Van Gogh painted this oil study in the supper of 1888 in Arles. In a letter to his brother Theo, he described the motif, which he had previously captured in a drawing: »At the moment I am working on a study […] boats, seen from a quay, from above. The two boats are purplish pink, the water is very green, no sky, a tricolor flag on the mast. A workman with a wheelbarrow is unloading sand. I have a drawing of it too.« Specifically, the scene is situated on the landing-place on the left bank of the Rhone, not far from the Place Lamartine, just a few steps away from van Gogh's studio at the time. The filigree depiction of the boots and their loads, the landing stage, the rudder and the masts give the impression of a rocking, unsteady plane over the water which supports the massively reinforced bank and the heavy chain. Van Gogh hoped to found an artists' community in Arles. He courted Gauguin, who did in fact come to Arles for a short time, and Émile Bernard. Together with other studies and a dedication, van Gogh sent the painting to Bernard in October 1888. In his letter he left it open to his friend – if he did not like the painting – to remove the dedication and to return it in exchange for other paintings. »But I think that you will like it, especially after you look at it for a while.« Bernard kept the study and showed it in an exhibition organized in memory of his friend, who had died two years previously, in Le Bare in 1892.