See what he saw

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).

The courtyard of the hospital at Arles where Van Gogh was first admitted having cut off his ear. Image: GRACIE

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.

Garden of the Hospital in Arles‘ 1889  The Oskar Reinhard Collection,  Winterthur, Switzerland

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 sites of his paintings are marked along the pathway entrance Image: GRACIE

Pathway leading to Hospital Saint-Paul a Saint-Remy  Image:  GRACIE

Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, Saint-Remy Image: GRACIE

The building has its own peaceful courtyard that you can imagine provided a sanctuary for Vincent during his tormented days.

Courtyard of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, Saint-Remy Image: GRACIE

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.

Vincent’s room at Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, Image: GRACIE

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.’

Olive grove on approach to the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole where Van Gogh painted ‘Olive Trees in a Mountainous Landscape’  Image: GRACIE

Montagne des Deux Trous also known as Olive Trees in a Mountainous Landscape (with the Alpilles in the Background)
1889 Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY    Photographed Image:  GRACIE

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.