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Van Gogh in the South of France

van gogh arlesVan Gogh is linked to two main places in the South of France: Arles and Saint Remy de Provence. He had initially traveled to the South of France from Paris in the hope of improving his health (which was deteriorating from too much alcohol and smoking) and to establish a "studio in the South" for fellow artists to produce artwork which could be sold by his brother Theo van Gogh back in Paris.This period of his life was extremely productive and helped to establish van Gogh's reputation as a Master. Whilst it is often claimed that van Gogh never sold a single painting during his lifetime and he died pennyless, this is not entirely true. Yes, he lived in abject poverty for most of his life (living off the genorosity of his brother, Theo); he did sell one painting, the Red Vineyard in Arles for about $1800 in today's money. But it has been estimated that the combined value of his work from his 2 year period in the South of France, is well over $1.5bn. Yes that is billions. In fact, 7 paintings from his time in Arles and Saint Remy have collectively sold for $770m. Van Gogh produced over 350 paintings and drawings during his 27 month stay in the South of France.

Van Gogh in Arles, South France

van gogh arles bedroomVan Gogh arrived in Arles during February 1888. During May 1888 he leased 4 rooms in the famous Yellow House (which is depicted in two of his painting, the infamous Bedroom in Arles and The Yellow House) with the aim of creating a gallery to exhibit his paintings and attracting other artists to join the 2-3 painters with whom he had made contact with. Van Gogh's period in Arles is regarded as his most prolific. During the 12 months van Gogh stayed in Arles, he produced an incredible 187 paintings and drawings. Whilst some were often duplicates or variations of the same theme (with varying degrees of quality), he did produce some of his famous masterpieces including: The Sower, Bedroom in Arles, The Night Cafe, The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Starry Night over the Rhone, Vase with 12 Sunflowers, Van Gogh's Chir and Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear. Van Gogh also visited the nearby countryside and villages, including Tarascon, Saintes Maries and Montpellier

In October, van Gogh was joined by Paul Gauguin and they started to form their famous partnership. In truth, the relationship between van Gogh and Gauguin was always a bit frought and not the true friendship that van Gogh had hoped for. Van Gogh had been introduced to Paul Gauguin by his art dealer brother, Theo van Gogh, and there is some evidence that Gauguin had to be 'encouraged' by Theo van Gogh to join his brother in Arles. It is clear that whilst this period of 3 months in Arles was extremely productive for both painters (together they produced around 80 paintings), their relationship gradually deteriorated caused in part by too much drinking, as well as their different temprements coming to the fore. Van Gogh (from the evidence of his letters from this period) seems to have been wracked by feelings of self-doubt and inferiority; and Gauguin comes across as arrogant and over-bearing. So in short it was a bit of a fateful combination. Although nobody can know for certain, it seems that catalyst for the famous ear-cutting incident was that van Gogh found out that Gauguin was planning to leave Arles to return to Paris. There is conflicting evidence about whether van Gogh did actually cut off his whole ear, with most accounts reporting that it was only the left ear lobe. But what cannot be disputed, is that the local residents of Arles thought he was completely mad (often referred to as the Red Mad Man). Initially van Gogh was taken to the hospital in Arles, but he was later brought to the asylum in nearby Saint Remy de Provence.

Van Gogh in Saint Remy de Provence

starry night st remyVincent Van Gogh stayed in Arles for 1 year. He was brought to the asylum in St Remy by a priest and his carer. At the asylum, van Gogh was given 2 rooms, one of which he used as his studio. Despite suffering from debilitating depression and hallucinations, he still remained productive during this period. He produced his famous Starry Night, The Wheat Field, The Round of Prisoners and Two Peasant Women Digging in a Snow-Covered Field at Sunset. Many have speculated about the exact cause of van Gogh's mental condition, but it seems that the consensus is that he suffered from bi-polar disorder. At the hospital in Arles he was diagnosed as suffering from epilepsy and recent studies have confirmed that his delerium was certainly not helped by his use of lead in his painting oils. Van Gogh's movements around St Remy were naturally quite restricted, but on his supervised walks around the hospital gardens he began to make studies of the Lilacs and Irises, as well as the Cypress and Olive trees, all of which featured in a number of paintings during this period. During February and April 1890, van Gogh suffered a relapse in his condition and in May 1890 he was transferred to Auvers-sur-Oise, near Paris, under the care of Dr Paul Gachet (whose portrait he famously painted and which was sold 110 years later for a reputed $82m).

It is quite amazing that 3 of the paintings that Vincent van Gogh produced in between his bouts of depression and epileptic fits, have today sold for a combined value of $157m (A Wheatfield with Cypresses, 1889 ($57m); Peasant Woman Against a Background of Wheat, 1890 ($47m); and Irises 1889 ($53m)). Today, you can join a guided tour of the St Remy asylum where van Gogh stayed and to explore the gardens which featured heavily in his paintings.


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