The sad Arles hospital

After lunch, we headed back into the town, going to L’Espace Van Gogh, the hospital where Van Gogh stayed on and off from December 24, 1888 to early May 1889 as a result of the infamous ear incident. Van Gogh was brought here, suffering from blood loss and hallucinations, where he taken in by Dr. Felix Rey.

Arles - Van Gogh hospital plaque

The hospital courtyard as Van Gogh saw it.

Most people know this building from the painting Van Gogh did of the interior courtyard, and indeed today, that space is maintained much as it was in his painting.

Arles - Van Gogh hospital garden

Here is the courtyard to commemorate the guy they had thrown out of town.

But, all in all, a sadness hung over this place. It’s as if the town doesn’t really know what to do with this building and feels some obligation to maintain it because tourists expect it. Yet, aside from the courtyard, there isn’t much to see or do. There’s no museum, no paintings, you can’t see the room he stayed in, if they even know which one it was. About all you can do is visit a small gift shop with post cards, posters and other Van Gogh souvenirs. Some of the spaces are now social services offices, but most of them are empty.

Arles - Van Gogh hospital posters

This little shop just added to the gloom.

And once more it seemed ironic that another building was named after a man who was mostly unwelcome while he was there, and that it is maintained only because of his 4 months on and off as a patient. Even the street it’s on is named Place du Docteur Félix-Rey. Not to take anything away from the good doctor, but there’s nothing to suggest that he did anything to warrant having a street named after him, other than treat this one famous patient.

We wandered around the inner courtyard, and after about 15 minutes, had seen the whole thing. I’m not sure what we were expecting, but it was more than this.

A few interesting notes: Van Gogh painted Dr. Rey’s portrait, which he gave to him as thanks for the truly personal care that he received. Although it’s a good likeness, it seems Dr. Rey didn’t much care for it, and left it with his mother, who used in to cover a hole in the chicken coop. It was bought by an artist in 1901 (I wonder how he found it?) and now hangs in a museum in Moscow.

Van Gogh portrait of Dr Rey

Got a hole in your chicken coop? Here's the thing you need to cover it up.

Photo of Dr Rey

Dr Rey, early 1900's.

It was while Van Gogh was in the hospital, that the police closed his Yellow House after a petition by 30 townspeople, who called him “fou roux” (the redheaded madman).

Van Gogh then stayed in a two-room apartment owned by Dr. Rey for a while, who helped arrange for him to be transferred to the asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

During this time, when he felt well enough, he went out to paint, including a beautiful series of orchards in bloom. But he was under no illusion that he was well.

On April 21, 1889, Vincent wrote to Theo, “And for the time being I wish to remain confined, as much for my own tranquility as for that of others. What consoles me a little is that I’m beginning to consider madness as an illness like any other and accept the thing as it is, while during the actual crises it seemed to me that everything I was imagining was reality. Anyway, in fact I don’t want to think or talk about it.”

Arles - Van Gogh hospital entrance

Van Gogh's home for about 4 months during the winter of 1888 / 1889.

We left L’Espace Van Gogh and headed for the town’s main square where we found a small local pop reggae band playing by the fountain outside the city hall.

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Comments: 2

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  • Ute Meyer

    Dear van-Gogh-friend,
    I loved van-Gogh since 1982, where a book about his life brought me to Arles, where I tried to find a trace of him. At this time it seemed, that the town of Arles has forgotten Vincent van Gogh. I found a little place “Espace van Gogh” an in front of it, there was this old building. Maybe you don’t believe it, but I was inside. It was a ruin. On the first floor I saw beside a door a very old name-plate with the name “Dr. Rey”…
    This evening I wrote down this little story for my second Provence-book (the first is called “Küche des Midi” with a lot of little stories). I was not shure, that the name of van-Goghs doctor was Dr. Rey and so I search in Google and found your pictures and your story. What a chance! I want to ask you, if I could get your photo “arles/the-sad-arles-hospital” for my new book?
    Your site is great!
    Best wishes from Ute

  • Andy Strote

    Hello news,
    I’m sorry to hear about the RSS issue. We had discovered the same at one point, and haven’t come up with a solution. We’ve checked and validated everything. It seems to be on a case by case basis. I wish I had a better answer.