There was one more stop to do while in France. It was not that far from the French Riviera and I have 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 unusually hot, being hit by the tropical wave (it was the summer of 2003). Anyway, I just had to go to Arles!
This small town in Provence in the South of France, couple of hours from the French Riviera by train, was actually celebrating 150th anniversary of Vincent van Gogh’s birth. The famous painter was from Netherlands, but he came here to relax and change the scenery. Even though he did not live in this town for very long, he actually created some of his most famous work right here, in Arles! And one important scene of his life we have all heard about, took place in this Provencal town. Well, how can one resist!
The Yellow House
Took the 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 at 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 short period of time.
Van Gogh chose this town over Paris because he wanted to escape the noise, the imposing fellow artists who did not see his technique, colors the same way he did, and also because it was difficult for him to work if not being isolated. Still, after a while, Van Gogh got seriously lonely.
It so happened that another famous artist Paul Gauguin was in depth at the time, with no money. He asked Van Gogh to help him exhibit his work at his brother Theo’s gallery in Paris in order to maybe sell a piece or two. Such a nice opportunity was not to be missed and so, Van Gogh has invited Gauguin to come and live with him in the yellow house in Arles. He even dwelled upon an idea to form the whole colony of artists who would come and work outdoors.
Gauguin did come, but never the less, he left after only few weeks, explaining to Theo that they were quarreling all the time and that Vincent “tried to kill him”. For Van Gogh, this was one tragic event. He felt alone again and during one of his crises he has 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 few months of rehabilitation (while painting continuously), Van Gogh was moved to the asylum in Saint Remy.
Where Van Gogh stood
Still, the legacy Van Gogh has left to Arles is priceless. Even though struggling with loneliness, crises, he has painted some of his most precious work here. From his stay in Arles, he left some two hundreds paintings, over one hundred drawings and water-colors 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!
Was so thrilled when I have found out that there are tours in Arles named In Van Gogh’s Footsteps. You can actually go around, visit the same spots 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 has actually painted “The Starry Night over the Rhone”! This one was my favorite and I was so happy to have seen it in the Orsay Museum in Paris couple of weeks before that!
“My house here is painted the yellow color of fresh butter, the shutters a garish green. It is bathed in sunlight and stands on a square with the 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 wrote.
The yellow house was located at 2 Place Lamartine, but it 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 any more, but the museum and a school. You can sit for a coffee there and admire the view, and just remember that there, you see those stairs in the corner – Van Gogh came down those 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 the Forum Square you will see the cafe Night, still standing, immortalized by the Vincent’s paintings. The only difference is that today it is called Van Gogh Cafe and it is squeezed by 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 by 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 have come to the full circle of one poetic and romantic “hopping” from one side of France to the other. And what a journey that was!
*photos – Pixabay