Last update: Mar 21, 2023 @ 5:25 pm

Vincent Van Gogh’s Time in Provence: His Prolific Art Period

Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most famous influential figures in western art history. His time in Provence is considered as his most prolific as it is during this time that he created some of his best-known works. He arrived in Arles in February of 1888 from Paris, where he lived for about a year and a half before spending a year in St-Remy-de-Provence’s asylum until May 1890. In less than three years he created over 300 oil paintings or 1/3 of the works of his 10 year career.

Arles: The pursuit of his own style in Southern France

Van Gogh decided to take the train down South from the capital in hope of finding warmer weather, and above all to find the bright light and colors of Provence. He dreamed of opening his own art school in the city of Arles which he fell in love with. As he told his brother: “Dear Theo, Arles is beautiful! It’s as if I’m in Japan, with a bright atmosphere and the joyful colour effects.” It is during his 15-month stay in the sunny southern France city that he executed some of his best-loved works, which included Vase with 12 Sunflowers, Bedroom in Arles, Van Gogh’s Chair, Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear, The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum and Starry Night Over the Rhone.

In his first series of paintings in Arles, he created Café Terrace at Night, also known as café Terrace on the Place du Forum, which refers to the place he painted this particular piece: today’s main square in Arles as it used to be in ancient times with the Roman Forum. This piece is said to have been inspired by Avenue de Clinchy Five O’clock in the Evening by Louis Anquetin. Currently, the painting has its home in the Kroller Muller museum.

Today, visitors in Arles can follow Van Gogh’s footsteps and see where the painter set up his easels throughout the city, that are marked with panels representing his paintings. You could buy a brochure at Arles’ tourism office to point you to the different locations or you may opt to join an English small group tour to walk around and explore these sites with a Van Gogh expert tour guide. This is a fantastic way to explore the city on foot. Some of the marked spots include:

– The Public Park on Boulevard des Lices for his Public Garden
– The Rhone River embarkment for Starry Night Over the Rhone
– The place du Forum for Café in the Evening
– The Trinquetaille Bridge where he created the Staircase of Trinquetaille Bridge
– The Roman Arena
– Alyscamps Cemetery also has several of his paintings

St Paul de Mausole: painting gave meaning to his life

In October 1888, Paul Gauguin came to Arles to join Vincent. The two artists lived and painted together for two months. It was a time filled with great mutual inspiration, but in the end their characters and artistic temperaments clashed. Van Gogh suffered a mental breakdown. Gauguin ultimately left Arles and Vincent’s dream of opening a painting studio were shattered.

In May 1889, he was admitted at the Saint Paul Mausole at Saint Remy. After cutting off part of his left ear in Arles, Van Gogh voluntarily confined himself to the asylum grounds for about 1 year. There were periods when he could not paint due to his mental troubles; however, he would continue to create more painting on his good days. Painting gave meaning to his life. Many of his paintings during his stay at the hospital were majorly inspired by nature. His notable works during this period included The Irises, Cypresses and probably one of his most famous painting The Starry Night. He would, later on, be discharged in May 1890 on his request.

Today his artwork ranks among the world’s most expensive paintings to have ever been sold. His legacy continues to live on as Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam harbors the world’s largest collection of his artwork. Also, the foundation Vincent van Gogh a non-profit foundation in Arles promotes cultural and artistic activities designed to preserve the memory of van Gogh and honor his works at the Provence.

What else is Arles and Provence famous for?

Besides Van Gogh’s artistic works, Arles is famous for many Roman ruins throughout the city, giving you a rare opportunity to explore world-class archeological sites with major monuments such as the Roman theatre, the Alyscamps, Arles Amphitheatre, and Church of St. Trophime. Also, among the top attractions in the city are popular festivals held during summer and spring. You can read our blog 9 Things Provence is Famous For to learn more about the regions Vincent fell in love with.

Want to go to Southern France?
Check out our “Travel Like a Local” small group tours!

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