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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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 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
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