It’s not possible to visit Aix-en-Provence and especially the towns of Arles and Saint-Remy without being touched by the tragic last phase of the life of Vincent van Gogh, who lived here from 1888 to 1889. During this time he had admissions in the hospital (Arles) and finally, the mental asylum (Saint-Remy).
It was very moving to stroll about the courtyard as it was during his two admissions here. His painting Garden of the Hospital in Arles 1889 could well have been painted today.
Sadly, Vincent’s mental deterioration continued and in May 1889 he left Arles and voluntarily admitted himself to the psychiatric institution – Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, in Saint-Remy. It was here he spent the last year of his tragic life and executed a vast body of work. A long pathway leads to the hospital and its surrounding garden that became a subject source for his many famous paintings.
The building has its own peaceful courtyard that you can imagine provided a sanctuary for Vincent during his tormented days.
Sadly, the interior was stark and bleak. Creature comforts barely existed and it didn’t take much imagination to appreciate what Vincent had to endure during his life here.
Over the course of that year he painted 150 canvases of cornfields, olive trees, cypresses and garden flowers including the famous iris and sunflowers. It’s marvellous to walk around this area and see the ACTUAL trees and landscapes that gave rise to his magnificent paintings.
In an extract from a letter to Joseph Jacob Isaacson, 25 May 1890, Van Gogh wrote: ‘The effect of daylight, of the sky, means that there is an infinity of motifs to be drawn from the olive trees.’
Of course, Van Gogh was not the only artist to move to southern France. The area is rich with sites and museums offering a wide range of artistic style interpretations of the glorious landscape, architecture and people. Visiting these sites adds another truly enriching dimension to travelling through this magnificent region. Do it if you can.