In late May 1888, Vincent made a short trip to the Mediterranean. He chose to go to Saintes-Maries-de-la Mer, famous for its annual pilgrimage. Van Gogh made several drawings and painted what he saw on the spot. From huts to landscapes incorporating the elements of the town.
Back in Arles, he combined these studies and sketches in the painting in question, which was beautifully described in a letter: ‘On the completely flat, sandy beach, little green, red, blue boats, so pretty in shape and colour that one thought of as flowers.’
Vincent was completely taken by Japanese art during this period of his short career. In Paris, he had been raving about Japanese woodcuts, and had begun acquiring quite a collection, which he exhibited in a local café. Japanese art had had a profound effect on Vincent’s style and it was this work that he wanted to emulate through his own. The swiftly drawn yet confident lines added a sense of emphasis to the brightly contrasting colours of the boats. The essence of the Japanese work that he had grown to love was delicately mastered into his own.