“There is no great genius without some touch of madness.” – Aristotle

Posted by Jennie

Vincent Van Gogh is probably the reason why most tourists visit Arles. The city is home to an impressive amphitheatre which happens to be a Unesco World Heritage Site as well as an ancient theatre dating back to the Roman times, but what captures the imagination are the very streets where Van Gogh walked, lived, painted and made a complete menace of himself.

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Arles Amphitheatre
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Ancient Theatre of Arles

The eye, and the camera try to see the town the way the artist saw it. To imagine what sparked the inspiration for the many paintings created here. He may have only lived in Arles for 15 months, but this was his most prolific period, creating almost 200 paintings and 100 drawings. Some examples are Cafe Terrace at Night and Spectators at the Arena both painted in 1888. The cafe is still around today and is now called Cafe Van Gogh.

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It was here in the South of France that he found his light, the light that would permeate his work in his last years. It was the sunshine of the south that would give his paintings their vibrance and exuberance.

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Sunflowers, Arles, 1888
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View of Arles with Irises, Arles 1888

Sadly his life, dark and tumultuous was the exact opposite. He was chased out of Arles for his erratic behaviour and died shortly after from a self inflicted gunshot wound in 1890 at the age of 37.

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Bedroom in Arles, Arles 1888

Interestingly though, it was only in 2014 that the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh Arles was opened. Previous to that, none of his pieces were displayed in Arles. They may have been painted here but none remained, instead they belonged to private collections or were the property of various museums all over the world.

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Fondation Vincent Van Gogh Arles is housed in the Hôtel Léautaud de Donines, a 15th-century manor house restored and extended in the medieval quarter of Méjan.

On the edge of the quarter was the yellow house (no longer standing; the painting of the same name is in the Amsterdam museum) where Van Gogh lived – for a time with fellow artist Paul Gauguin. It was a prolific yet turbulent time. Though they inspired each other, they also argued, with such passion that it led to Van Gogh famously cutting off his left earlobe. And Arles was where he was incarcerated in the hospital – also immortalised in paintings – towards the end of his life.

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The Yellow House, Arles 1888

Maybe I was feeling the whole Van Gogh vibe too much or it might have been a slow day in Arles but there was definitely an air of melancholy. Despite the colourful cafes, pastel windows and the bright, bright light, the Don Mc Lean song Starry Starry Night was playing in my head. (Strictly for Titas, I don’t think millennials can relate!)

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It’s been 127 years since you walked these streets and yet the streets remain the same. I feel for you Vincent Van Gogh. As the Don Mc Lean song goes… this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.

When taking the bus.

If like us your base is Aix en Provence and you plan to take the bus, Arles is a 1hour and 25 minute bus ride away. Ticket cost is E11.00. Take note that Arles does not have a bus depot, and depending on the day, where you get down may not be where you board going back to Aix en Provence. It’s best to check with the ticket seller or bus driver.