The Artist on the Road to Tarascon, 1888 by Vincent Van Gogh

Other aspects of Provence had more direct literary connotations. Tarascon, a small town about ten miles north of Arles, was associated with the French novelist Alphonse Daudet, notably through his book about a Provencal lionhunter, Tartarin de Tarascon. Van Gogh praised this novel in a letter to his brother for being 'so fine in colour'. Later, in the autumn of 1888, he painted some old stagecoaches in Tarascon which were mentioned in the novel; Daudet makes them deplore modern progress and in particular the railway that has displaced them. This curious self-portrait of Van Gogh as artist, walking beside the cornfields to Tarascon, painted in rich colour which intensifies the sense of the South, may be full of implied references to Daudet. It is not only a memento of a walk to Daudet's town, but also a statement about Van Gogh and the South he had discovered through literature. A drawing of this same scene, but without the figure of the artist, was sent to the Australian artist Van Gogh had known in Paris, John Russell. Van Gogh has also presented himself here as the plein-air painter, wandering in search of motifs with his portable studio on his back.