Starry Night Over the Rhone painting

How I found Van Gogh in Arles

There was another stop to do in France, I just had to find Van Gogh in Arles. It was not that far from the French Riviera, and I figured that I did cool down a bit hopping from one place on the coast to the next since it was that year when this part of Europe was boiling, being hit by the tropical wave (it was the summer of 2003).

Anyway, the whole travelogue about my first trip to France can be found on another link. And now, the time has come to learn more about Van Gogh in Arles.

The central square in Arles

Van Gogh in Arles

This small town in Provence in the South of France, a couple of hours from the French Riviera by train, was celebrating the 150th anniversary of Vincent van Gogh’s birth. The famous painter originated from the Netherlands but came here for changing scenery.

Even though he didn’t live in this town for very long, he created some of his most famous work right here, in Arles. And an important scene of his life took place in this Provencal town. Well, how can one resist?

Walls of the famous Arena

The Yellow House

I took a train and was greeted by the sign at the station that Van Gogh got off here on February 20, 1888, and decided to stay. He found a small room in the yellow house on the corner and turned it into a studio. Famous for being extremely productive (since he only ate, drank, and painted), he did hundreds of paintings in Arles for a short period of time.

Church of St Trophime courtyard

Van Gogh chose this town over Paris because he wanted to escape the noise, imposing fellow artists who did not appreciate his technique and colors the way he did, and also because it was difficult for him to work if not isolated. Still, after a while, Van Gogh in Arles got seriously lonely.

The bridge that Van Gogh painted

Gaugain episode

It so happened that another famous artist Paul Gauguin was in depth at the time. He asked Van Gogh to help him exhibit his work at his brother Theo’s gallery in Paris so that he might sell a piece or two. Such an excellent opportunity was not to be missed and so, Van Gogh invited Gauguin to come and live with him in the yellow house in Arles. He even dwelled upon an idea to found a colony of artists who would come here and work outdoors.

VAN GOGH IN ARLES: The Drawbridge

Gauguin did come, but nevertheless, he left after only a few weeks, explaining to Theo that they were quarreling all the time and that Vincent “tried to kill him”. For Van Gogh, this was a tragic event. He was alone again and during one of his crises, he cut his ear off and gave it to a prostitute in front of the bar. As a result, he was institutionalized, admitted to the sanatorium in Arles, and after a few months of rehabilitation (while painting continuously), Van Gogh was moved to the asylum in Saint Remy.

The bank of the Rhone river

Where Van Gogh stood

Still, the legacy of Van Gogh in Arles is priceless. Even though struggling with loneliness, and crises, he painted some of his most precious work here. From this period, he has left about two hundred paintings, over one hundred drawings and watercolors, and more than two hundred letters.

This is where the famous “Sunflowers” came to life, or “The Yellow House”, “The Bedroom at Arles”, “Harvesters”, “Vincent’s chair”, the whole line of self-portraits, “Cafe at Night, Place du Forum”, and many more.

VAN GOGH IN ARLES: Starry Night Over the Rhone

I was so thrilled when I found out that there are tours in Arles named In Van Gogh’s Footsteps. One can actually go around, visit the same spots as he did and compare the scenery to his paintings.

This was mind-blowing for me, I just loved the fact that I was standing in the same place where Van Gogh painted “The Starry Night over the Rhone”. This one was my favorite and I was so happy to be able to see it at the Orsay Museum in Paris a couple of weeks before coming to Arles.

Van Gogh cafe in Arles

The famous color

“My house here is painted in yellow of fresh butter, the shutters in 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 is what Van Gogh in Arles wrote.

The yellow house was located at 2 Place Lamartine but was destroyed during the liberation of the city in 1944. The railway bridge, on the other hand, situated in the background of the painting, can still be recognized.

Van Gogh in Arles
Cafe at Night, Place du Forum by Van Gogh

“The Garden of the Arles Sanatorium” is another painting depicting the actual courtyard and it looks almost the same as in Van Gogh’s work. The building is not a sanatorium anymore, but a museum and school. You can sit for a coffee there and admire the view, and just remember that there in the corner – Van Gogh came down the same stairs numerous times. The whole square in front of the former sanatorium bears the name of the great artist.


The cafe is still there

When you go to Forum Square you will see the Night Cafe, still standing, immortalized by Vincent’s paintings. The only difference is that today it is called Van Gogh Cafe and it is squeezed between other cafes and restaurants.

Also, you can visit places where “The Old Mill” stood, “The Public Garden”, “The Drawbridge”, “The Shop”, “The Alyscamps”, ancient Roman heritage sight that Gaugain also painted, “The Arena”, etc. Get a map and go around Arles in Van Gogh’s footsteps.

The amphitheater of Arles

The town is not that big. You can go around on foot and as tiring as it may seem, believe me, you will cherish the memory for years to come.

As for me, it meant I made the full circle of my poetic hopping from one side of France to the other. And what a journey it was!

*photos – Pixabay

The End

The full France SERIES


Arles France pin

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20 responses

  1. I think I’m going to add this on my list of places to try and go to whenever I make my way back to France. I missed going into the Orsey museum as it was closing by the time we arrived. I fell in love with Paris and would love to see more of the country.

  2. Wow, I actually got chills reading this! Talking about stepping into a painting. I’d love to visit there someday, especially since I’ve seen so little of France. I’ll be keeping Arles in mind for sure.

  3. Van Gogh is one of my favourite artists and I would be so excited to be here! I can hear your excitement through your writing. Have you been to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam? I loved it there.

    1. Even more so when you know that it ended up on Van Gogh’s painting! Oh, yes, do a day trip and go to Arles, you’ll find it interesting. πŸ™‚

  4. This is so cool! Wow, I had no idea that Van Gogh did over 100 paintings but that’s pretty impressive given his short stay. I am so glad that they were able to preserve many of the places that Van Gogh visited and stayed at so we can see many of his inspirations. I would love to add this to my list if I ever made my way to France!

    1. They say that Van Gogh was over productive and that he did nothing else but paint. Such enormous legacy given the short stay! Fingers crossed, hope you make it there one day. πŸ™‚

  5. That is pretty cool. I leaned some new things. Didn’t know that is basically where he went to unwind and create some of his most famous works.

    1. Everything in Arles reminds you on Van Gogh somehow. Such a brief stay and such a huge legacy! Thanks, so glad you’ve enjoyed the post. πŸ™‚

  6. I would absolute adore this! I can’t believe I haven’t been to Arles yet. Van Gogh is one of my favorite painters. I’ll definitely do a tour when I go! Pinning for future ref

    1. Oh, so glad you’ve found the thing for your bucket list here. πŸ™‚ Just imagine – you can take a picture of the river bank where Van Gogh stood once and painted his Starry Night! That one is my favorite, btw. πŸ™‚

  7. France was already on my bucket list and now specifically adding Arles to it. This article gave me goose bumps. Travelling to the places of painting will be a real Wow. These paintings are absolutely beautiful.

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