Following Van Gogh to the sunny south

Tomorrow we would be taking the Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) from Gare de Lyon directly down to Arles with no changes or transfers. We had a 7 a.m. wake-up call which would give us enough time for breakfast and packing. I had never been on a TGV and always wanted to go. This was my chance.

TGV Gare de Lyon

The French are proud of their TGV trains and rightly so. They are beautiful, fast and efficient. Why we don't have something like that here..... don't get me started.

As it turns out, Gare de Lyon was also the station that Van Gogh left from Paris on his trip to Arles. For him, it would be an overnight journey, to the land where he dreamed of starting his “studio of the south”.

For most people, it’s the paintings he did in his 444 days in Arles that they recognize as quintessentially Van Gogh.

Van Gogh sunflowers

A detail of one of at least six sunflower canvases Van Gogh painted as decorations for the Yellow House. Imagine being surrounded by six large canvases of sunflowers, each with a different number of flowers, and with different background colours. One was destroyed in WWII, and another was thought to be a fake, but has been authenticated.

The Sunflowers, the Café Terrace at Night, the Bedrooms, the Yellow House, Roulin the Postman, numerous self-portraits – over 200 paintings and many more drawings and sketches were completed in Arles between February 1888 to May 1889. To say he was a hard worker is an understatement. At times, he had as many as ten canvases on the go at once.

Van Gogh_Bedroom_Arles

There are three versions of his bedroom in the Yellow House in Arles, along with at least two sketches. He painted them after he was forced to rest because his eyes were too tired to focus. He spent two days in bed, but wrote to Theo that in spite of that, he'd completed five canvases that week.

Van Gogh-Roulin

Known as Roulin the postman, he was actually a postal official with a desk job. Van Gogh painted Joseph-Etienne Roulin and all of his family members numerous times. Roulin was a true friend of Vincent's in Arles.

It was also in Arles where he had his first seriously debilitating bouts of illness which lead to the famous incident of him cutting off the lower part of his right ear and his subsequent hospitalization.

Once in the hospital, he continued to paint.

Arles - Van Gogh hospital entrance

Entrance to the hospital in Arles. Today it's "Espace Van Gogh".

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