I have been away for the past week. We cruised down the River Rhone from Lyon to Arles which was lovely, and took three places off my bucket list. One was the Pont du Gard, that amazing section of Roman aqueduct still remaining crossing the River Gard. Very hot that day but still summoned the energy to go down to the water’s edge and look up at this amazing structure whilst envying the people in the water. The second place was the Camargue National Park to see the famous white horses and the black bulls, as well as of course the flamingos who breed there, the only breeding ground of this bird in Europe. Curiously they are not very pink. The third place, as an artist that I wanted to visit was Arles made famous by Van Gogh, and those of us who wanted, were treated to a fascinating walking tour taking in some of the places made famous by the artist.
Van Gogh arrived in Arles in 1888, and took a room in a house near the railway station. he called it the Yellow House and it is depicted in one of his paintings. The house isn’t there anymore. It was destroyed by bombing in WW2. The house next door is still there, not yellow but a sort of buttermilk colour, and curiously enough still a cafe.
The light in Arles is extremely attractive for artists. The sun shines and the sky is blue nearly every day. More importantly, the famous wind, the Mistral blows down the Rhone like a corridor and clears the air of water vapour, dust etc, and produces a clarity of colour that would be hard to find elsewhere. The Mistral in summer is like a cooling breeze, like an electric fan in the heat of the city. In winter, I am told, it is something of a tyrant, getting inside your head, making you ill, and in some cases inducing madness. It goes in three-day cycles. If it doesn’t stop after three days, it will go on for another three, and so on
Vincent’s time in Arles was highly productive, producing something like 300 paintings.He was bi polar so was capable of great energy at times. On our walk we visited some of the sites made famous by van Gogh. One of them was the Night Cafe or Le Cafe la Nuit. The exterior of the cafe is depicted in Cafe Terrace at Night painted in September 1888. My picture follows.
Another shot with the van Gogh painting as a reference
He wanted to set up a society of artists in Arles, and to this end, persuaded his brother Theo, who was already financing him, to persuade Gauguin with financial inducements, to come to Arles, which he did. The two of them had a turbulent relationship which turned violent and Gauguin left.
Van Gogh’s despair and self recrimination led to the famous self mutilation incident, when he took a razor to his ear and sliced off a lobe. He wrapped it in newspaper and gave it to a prostitute whom he knew. She reported him to the police, who thought he had killed Gauguin. He was admitted to a hospital in Arles for treatment, where he continued to work, and produced the following painting of the hospital garden
The garden which he painted is not dissimilar today. Later his condition was to worsen and he was admitted to a nearby asylum in St.Remy.He was estranged from Theo who was about to marry. As we know he was to shoot himself in a nearby field, amidst some controversy. He shot himself in the chest and did not die immediately. People usually shoot themselves in the head and then death is instant. How did he come by a gun. He was unpopular in the town, because of his strange behaviour. Had someone else shot him? All unanswerable questions
I have tried to condense the walk down to as few words as possible. Not easy to convey so much information, but hope you find it interesting nonetheless