Van Gogh (1853-1890) is a legend. A legend of an ill-appreciated genius in his lifetime. His once unrecognised works have now become the most sought after. The paintings that he made in Arles and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence from 1888 to 1890 are the best known in the world.
Van Gogh, while he was in Paris, changed his artistic approach under the influence of the most non-conformist artists of the times: Signac, Pissarro and his friend Toulouse-Lautrec. He liked the exotic Martinique scenes of Gauguin. Inspired by such modernity, he felt ready to carry out one of his dreamed projects – the search of dazzling light of Provence.
On 19 February 1888, he left Paris for Arles.
( Photo above : Moissons en Provence, juin 1888, environs d’Arles, huile sur toile, 50 x60 cm, Musée d’Israel, Jérusalem)
He settled in Arles, within the ramparts. He first lived at the hotel-restaurant Carrel on 30 rue de la Cavalerie, which was a brothel area at that time. The Dutch painter Christian Mourier-Petersen was his friend. Van Gogh rented part of the “Yellow House” as an atelier. Not long after, he moved to Café de la Gare on 30 place Lamartine, and then to the “Yellow House” on 17 September 1888.
(La Maison jaune (« La Rue »), 1888, huile sur toile, 72 cm par 89 cm, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, F464/JH1589)
Van Gogh experimented with the light of Provence. He began his Arles series on 22 February 1888. He walked around the region and began by painting landscapes, harvest scenes and portraits. In April, he met the American painter Dodge MacKnight who lived in Fontvielle (North East of Arles). He also met painter Eugène Boch with whom he built a strong friendship. Van Gogh made a portrait of him.
(Portrait d’Eugène Boch, (« Le Poète »), 1888, huile sur toile, 60 par 45 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris F462/JH1574)
In June 1888, after having received a note of 100 francs from his brother Théo, Van Gogh left hurriedly for Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer for five days. There, he painted Amitié and the village around a fortified church.
In spring 1888, he painted a series of triptychs on the flowering orchards. He also made portraits for, such as the Roulin family. The first series on sunflowers dated from this period. Van Gogh dreamed of a community that united artists together to share their experiences and researches. Paul Gauguin joined Van Gogh on 23 October 1888. They worked together on a series dedicated to the Alyscamps (Roman necropolis). However, they did not get along. The tension and the permanent exaltation in their creative approach finally led to a breakdown.
(Les Alyscamps de Vincent Van Gogh Arles, 1888)
On 23 December 1888, after a dispute with Gauguin, Van Gogh was found in his bed with a missing left ear. In a fit of delirium, he had cut off part of his ear with a razor and offered it to a prostitute.
Van Gogh was taken to the hospital the following day and treated by Doctor Rey for whom he had painted a portrait. Thirty persons signed a petition requesting confinement or expulsion of Van Gogh from Arles for he had disturbed public order. On 7 February 1889, Doctor Delon called for the confinement of Van Gogh for “auditory and visual hallucinations.” On 27 February 1889, the police commissioner d’Ornano concluded in his report that Van Gogh could be dangerous for public security.
(Autoportrait à l’oreille bandée, 1889, huile sur toile,60 cm par 49 cm, Institut Courtaud – The Samuel Courtauld Trust, Londres, F527/JH1657)
In March 1889, after a period of rest, Van Gogh made a few paintings including Autoportrait à l’oreille bandée. Following further fits, the mayor ordered a compulsory confinement of Van Gogh at the Arles Hospital. In mid-April, he rented to Doctor Rey an apartment located in another neighbourhood. Despite his failure to set up an atelier, he kept in contact with Emile Bernard and Gauguin. Gauguin, after his eventful stay in Arles, continued to exchange letters with Van Gogh until the end.
Van Gogh decided to stay in a psychiatric hospital headed by Doctor Théophile Peyron in Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. He thus left Arles on 8 May 1889. He stayed in the hospital for one year during which he had three major fits.
(Iris, 1889, huile sur toile, 71 cm par93 cm, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, F608/JH1691)
Despite all the misfortunes, Van Gogh remained very productive. A room on the ground floor was reserved for him as an atelier. He continued to send his paintings to his brother Théo. Two of these paintings were exhibited in the fifth annual exhibition organized by the Society of Independent Artists in Paris. One of the earliest works produced in this period was Iris, characterized by his swirling brush strokes and spiral effect. Sometimes, Van Gogh also painted things that he saw from his windows, including a series on wheat fields that he could admire from his room at the hospital in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. He left the hospital on 19 May 1890.
He left Arles and returned to Paris with his brother Théo. Another chapter began….