veteran car lamp


1901 Toledo

Or to find a particularly beautifully shaped or presented car.

Veteran car

Veteran car

I had arranged to hire a (modern) car – which I picked up at Victoria Station on the Saturday and promptly parked while I checked out the concours display in Regent Street.

After a month driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road it was a relief to be back on the left – although London traffic and street layout still offered its challenges for a ‘Colonial’ driver. I took some photos of the superbly presented cars – and picked up a copy of the program – with the all important route.

The weather forecast looked promising – as did the pre-dawn sky at 05.00AM when I drove to Hyde Park. I grabbed the camera and braced against the cold as I walked up toward the start. Sure enough one of the cars from 1900 was just getting up steam, so I stopped for a chat and took some photos.

Steam car

Steam car

I took a few shots of the 1901 Toledo steam car – it looked show-room new. I liked how the support pit crew all wore Toledo overalls – nice touch!



The 1904 Gardner-Serpollet deservedly won accolades as the most historically significant car – it was one of only two surviving cars of that make from that year. These are rare cars indeed!

1904 Gardner-Serpollet steam car

1904 Gardner-Serpollet steam car

Some cars glided smoothly and silently by. Other steamers had a healthy howl from the burner – at least with those you know their burners were still alight – although those driving petrol cars nearby looked a little nervous! In the early days there were about equal numbers of steam, petrol (gasolene) and electric cars on the road – petrol (gasolene) cars didn’t really start to dominate until after 1906, boosted in 1913 when the first electric-start vehicles were produced.

Another way to add interest to a photo is to present an antique car with an antique look, such as a black and white image.


1896 Salvesen

So then it was time to put the sat-nav and my driving skills to the test. I put in the steam car stop as the destination, and set off in what I thought was good time to get ahead of most of the cars so I could see them at the way-point. The satnav had other ideas, and after about 45 minutes’ driving I found myself pulling back into Hyde Park! The GPS must have lost signal at some point and re-directed me back to the start. After that I referred to it as the ‘doubtful Thomas’…

The second go was more successful and I arrived at the steam car stop after a quick belt down the motorway to try to get ahead of the cars.

It wasn’t long before the the first one arrived for water and soon after came several more.

1900 Mobile

1900 Mobile

Two more CX stanley steamers arrived – being 1905 they weren’t in the Rally but did the run anyhow in fine style.

CX Stanley

CX Stanley

With two steam cars to go – one apparently seen not too far away but stopped with a problem, the other not sighted, I decided to head off to see the finish line.

This time the satnav behaved and I headed off to Brighton. Miraculously I found a park on the sea front a few hundred metres from the finish line so I grabbed the camera and headed for a bite of lunch and watched the cars coming in.

The Toledo arrived looking as though it had just driven down the road, and about 15 minutes after arriving it was off under its own steam to do a quick sprint up and down the sea front – the driver remarked to me that he needed to let off a bit of steam as the pressure was still very high.

Toledo at Brighton

Toledo at Brighton

I never did see if the Salvesen had completed the run, and I feared it may have had some problems near Brighton. Someone had seen it by the side of the road.

As the afternoon came on and the clouds began rolling in, I headed back to my hire car. I arrived back in London as the sun went down and prepared to fly out the following day.

steam car rear

Mobile steam car