Cafe Van Gogh. Credit Frank Eiffert via Unsplash

The small but artistically vibrant city of Arles invites you to immerse yourself in the world of Vincent van Gogh. As you traverse its historical pathways, taking in the Roman ruins and the warm Provençal landscapes, you walk with the spirit of Van Gogh, experiencing the world through his eyes. In Arles, every corner whispers tales of Van Gogh’s brilliance, waiting to be heard, seen, and felt, promising a journey of discovery that transcends time and art.

Arles, a city steeped in Roman history and teeming with Provençal beauty, played a critical role in the life and work of Vincent van Gogh, one of history’s most celebrated artists. Here, we invite you to journey through the sun-baked streets of Arles, walking in the footsteps of the artistic genius to appreciate his masterpieces and experience the essence of Van Gogh’s artistry.

Arles and Van Gogh: An Unforgettable Affair

Van Gogh’s Arrival to Arles

When Van Gogh arrived in Arles in 1888, he was seeking the vibrant colors and luminous light of the South of France, the inspiration he felt was lacking in Paris. Trading the grey tones of the French capital for the radiant energy of Arles, Van Gogh found the intense sunlight and distinct landscapes that would come to define his most iconic works.

Vincent van Gogh in Arles

In February 1888, Van Gogh moved to Arles, in the south of France, in search of the bright, vibrant light that he had heard could transform one’s canvas. This relocation marked a profound shift in his work, from the darker, moodier pieces of his early career to works characterized by bold and emotive use of color and expressive brushwork.

Van Gogh’s Inspirations: Unveiling Arles Through His Eyes

Van Gogh was captivated by the ruins of Roman Arles, including its amphitheater and antique monuments. The ancient history of the town seemed to ignite his imagination and offer a contrast between the permanence of the stone and the fleeting quality of life, a dichotomy that he seemed to explore in his canvases.

A sample Van Goghs work inspired by Arles

The Arlesian Landscape

In Arles, Van Gogh was inspired by the natural light and the varied landscapes, from rolling fields of wheat to starry nights. The unique quality of light in the south of France deeply influenced his work, helping him to achieve the luminous, swirling blues and vibrant yellows that are iconic in his paintings. His time in Arles was one of his most prolific periods; he produced over 300 paintings and drawings during his 15 months there.

The Yellow House

Van Gogh rented four rooms in a building he called “The Yellow House,” hoping to establish an artists’ colony. Here, he painted some of his most famous works, including “The Bedroom” and “Sunflowers.” These works are characterized by bold, flat areas of color and a lack of shadows, capturing the brilliant Provence sunlight.

The Legacy of Van Gogh: Arles Today

Fondation Vincent Van Gogh

The Fondation Vincent Van Gogh in Arles is a dynamic center of art that celebrates the legacy of Van Gogh. While it does not hold a permanent collection of his works, its exhibitions aim to honor and continue his artistic vision by presenting works of contemporary artists who were inspired by Van Gogh.

Espace Van Gogh

Now a cultural center, the Espace Van Gogh was once the hospital where Van Gogh recovered after the infamous incident in which he severed his own ear. Today, the courtyard still resembles the lush, vibrant scene he painted in “The Courtyard of the Hospital in Arles.” This space is not only a tourist attraction but also a poignant reminder of Van Gogh’s tumultuous mental health struggles during this period.

Walking in Van Gogh’s Footsteps

Today, visitors to Arles can take a ‘Van Gogh walking tour,’ which guides them through the city using markers at the various sites that inspired Van Gogh’s paintings. This allows art lovers and tourists alike to experience the city through Van Gogh’s eyes, understanding how specific locations in Arles inspired masterpieces such as “Starry Night Over the Rhône,” “Café Terrace at Night,” and “The Night Café.” These walking tours offer a deeply personal way to connect with Van Gogh’s life and work, illustrating the profound impact that the city had on his artistry.

In summary, Arles was not just a place where Van Gogh lived; it was a pivotal setting that redefined his artistic style. The vibrant colors, dramatic landscapes, and rich history of Arles breathed new life into Van Gogh’s work, liberating him to explore a brighter, more expressive, and emotional palette that would become the hallmark of his iconic style.