In the Footsteps of Van Gogh in Arles

For our second day in Provence, we daytripped via train from Avignon to Arles.
After seeing Van Gogh’s masterpieces in Amsterdam, it was a true blessing to walk through Arles.  Van Gogh moved to Arles in 1888 – Arles and the surrounding Provençal countryside were the inspiration for Van Gogh’s move to bright, saturated colors and beautiful landscapes.  He came from the gray and cold of the north (much like us on this trip!) and  loved the light, warmth, and everything else here and was reputed to have said, “the whole future of art is to be found here, in the south of France.” Almost all of the paintings he is most known for were done here – between 200 to 300 canvasses in all, depending on which guidebook you read.

There are no actual paintings here, but what the town has done is really neat – they have put up a series of “easels” around town at spots where Van Gogh painted, showing both the actual thing and his rendition of it.  We spent the day walking from easel to easel, also appreciating other scenes from this postcard perfect town that seem as if they lept from Van Gogh’s canvas…

The Yellow House
The house itself no longer exists, but the building behind the house in the painting is still there, as is arch to the right …
Starry Night Over the Rhone
So this is obviously day time, but the same scene!
image image
Entering the town
The town’s gates and houses seem to be a painting themselves…
image imageimage image
The Roman Arena
Arles was a Roman town in ancient times and boasted its own Arena.  By the time Van Gogh arrived, the arena was being used for bull fights (and still is today).  This easel shows how much more he was interested in the people than the bull…
Here are views of the Arena from inside as well as the neighboring Roman theater …
image imageimage image
image imageimage
And then taking a crepe and drinking chocolate break …
More town views
Everywhere you look, you see things that surely inspired Van Gogh!
image imageimage image
Fields of Provence
Looking out from Arles, these fields are the very ones Van Gogh ventured to with his straw hat, easel, and paints, to capture farmers, farm houses, brooding skies, and fields.
Hospital in Arles
The image you walk into from the street is instantly recognizable as from a Van Gogh painting, his famous rendition of the courtyard at the hospital he stayed in after cutting off his ear.  We found this place to be both happy and sad – sad to think the misdiagnosed genius was here feeling lonely and depressed, but happy to know that he had such peaceful surroundings…
image image
La Cafe Terrace de la Nuit
One of his most famous works, this Cafe looks pretty much the same as it did when Van Gogh painted it, his favorite hang out spot in Arles… (We have this print in our dining room, so this was a particularly fun easel to stop at!)
image image
Park Entrance
Van Gogh painted this park … And it proved a good mid-day play spot for Zachary!
image image
The Trinquetaille Bridge
The bridge itself is now modern, but the steps and the arch look the same … And the baby tree is now mature!
There are hundreds more paintings Van Gogh did in Arles, his most prolific time of his career; it was inspiring and humbling to walk the same streets and look upon the same buildings and scenes as this genius.

Post-script about our day, Or – Why we had dinner from a van down by the river…
One thing we learned about small town French life is that things close early, not like Paris.  It was 8:15 in Arles by the time we were ready for dinner and everything was closed, even the grocery store.  So we figured we would go to the train station, buy sandwiches, and have them on the train.  But they were closed too.  Then we remembered passing a guy selling pizza out of his van down by the river.  This is not a joke!  So we bought pizza from a van and had it on the train…

Leave a Response