The next in my 2018 European holiday series – 15 July
Like the French Soccer team, I am on a mission today. I am looking for the Yellow house, at least where it used to stand before it was bombed by the Allies (accidentally) in May 1945. It is the house that Vincent Van Gogh rented and painted in 1888, hoping to start an artist commune in Arles. Paul Gauguin visited for a short time, but this proved to be an unhappy experience for both of them.
He rented four rooms at 2 Place Lamartine, on the right wing of the nearest building in the painting. The two ground floor rooms were used for a studio and a kitchen. The upstairs corner room was the guest room for Gauguin, while the one next to it (with one shutter closed) was Van Gogh’s bedroom – the one later painted with the chair and pipe. At a later point, he rented two more rooms upstairs at the back of the house.
On 16 September 1888 Vincent wrote to his sister Wilhelmina describing the house, and his contentment at finding a place where he felt he could think and paint:
“…Also a sketch of a 30 square canvas representing the house and its setting under a sulphur sun under a pure cobalt sky. The theme is a hard one! But that is exactly why I want to conquer it. Because it is fantastic, these yellow houses in the sun and also the incomparable freshness of the blue. All the ground is yellow too. I will soon send you a better drawing of it than this sketch out of my head.
The house on the left is pink with green shutters. It’s the one that is shaded by a tree. This is the restaurant where I go to dine every day. My friend the factor is at the end of the street on the left, between the two bridges of the railroad. The night café that I painted is not in the picture, it is on the left of the restaurant.”
I left the boat and set off for the old section of town – the very helpful Cruise Director had marked the spot that she thought it had been on the map. However when I found the little square I couldn’t find any plaque or reference to the house, so I asked a local tour guide who simply laughed and said ‘but it doesn’t exist any more!’ and turned back to her tour participants.
So then with my less than trusty map, I set off to find signs of the house. I firstly came across a cafe which he painted (where I paid a ridiculous amount for a soft drink).
I then found a small garden where Van Gogh painted (also now heavily commercialised ) next to the hospital where he had been admitted in Arles.
Then to the local museum which houses several of his works.
Included in the photos below are some close ups of the canvas so you can see how he applied the paint..
After leaving the museum and heading back towards the boat, I found the information centre where another very helpful person produced a new map, and placed a new X – which was about 50 metres from where the boat was moored! I had walked close by when I’d set out on my walk about two hours beforehand.
I also realised that one of his starry night paintings would likely have been done in the vicinity of the boat mooring.
(On route to our adventure of the afternoon – please do check this blog – we also saw the sunflowers where Vincent would have painted, the hospital at St Remy where he stayed, and the monastery where he painted.)
So, like the French soccer players, mission accomplised, and a great reason to celebrate!
And just to finish, a few pics of the area.