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.
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.
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 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.