Friday, August 30, 2013

Walking in the paths of Van Gogh




When Remi first made the fateful suggestion that we swing by the town of Arles on our way home from the Visa Pour L'Image Photography Festival in 2003, one name flashed into my mind: Vincent Van Gogh. It was reason enough for me to quickly agree, as I used to regularly visit his masterpieces at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and MOMA in Manhattan (and I still make pilgrimages to say hello whenever I return for a visit). I was only vaguely impressed by the town's Roman monuments but was immediately transported by the light, his light. It was one of the reasons why we fell in love with this small Provençal town.



Van Gogh only lived in Arles for a year and yet it was the most prolific period of his career. He was as equally inspired by the color found in the landscapes as he was by the city's seamier underbelly. He was a believer and wished to create an atelier du Midi, an artist's collective similar to that which Claude Monet had formed in Giverny. After months of insistent demanding, Paul Gaugin joined him and yet it was immediately clear that he was not willing to stay. Their fighting increased until it lead to "the ear incident" where, in a fit of rage and despair, Van Gogh cut off a part of his left ear (most scholars agree that it was a little bit more than the lobe). When Gaugin found him passed out in a pool of blood later that evening, he hired several young men to carry him to the Hôtel Dieu.



During his recovery, thirty townspeople signed a petition against the fou roux or red-headed madman, which lead to the closing of his carefully decorated Yellow House (later bombed by the Americans during World War II). After a brief interval, Van Gogh agreed to leave Arles and enter the Saint-Paul de Mausole hospital, located over the Alpilles hills in St.-Rémy-de-Provence. 


He stayed for over a year and created one hundred paintings and as many drawings while there. Initially, his treatment forbade him from leaving the closed gardens...


...and the magnificent 11th century cloister. Unsurprisingly, they became frequent subjects of his pieces...


...as did the view from the series of rooms that his Brother, Theo, had requested.


The first was his bedroom, the second his studio and then an additional room was added in which to stack up his quickly accumulating canvases.


Initially, Vincent felt that his medical treatment was a success and he was eventually allowed to paint in the fields and olive groves outside of the asylum's walls. Today, there are plaques throughout (as well as in Arles) that indicate the precise spot that had inspired certain scenes. 


It is as thrilling as the surrounding lavender garden is calming to the senses. This land has been sacred ground for over one thousand years and that enduring peace is pervasive.


Unfortunately, during the end of his stay, Vincent suffered a severe relapse and after just over one year of treatment, he left the hospital to be closer to Doctor Gachet in Auvers-sur-Oise. His life ended two months later.


By all accounts, Vincent Van Gogh took great solace in nature during his stay. His greatest masterworks were created at St. Paul, including, Starry Night, The Irises and Vincent's Room in Arles.


This corner of Provence is still largely what it was during his time there and yes, the beauty remains. St. Paul continues on as an active psychiatric hospital. I often see some of their patients out for a guided walk through Arles on a Tuesday.

Inspired by their most famous occupant, the Valetudo Association has been helping the patients of the asylum demystify their illness through the use of art therapy. The site's boutique offers their work for sale. It is a beautiful link to the past, one creating a positive future and a living piece of the vibrant legacy of Vincent Van Gogh.


Maison de santé Saint-Paul de Mausole
Route des Baux, St.-Rémy-de-Provence
Website in English: please click here.
Site en français: veuillez cliquer ici.
A portion of the site is open to visits from the public and it is well worthwhile.


This seemed like an appropriate post for the end of Summer and the beginning of Autumn as well as a fitting follow-up to my previous post. Thank you all for your wonderful comments.
For those in the States, I am wishing you all a wonderful Labor Day weekend. 
May it be a peaceful one for us all.

50 comments:

  1. That first picture is breathtaking! I love Van Gogh and lavender as well and can't believe I haven't made it to Arles...

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  2. Your posts are always inspirational, Heather. Thank you for another beautiful tour or your corner of the world. I feel as though I was right at your side. Gorgeous!

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    1. Thank youuuu! Please give bisous to those sweet puppers of yours. Hoping Bailey's foot is on the mend!

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  3. Tracing Van Gogh in and near Arles has brought me to so many places I wouldn't have been or wouldn't have seen the same way. Thanks for these wonderful reminders and glorious photos.

    But I didn't know that " Inspired by their most famous occupant, the Valetudo Association has been helping the patients of the asylum demystify their illness through the use of art therapy. The site's boutique offers their work for sale." I don't believe that the dead are looking down on us, unless that is one of the circles of hell, but I do imagine that Van Gogh would be pleased to know this.

    For me, it's another a reason for a return visit.

    Thank you so much. Joan

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    1. I also really appreciate that the institution is using art therapy to help with their patient's recovery. It is very moving to look at their work in the boutique. And of course, a return visit is always in order! It's Provence after all!

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  4. Thank you for the wonderful journey through St Remy de Provence and Arles. It makes me want to go back and see it all over again but longer this time than a week. Beautiful pictures.

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    1. Oh a week is far too short, Karen! You really must come back when you can. :)

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  5. Hi Heather,
    The monastery-like "home" became a blessing to Van Gogh to pursue his art and health.

    Was it during dream-sleep that he found his vision of colors?
    .
    Thank you for the clear walking narration and photos.

    Enjoy the weekend and its wonders,

    edgar

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    1. Thank you Edgar. You know, when I would look at his paintings in NYC, I would think, "Oh, he is just crazy..." yadayada...but as soon as I moved here, I could see that he wasn't exagerrating at all...
      Bon Weekend to you too!

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  7. Oh, Good Lord, Heather....I spent this morning going through and over the letters between Vincent and Theo Van Gogh.....and you've just been to St. Paul de Mausole?

    I really love that place (which isn't, all done and said, exactly "beautiful" or architecturally interesting, etcetera)....I've been to many "Jane Austen's House" and other, similar literary/artistic shrines, but St. Paul de Mausole (which Herve and I visited three years ago, prior to going over to Vicki Archer's house, of all lovely but unlikely homes for our remarkably un-chic tails to be visiting) is....wonderful....in that "make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up" way.....

    It's the only "literary/artistic shrine/tourist spot" that I've ever visited....and found myself suddenly thinking "Oh, My God...he was HERE...I'm in the THE PLACE". As a general rule, I'm firmly unsentimental and uninclined towards idolatry. there, however....... I was genuinely moved (as we say).

    St. Paul de Mausol is somehow and indefinably DIFFERENT......but,so was and is Van Gogh.

    you can see what I wrote (one hour ago, after working all day on the painting) at: http://www.davidterryart.com/2013/08/watching-you-without-me-barcelona-2013/

    For now?...here are the Vincent quotations (from his letters to Theo) that I ferreted out this morning (this is basically what I just posted onto my website; go to the "current offerings site....and, no, I'm not trying to sell the picture. I plan to keep it for myself)......

    these quotations are from Vincent:

    “It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.”

    “What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.”

    “Close friends are truly life's treasures. Sometimes they know us better than we know ourselves. With gentle honesty, they are there to guide and support us, to share our laughter and our tears. Their presence reminds us that we are never really alone.”

    “I always think that the best way to know God is to love many things.”

    Oh, as and as usual?.....here's the necessary song I played repeatedly while painting this....go to ( I was surprised to find this video, created by another Kate Bush fan):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVecjIBwR4Q

    Thank you for yet another beautiful posting, Heather. Someday, I'll send you the picture of little, confused me, standing in Van Gogh's bedroom and looking alarmed that NOTHING HAS CHANGED.

    Did you know that the room was closed off after Van Gogh's suicide (whatever you choose to believe)....and it wasn't used again until WWI....when Albert Schweitzer, of all people, was detained there for three years as a foreign national?

    Strange world with wondrous coincidences, isn't it?.....

    David Terry
    dterrydraw@aol.com
    www.davidterryart.com

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    1. Remi is having a meeting in the other room so I will have to wait until later to see which Kate Bush song you have chosen.

      And yes, I shook my head with surprise when I read your email this morning (and was, unsurprisingly, deeply moved by your self-portrait, I can't stop thinking about it). Especially, as I took these photos over a year ago, when my Sister was visiting.

      I always take too many photos, or ridiculously, save certain stories for a rainy day like a squirrel. I thought of this again because of the quote in Gallivanta's post that I forwarded you about a broken bell having resonance and that she had included that because of my previous post--plus the amazing talk by Eleanor Longden that you sent...

      I wondered about Van Gogh, his numerous maladies and if he could have survived today...He truly was detested here as he knew (in your second quote), the local stories are still passed down...and yet what he was capable of when he could tap into the harmony inside him...How he did find beauty amidst in the unusual in Arles (of the Roman monuments he painted Les Alyscamps, not the Arena) and in its struggles towards the industrial age (my eye casually ignored the facotry smoke and trains present in many of the works he did while here, an error).

      I find inspiration in his struggles although I do understand that true geniuses are few and far between despite our culture's adoration of the word...

      I do love a coincidence, I have to admit.

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    2. Van Gogh was almost certainly schizophrenic, and as such would most likely have been treated with drugs which would have made him easier to get along with but may well have reduced or altered his creativity.

      Beautiful post.

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  8. I did a report on him in the 5th grade!I was fascinated with him.................
    Lovely photos...........

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    1. I always have been too--maybe because he was a red-head???

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  9. Visiting Auvers, where he only spent two months as you said, is also a moving experience.

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    1. I can imagine. I would like to see those wheat fields too.

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  10. I love the journeys you take us on with your words and gorgeous pictures. Warm regards

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    1. Thank you EE, always a pleasure to have you stop by.

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  11. A wonderful story about this region and their famous inhabitants. You enriched my knowledge with your extensive description not to say the wonderful pictures too.
    Van Gogh was a genius, but genius and insanity are not wide apart.

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    1. If you look at our true geniuses that often seems to be the case, Mumbai. Einstein's wife would sometimes have to chase after him because he would leave the house with only one shoe on...

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    2. Yes Heather and he did much more mad things. He was always fighting with his wife when she want to buy him new clothes etc...I am now reading a monobiography about this genius who was not only extreme intelligent, he was spiritual men and a good "self made" psychologist and philosoph and also involved in politic.
      ... I like discussion just as this, change from one to another. It's like searching in the internet. I believe you know what I mean. Have a nice sunday.

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  12. Oh Heather, You have created such a rich community here. . .it is such a pleasure to read your posts, view your photos and then enjoy the comments that follow. Happy Weekend to you~

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    1. Oh thank you, Jackie. You all are truly what makes doing this more than worthwhile...
      Happy Labor Day Weekend! Woot Woot!

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  13. This is a wonderful post Heather! I really enjoyed it! Love the paintings of Van Gofg a lot!
    Happy weekend my friend! And thank you so much for your nice comment on my latest blogpost!
    xx
    Greet

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    1. Greet, I still can't get over how beautiful your home is...just like it's owner!

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  14. Heather?....do you know this quotation from Einstein?.....:

    "The man who has ceased to wonder has practically ceased to exist".

    There'd be no need to reply, since you now, if not previously, know the quotation.

    ---david terry

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    1. Holy canoli, I didn't know that and of course am crazy for it. I scrolled back up to the self-portrait of Vincent (in the second photos) and thought that might be his wonder swirling around him...

      And I will say that the capacity to wonder has saved my derriere a few times already...

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  15. Thanks Heather, and David, too, for reminding me how in awe I was, when as a freshman at Northwestern, I visited Van Gogh's work at the Chicago Art Institute. I remember standing there, looking at the brush strokes, thinking like David, He touched these paintings. His hand held the brush that made these amazing strokes.

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    1. I felt the same upon seeing them for the first time too, Judith.

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  16. Dear Heather and Judith (for other readers?....I happen to like both ladies, quite aside fromthis blog),

    When Herve and I visited St. Paul de Mausole, the inevitable moment came when, despite the call of Art, the call of Nature spoke more forcefully to Dr. Herve. He went off in search of a public bathroom (this is, for so many reasons, just NOT a place where you'd pee in a corner of the garden). I was, at that point, feeling fairly overwhelemed by the whole place (this is definitely NOT something that happens to me a lot). I went off, walking quietly on that quiet morning, to look around outside the main building.

    I walked into one of the small courtyard gardens and saw, from behind, an American (hard to mistake, given the logos on her t-shirt, baseball cap, and backback) woman sitting on a bench.

    She was sitting there....all alone, not moving, and very-softly singing Don McClean's "Starry, Starry Night" to herself.

    I heard her, started to say something (I didn't want to spook her), stopped in my tracks, and I simply started silently backing-out by the way I'd come. I didn't want to interrupt what was obviously a very special, intimate moment of hers.

    Of course....that's now my own favorite memory of the place....one of my favorite memories from all my travels, in fact.

    ----david terry
    www.davidterryart.com

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    1. I can see how it would be, David. What a beautiful memory.

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  17. I too was drawn to Arles for Van Gogh rather than the Roman ruins and I always make sure to bring visitors to all of his sites there :)

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    1. Even the super cheesy one on the Place du Forum of the café? ;)

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  18. I too, an an artist with bipolar illness. It is a shame Van Gogh had no medicine for it in his day like we do now. But would we have his masterpieces if he did? I identified with his art long before I knew I had manic depression and he did, too. There is great solace in nature for us. xo Jenny

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    1. Thank you for your heart-felt response, Jenny. It is an interesting question that you ask, a valid one. Thank goodness for the solace of nature as a standing line, something to be counted on. I know it is that for me...

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  19. Heather, I loved walking these paths with you. You chose the perfect post for the change of seasons (and the fateful September (?) suggestion), and it connects you and Van Gogh and Arles and the "light' and Vanier so beautifully. I am reading your words and saying "Ah, yes, that is how it all fits together" which statement probably makes no sense to anyone but me :). But most of all, it explains the incredible light in your photos. Some of the extracts from Vincent's letters that David Terry quotes are heartbreaking.However, it seems that for awhile St Paul de Mausole offered some solace and hope to Van Gogh. We are so fortunate that he had that one year, and how incredible to think that he painted Starry Night from memory of the night view from his asylum window. Gallivanta

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    1. Oh, it makes sense to me too. And probably David Terry as well. There seems to be something of a pinball whirl of ideas going around here. :) And yes, so beautifully put, how lucky we all are that he had that year before his end.

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  20. Wonderful post. I am especially intrigued to see that one of my favorite Van Gogh paintings is of his bedroom at the Saint-Paul hospital. Thanks for all your efforts.

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    1. You're welcome Sally and have a lovely Labor Day!

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  21. Hello from Poland! Popping over from Sara's blog. Love the lavender photos! I can see why Van Gogh was inspired from the landscapes here.

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    1. Hello Joy and bienvenue! I have to say that my blog is not as outright fun as Sara's--but then again, whose is??? :)

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  22. This is beautifully written, Heather. Having a degree in Art History makes me appreciate your getting a bit into depth about Vincent. He was a very tormented soul, but at the core I think all artists are, always seeking perfection, knowing what they've done can be better.

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  23. Yes, the light!! You've captured it so beautifully and such a poignant sad story.

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  24. Lovely post and even lovelier photos!

    THANK YOU so much for linking back to your Arles story! I knew that you were in Paris during the first phase of ta vie française but I actually never knew what brought you down to Arles after. Now I do. I understand why you gave up gritty Paris for the beauty that now surrounds you. We hope to one day make the leap as well! As usual, very inspirational. Thank you.

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  25. Wonderful blog, I frequently visit Arles to stay with family and these photos are so evocative. Thanks for sharing and showing what a stunning place it is.

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  26. And this is exactly ONE reason why I love Arles.

    Especially in the colder, darker September days, when rain covers the crumbling paint on old walls; and the morning light is of that mother-of-pearl-like paleness...

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  27. A year... I'm, it's so remarkable to me. So much of what he is remembered for, so much that lives forever and has touched so many people, and it was done in a year. It makes me realize how precious every day is. Every moment.
    je t'embrasse,
    G

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  28. I loved our visit there! You're right - soooo peaceful and magical, the knowledge that Van Gogh had lived and painted there. Outside of the lavender, one of my favorite things was the display of the artwork of the current residents - I love that art therapy is a part of this historic place! Merci, mon belle soeur!

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