Van Gogh’s House of Dreams

We walked a bit further along the embankment of the Rhone, and came upon another brass plaque pointing towards the street. Behind us, in the river were two large rectangular plinths, one close to each river bank. They must have been supports for a bridge that was no longer there.

In a minute, that would be confirmed for us. For as we walked into the street, we found ourselves at Place Lamartine – the site of Van Gogh’s  yellow house, his hopes for the future, his studio of the south. Except of course, it wasn’t there anymore.

Van Gogh Yellow House

The Yellow House studio that Van Gogh laboured over, hoping to establish a colony of painters. Only Gauguin came and stayed just 9 weeks, arriving in October and leaving on December 26, 1888 after Van Gogh allegedly threatened him and then cut off the lower part of his left ear. The dream was over.

But if you look at the painting, and then look at my picture, you can see exactly where it once stood. You can see the same four-storey building still there, and the smaller ones behind it. The arched bridge is there too. Nothing changes too quickly in Arles.

Arles- Yellow House location

Here is the location today. The buildings and the bridge are still as they were, despite the fact that trains no longer run there. I guess it's easier and cheaper just to leave the bridge standing.

I was initially confused because one guide book had said they’d built a store where the house had been. There was indeed a store across the street, but clearly that was not the right location. What they had done, was reconfigure Place Lamartine a little, so that where the house once stood is now a small road.


The Yellow House in transition. Likely sometime in the 1930's.


Many of his paintings are previewed in sketches contained in his letters where he tells Theo what he's working on. Interesting the amount of detail he puts into a small sketch for his brother. It's usually accompanied by a request for money and more tubes of paint.

The house was destroyed in 1944 by an errant bomb from a British bomber when the Allies were driving the Germans out of the south of France. And of course the target, which they hit, had been the railway bridge over the river, which is a continuation of the railway line you see over the bridge across the street. Standing there you could see how the house lined up with the bridge, and a bomb released too late would take out the house.

A note on the portrait at the top of this post. It is by Paul Gauguin of Van Gogh painting sunflowers. It was likely painted on December 14, 1888, just 9 days before the famous quarrel that resulting in Van Gogh’s ear mutilation incident. Upon seeing this portrait, Van Gogh allegedly said to Gauguin, “It is certainly I, but it’s I gone mad.”

That evening in the café, Van Gogh threw a glass of absinthe at Gauguin’s head. Gauguin ducked and it missed. After Van Gogh apologized the next day, things seemed fine.

But the calm didn’t last long.

Arles - Place Lamartine

Place Lamartine from across the round-about. During Van Gogh's time, this was a park, more like a garden, with many trees in it. He painted it a number of times.

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Comments: 3

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  • cam

    thanks for the little tour of van gogh’s arles….
    a post such as yours is a true pleasure to find.

  • Andy

    Cam, you’re welcome. Glad you enjoyed it. Arles is a beautiful town. Well worth the trip.

  • […] originally target Arles as his next home, that’s where he ended up, establishing the Yellow House as his studio. It was the beginning of two spectacular years of virtuoso painting that gave us the […]