Vincent Van Gogh’s Langlois Bridge

Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890), the Dutch post-impressionist, is one of the most influential figures in Western art.  Many say he was a genius. 

Van Gogh’s paintings Sunflowers, Cafe Terrace At Night, Irises, and The Starry Night were painted while he was living in the southern French city of Arles. Here I explore Vincent Van Gogh’s works featuring the Langlois Bridge in Arles.

After visits to London and Paris, Van Gogh had travelled south to Arles in February 1888 seeking the sun and colourful landscapes of Provence.  I post this on the anniversary of Van Gogh’s arrival in Arles, February 20th.  Vincent was fascinated by Japanese prints and had made a large collection with his younger brother, Theo, a Parisian dealer. Upon his arrival, Vincent must have been surprised by a fall of snow, a rarity in the mild but windy climate of the Rhône valley. Vincent wasted little time before he set to work painting and drawing the local scenery and doing portraits whenever he could find willing subjects. Within a month of arrival Vincent discovered a quaint little bridge designed in Holland that must have given him nostalgic memories. The Réginal Bridge was given the name of the bridge keeper, Langlois, which Vincent occasionally mis-spelled as ‘L’Anglais’.


The Langlois Bridge was a pretty Dutch-style drawbridge situated on the Arles-Bouc canal on the outskirts of the city. At Van Gogh’s time, the canal went from the the River Rhône at a point near the western suburb of Roquette to the Port of Bouc. The canal follows the 47-kilometre route of an old Gallo-Roman canal. Its construction began in 1804 as requested by Napoleon Bonaparte. It allowed vessels to avoid the shallow waters of the Rhône delta as they made their way to and from Marseille. Vincent’s first reference to the bridge appears in a letter dated Sunday 18th March 1888 to his friend Émile Bernard:

Perhaps there’d be a real advantage in emigrating to the south for many artists in love with sunshine and colour. The Japanese may not be making progress in their country, but there’s no doubt that their art is being carried on in France. At the top of this letter I’m sending you a little croquis of a study that’s preoccupying me as to how to make something of it — sailors coming back with their sweethearts towards the town, which projects the strange silhouette of its drawbridge against a huge yellow sun.


Vincent continued: “I have another study of the same drawbridge with a group of washerwomen.”

The maps show the canal and bridge today and as they were in Vincent Van Gogh’s era. Note that the position of the canal was diverted in the 20th century to enlarge the entrance at the River Rhöne and make room for a new autoroute, the N113.

The Pont Réginal (Langlois Bridge) on Maps from 2021 and 1850


Vincent made several paintings of the Langlois Bridge and also a set of drawings. These works showed different sides of the bridge from the left and right banks of the canal. Here is a work showing the bridge keeper’s house (D) which is known to have been located on the Arles side of the canal as indicated by a photograph taken in 1902. The spire (B) is a well-known landmark in the city.

The Langlois Bridge photographed in 1902 and depicted by Vincent Van Gogh in 1888

One of Vincent’s paintings (F400) depicts the bridge in almost exactly the same frame as the photograph above. Vincent’s painting was made in March 1888, during the early part of Spring when the tree was still leafless. The tower (T) in the painting has evidently been masked by a new tree planted between 1888 and 1902 when the photograph was taken.

Vincent was careful to correctly represent the structure and workings of the drawbridge and he made a detailed preparatory drawing. Vincent also made use of a perspective frame, a wooden, mechanical device for scaling the size and position of distant objects in space in a precise manner.

Another of Vincent’s paintings shows two Cypress trees close to the bridge on one side of the canal and the house on the other side (F570). Infrared analysis showed that Vincent had used one of his perspective frames (50 x 45 cm) to precisely delineate the features of the bridge. A small part of the canvas remained unpainted so that one can see a small part of the drawing that lay underneath the rest of the painting, the image of the horse pulling the small carriage.

Unpainted part of the canvas showing the preparatory drawing

The Langlois Bridge at Arles

The bridge itself, the bridge keeper’s house and the Cypress trees are no longer present today. One can reasonably assume they were destroyed before 1931 when a more sturdy bridge was constructed for the increasingly heavy flow of traffic from Arles to Port St Louis.

Vincent’s Different Viewpoints

By researching the terrain surrounding the bridge at the time Vincent made his visits, it has been possible to define Vincent’s different vantage points for his paintings of the bridge. It has been possible to visualize the layout of the terrain and the objects around the bridge as these must have been in 1888.

The terrain around the bridge as it was in 1888

My drawing of the three viewing positions is shown in the illustration below.


The evidence suggests that Vincent Van Gogh painted the Langlois Bridge landscape as he saw it. Vincent was scrupulously careful to paint what he saw, not what he imagined. The landscape that Vincent knew has changed radically, but it has been possible to re-imagine the scene as he originally encountered it.

Published by dfmarks


8 thoughts on “Vincent Van Gogh’s Langlois Bridge

  1. Two hypotheses compete to explain the oversized black building marked „T“.

    1) VvG painted St. Trophime but overestimated its appearance because painting F400 was not accomplished outdoor with a permanent view of the object, but in his studio, using memory and imagination. We know from letter 589 that it was the second attempt after a failure. This time, VvG turned the perspective about 30° anti-clockwise. He gave the black building a size and a shape that he *imagined* to appear if he were on-site. The grey second edge on the left of the building may stand for the north tower of the amphitheatre in the background. The oblique black brush stroke may stand for the main nave of the church. Maybe even the whole is exceptionally meant as a symbolic placeholder for the vaguely imagined buildings.

    2) VvG painted a building with the correct size and shape, as he usually strived to do, but it was not St. Trophime.
    a. It could be the municipal theatre (though its shape is rather unsimilar) or a windmill (though no city map from 1848 to 1914 shows one).
    b. Or it could be a building that existed at VvG‘s time but has now disappeared: Ste. Croix. Its tower was nearly double as high presumably until the Second World War, and its missing upper part was narrower than its preserved base. Seen from VvG’s position in the south, it had a zagged silhouette like the black building in the painting. Compare this engraving of a view from the east: . In this scenario, we would identify
    B = St. Césaire, J = St. Laurent, T = Ste. Croix.

    Unfortunately, none of these scenarios grants conclusive evidence.

  2. Tower B = St. Césaire, Tower J = St. Martin. But what is Tower T?

    I doubt in the German wikipedia article that claims T to represent St. Trophime.
    1. van Gogh painted it much bigger which means closer than B and J. But in reality St.Trophime is as far away as the other towers.
    2. It is lacking the typical triangle spire that VvG always conscientiously stuck to.

    The old French map gives no hint, recent streetview does not either.
    Any ideas?

    1. Thank you for your comment. You are asking an excellent question.

      I have searched the area around its presumed location and can find nothing existing today that corresponds to Tower T. I agree that it cannot be St Trophine. Tower T is too large, in the wrong position, and the wrong shape to be St Trophine.

      The photograph of 1902 shows a tree at the same visual angle as T. Either T had been demolished or the tree masked it in the photograph.

      Another possibility is that T represents Saint-Honorat church at Alyscamp. Although the latter is at roughly the correct visual angle, VvG’s tower T is too large and the wrong construction to represent Saint-Honorat.

      It would be good to have access to other photos taken in the early 1900s at the Langlois Bridge. To date I have found very few and none reveals evidence about the identity of tower T. For now, the identity of tower T remains a mystery.

      1. David, your thorough analysis and your detailed reply are a pleasure. Do I recognize the handwriting of an empirical psychologist?

        Finally I discovered a protruding building with a similar shape, in an appropriate angle and at a short enough distance: the municipal theatre from 1841

        The following map marks VvG‘s painting location, the towers of St. Césaire and St. Martin, and the modern theater . Apparently, St. Trophime and St. Honorat are too far away to be possible solutions for the big black building in the painting. Click away the unimportant error notification, press and move the colored pins at will, and test other possible solutions.

        Collegial greetings from Cologne, Yves

      2. Hello Yves, Thank you for your comment and reflections on the ‘big black building’ (‘T’). Your idea that T could be the municipal theatre may be correct. However VVG’s quite rough-looking sketch of the building does not look very similar to the shape of the theatre. I am wondering whether T may have been a wooden windmill still under construction? The appearance of a chute on the left side of the structure may be a clue. One can see similar structures in at least one other painting that VVG did while he was in Arles (see far right of horizon in ‘Snowy Landscape with Arles in the Background’, 1888). All very mysterious.

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