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Posts tagged ‘Vincent Van Gogh’

Provence Odyssey | Saint-Rémy: Day 6 – In search of Van Gogh (Part 2)

As Van Gogh neared the final climax of his prematurely shortened life, his movements around France, and the paintings which resulted, became more and more dominated by his health needs. In May 1889, after his famous ear self-mutilation incident in Arles and the hospital stay which followed, Van Gogh moved to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, some 20 miles North-East of Arles in the foothills of the Alpilles mountains, in order to voluntarily commit himself into the care of an asylum. That asylum was the hospital of Saint Paul-de-Mausole, set within the tranquil grounds of a former monastery to the south of Saint Remy, and was where Van Gogh set up home, with one room and an adjoining studio, for the next year of his life. Come May 1890, Van Gogh was off again in pursuit of medical assistance, moving to his final destination of Auvers-sur-Oise, this time to be nearer to Dr Paul Gachet. He would be dead some 3 months later.

Despite the nature of what some could see as a mental crisis dictating Van Gogh’s relocation to Saint-Remy, there are two undeniable factors about his stay in the town and the output that resulted. The first is that the asylum and the town to which he relocated are both exceptionally beautiful examples of Provence at its finest. The second is that, understandably, the paintings which resulted from this time are some of Van Gogh’s very best.

Painted in Saint-Rémy…

Wheatfield with Cypresses

Wheatfield with Cypresses

Irises

Irises

Mountainous landscape behind the hospital Saint Paul

Mountainous landscape behind the hospital Saint Paul

The Olive Trees

The Olive Trees

Cypresses

Cypresses

It was consequently to Saint Remy that we proceeded on this third leg of our Provence Odyssey, as much guided by the promise of a pretty mid-countryside town as by the legacy of Van Gogh which seeps into its very foundations. While a stroll around the pretty boutique-filled village proved that the town is abundant with its own Provençal charms, albeit on a far smaller scale than Avignon or Arles before it, it was in pursuance of Van Gogh’s story that we begun our explorations of Saint-Rémy, and the out of town stroll which this trail required.

Unlike Arles, whose exploration of the Van Gogh story left me somewhat wanting (there were postcards sure, and a café mock up on the Place du Forum, but where were the museums, the recreations of paintings, the story?), Saint-Rémy’s small but ample tourist office provides an excellent self-guided Van Gogh walking tour, which takes you out of the village and into the stunning surrounding countryside, in order to visit the Saint Paul-de-Mausole asylum where Van Gogh lived, and see recreations of his many Saint-Rémy based paintings along the route.

Right where he painted it - the Van Gogh walk brings his paintings to life

Right where he painted it – the Van Gogh walk brings his paintings to life

Van Gogh's hospital bed and easel

Van Gogh’s hospital bed and easel

Taking this route, we were delighted with the pastures new before us, strolling as we were along small residential and field-lined roads which we may never otherwise have discovered. While much of the landscape is a little more developed now than it might have been in VG’s day, as we neared the asylum, wide expanses of olive tree-lined fields started to open up before us, and with the wild craggy outline of the Alpilles mountains in the backdrop, and swirly dark cypress trees popping up all over the landscape, it really started to feel as though some of Van Gogh’s most famous landscape paintings were coming to life before our very eyes. For as the little VG walk soon made clear, the artist produced some of his best works in this little town, painting at his swirliest (for example his famous Starry Night and his depiction of cypress trees and swirly leafed olive trees) and his most imaginative.

Painted in the Saint Paul hospital…

Trees in the Garden of the Hospital Saint Paul

Trees in the Garden of the Hospital Saint Paul

The gardens of Saint Paul hospital

The gardens of Saint Paul hospital

The gardens of Saint Paul hospital

The gardens of Saint Paul hospital

Stone Bench in the garden of Saint Paul

Stone Bench in the garden of Saint Paul

Entrance Hall of Saint Paul

Entrance Hall of Saint Paul

And no wonder. As we turned into the high-stone walled gardens of Saint Paul-de-Mausole, filled with multi-coloured flowers moving slowly in the light breeze, I could not help but feel inspired myself. This reaction only grew, as we wandered through the former monastery, gazing in wonder and the beautiful sun drenched cloister, and then, behind the building, the stunningly manicured Provencal gardens, loaded with rows of lavender, sunflowers and poppy fields, creating the kind of floral backdrop which would have had Van Gogh painting feverishly all day long.

The landscapes and the hospital that inspired Van Gogh…

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With only a camera to hand, Dominik and I met our own inspiration through the medium of photography, taking hundreds of photos of the flowers, the lavender, the old monastery and the surrounding landscapes, strolling around the gardens, mesmerized by the scent of flowers, and the low murmuring of hundreds of bees buzzing around the lavender bushes. This was true Provence – the true stunning countryside that the guidebooks had all promised.

Eventually we broke away, not only from the asylum, but also from our Van Gogh trail, for what we found just down the road from Saint Paul was an entirely unexpected, quite stunning historical treat – a find of such exciting archeological proportions that I’m going to devote an entire post to it! For that – see you tomorrow. And in the meantime, I leave you with the lavender, the poppies, the olive trees and the sunflowers that so inspired Van Gogh, and now me in equal measure.

Provence at its finest…

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A demain.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2013 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

 

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Provence Odyssey | Arles: Day 5 – In search of Van Gogh (Part 1)

The vivid kaledoscopic colours of Van Gogh’s works are renowned throughout the world: the dazzling bright yellow sunflowers, his multi-shaded green and blue self portrait with a shock of orange hair and beard, the twin piece works depicting his and Gauguin’s chairs as well as his now famous bedroom in vivid multi-colour, and his Yellow House, set against a bright blue sky – all characterise Van Gogh’s great affinity with vivid colouration and the depiction of almost feverish energy and zeal. Yet it only takes a quick glimpse at Van Gogh’s earlier works painted in Holland – the Potato Eaters, the Brown peasant faces, the gloomy interiors and flat dull landscapes – to realise just how instrumental his move down to Provence in 1888 was. And one city in fact helped to shape the unique colour driven artist who we know and love today: Arles.

It was in Arles that Van Gogh lived in the Yellow House, where he painted his famous Sunflowers in preparation for a visit by fellow-artist (and colourist) Paul Gauguin, on whose river bend he depicted the famous Starry Night over the Rhone, and where the artist is credited with making his final breakthrough as an artist of sensational colour, of unmistakeable feverish expressionism and of an undiluted enthusiasm to depict the world around him with speed and a remarkable resulting oeuvre.

Van Gogh moved to Arles in 1888, after a spell in Paris where he had become influenced by the impressionists. Thus, he had already broken free of the sombre earth tones inspired by his homeland of Holland, and started dappling in lighter, fresher scenes, but nothing compared with the cornucopia of colourful and free expression on which he would embark when taking inspiration from the South. Having made the move, Van Gogh became dazzled by the brighter light and therefore clear unmuddied coloured which result. He began to see art in the curving shadow-filled feathery forms of cypress trees, in the undulating tapestry of fields beneath rising mountain landscapes, in the vivid blooms of cherry blossom and irises and sunflowers, and in Arles’s streets, its inviting cafes and its people. All of this made Van Gogh the artist we know today, and so many of his most famous paintings were undertaken here, in Arles, as decoration for his Yellow House.

The Yellow House (1888)

The Yellow House (1888)

Van Gogh's Chair (1888)

Van Gogh’s Chair (1888)

Bedroom in Arles (1888)

Bedroom in Arles (1888)

Still Life: Vase with 12 Sunflowers (1888)

Still Life: Vase with 12 Sunflowers (1888)

However Van Gogh’s appetite for decorating the Yellow House with such speed was largely because he was awaiting a visit from fellow-post-impressionist Paul Gauguin in the hope that he could set up something of an artists’ community in Arles. Yet it was that same visit that became the catalyst for Van Gogh’s infamous ear-chopping incident, and what followed was a stay in Arles’ general hospital, followed by an extended stay, in 1889, in the sanitarium at Saint Remy-de-Provence.

With this background in mind, it was in the footsteps of Van Gogh that we embarked on our last day in Arles, starting off at the Place du Forum, where his famous depiction of a cafe terrace is rather unfortunately replicated today for tourists, so that the real cafe is not the cafe as would have been visited by Van Gogh, but the cafe as painted by Van Gogh. For in their attempts to lure the tourists, the cafe has replicated Van Gogh’s painting to such an extent that they’ve painted the walls in a kind of colour was of yellow and a mouldy looking green. While those colours worked perfectly in the context of Van Gogh’s depiction, in reality they look try-hard and naff. Which is why, asides from taking photos, we avoided eating at the now eponymously named Van Gogh cafe like the plague.

Cafe Terrace on the Place Du Forum Arles, at Night (1888)

Cafe Terrace on the Place Du Forum Arles, at Night (1888)

The cafe as it stands today

The cafe as it stands today

And at night

And at night

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The next main Van Gogh spot is the Arles hospital, whose most iconic feature is the floral courtyard at its heart, again no doubt decked thus because of the reference made to it in Van Gogh’s painting, but nonetheless pleasing to wander into. Yet there was very little more to it, and in fact that much goes for all of Arles. While the Van Gogh references can be seen in postcards sold at every souvenir shop, there is not a single painting by Van Gogh in the tow – a crying shame considering how much the town inspired him. Meanwhile a cultural space opened in his name appeared not to exist when we searched for it, and we were told in a shop close to the hospital that a Van Gogh museum will open in a few years. But nothing for now. Meanwhile both the yellow house, and the famous bedroom in it are long gone – bombed in the war.

Garden of the Hospital at Arles (1888)

Garden of the Hospital at Arles (1888)

The hospital today

The hospital today

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However, unperturbed by our lack of success, there was one more point on the Arles map that we had to look at, both when bringing our Arles Van Gogh search to an end, and also when leaving Arles for good. Yes, packed up and ready to move on to our next stop on this Provence Odyssey, and heading out towards the bus station, we passed by the River Rhône, now mercifully still, largely, of the winds which had dominated its path the previous day, and stopped at the point where Van Gogh had painted perhaps my favourite of all his works: Starry Night over the Rhône. Sadly, yesterday’s wind had prevented our viewing this scene by night, but in any event, the proliferation of large boats at the site undoubtedly mean that the view would be much changed now from Van Gogh’s day – a story which rings true of so much of this city.

Starry Night over the Rhone (1888)

Starry Night over the Rhone (1888)

The view today

The view today

But just as Van Gogh left Arles to head for some respite in nearby Saint Remy, so too did we follow his path, leaving the city now to head into Provence’s lush countryside, to continue not just our search of Van Gogh, but also our Provence Odyssey.

Onto Saint Remy - where Van Gogh painted: The Starry Night (1888)

Onto Saint Remy – where Van Gogh painted: The Starry Night (1888)

See you in Saint Remy!

Dutch Masters Season Part 1: Van Gogh

Its atmospheric canals may be frozen (or perhaps now melting?), its wooden clogs uncomfortable on the feet, and its multi-coloured fields of tulips yet to burst into life, but Holland has so much to offer, especially to art lovers like myself. I’m not overly familiar with the Netherlands – I went once on a geography field trip at school, when we concentrated on the art of land reclamation and urban morphology, but it has always saddened me that I never had time to appreciate the cosmopolitan, thriving city of Amsterdam and all its multifaceted cultural offerings. This weekend, all that will change, as the Daily Norm will head to Amsterdam and hopefully posts bursting with accounts of the great city, its art and its buzzing life will swiftly follow. In anticipation of this exciting event, the Daily Norm is happy to launch the Dutch Masters Season, a three-part series looking at masters of Dutch art, as well as Norm reinterpretations of three Dutch masterpieces. This will be followed by a Sunday Supplement examining the influence of a particular Dutch supremo on a family portrait I created in 2010, and then my trip to Amsterdam will explode onto your screens in a (hopefully) spectacular fashion.

So, without further ado, let us begin this brief cultural survey of Dutch artists with this feature on a painter who is without a doubt the most famous Dutch master of them all… the indomitable sunflower-loving, paint-eating, ear-lopping saviour of colour, Vincent Van Gogh.

What can be said about Van Gogh that hasn’t been said before? A couple of years ago we got a huge anthology containing translations of his numerous letters, allowing us an invaluable insight into the artist’s sensitive, insightful mind. Last year, a new biography was published, sensationally claiming that rather than killing himself, as is the fabled (and much romanticised) tale, he was quite probably killed in a tragic accident involving local children playing with a gun. Every year some weighty international art institution holds a retrospective of his work, and chocolate boxes, t-shirts and mouse mats containing starry nights, sunflowers or a green faced portrait with decisive brush strokes and vibrant colours fly off the shelves of souvenir shops all over the world. So of course there isn’t much left to say. But where there is renown, let a Norm refresh. Where Van Gogh bandages his ear, let a Norm bandage his face. Yes, I give you, in the style of Van Gogh, Norm with a bandaged face…

Norm with a bandaged face (after Van Gogh) (acrylic on canvas, 2012 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

And the original…

Vincent Van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (1889, Courtauld Institute of Art, London)

So why did this particular Van Gogh work inspire me? (After all, there are countless Van Gogh portraits to chose from, as well as a number of portraits of the local postman, the doctor, Gaughin’s chair and the like). Well to start with, this painting lives close to home for me, part of the wonderful collection of London’s Courtauld Institute, where more often than not, you can get this portrait, as with many of the other impressionist masterpieces in the collection, all to yourself, while Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, kept down the road at the National Gallery, is surrounded by a permanent semi-circle of tourists and school groups. But then there’s the bandaged ear, which is after all emblematic of the legend that is Van Gogh.

Van Gogh: souvenir hell

It happened one dark night in December 1888. Paul Gauguin, the tumultuous Tahiti-loving artist was staying with Van Gogh in the Yellow House in Arles, Provence. They argued savagely and Van Gogh came at Gauguin with a knife. At the last minute he turned on himself, cut a chunk out of his ear, and attempted to gift it to a local prostitute who sensibly alerted the authorities thus probably saving Van Gogh from bleeding to death. This painting, one of two containing the bandage (and therefore suitably amplifying the tale), was painted a month later in the comparable calm of post-cataclysmic reflection, with Gauguin gone, and Van Gogh all alone, once again, staring in the mirror in contemplation.

Vincent Van Gogh, Vase with Twelve Sunflowers (1888, Neue Pinakothek, Munich)

For me, it’s the perfect Van Gogh, because it gives us snippets of everything he represents. Broad, almost vibrating brush strokes expressing the rawness of his emotions, and the vigour and haste with which he sought to express his feelings on the canvas. A colour palette which is bold, unforgiving, almost happy despite the downbeat subject portrayed. On the wall hangs a japanese print, a recognition of the great influence of Japonisme in his work, while to his right, an easel and canvas is in progress – here I have used a bit of good old artistic licence, adding the sunflowers which are so equally emblematic of Van Gogh – just in case you weren’t immediately sure who I was referencing with this painting! In this way, the warmth of Provence contrasts with the coldness of winter portrayed in the artist’s thick coat and strange furry hat, an outfit which appears to isolate Van Gogh from the viewer, enveloping him in a melancholy introspection which is shared with the audience only through the piercing gaze of his sickly green eyes.

Well there you have it – and it looks like I had a lot to say after all. For me, Van Gogh is a master. Sometimes his works are criticised for being overly loose, coarsely painted and unsophisticated. But you only have to look at his early portraits of peasants, such as his saturnine masterpiece, The Potato Eaters, to recognise his skill as a draftsman. Rather his coarse, thick application of paint allowed him to paint fast, and this was crucial in allowing him to express his vigorous and volatile emotions on canvas, as and when they moved him. And it is this living, breathing, unforgiving emotional intensity which remains so evident in his canvases today in every decisive and quivering brush stroke, capturing audiences and inspiring biographers and curators aplenty, whether it be through sunflowers, cypress trees or in the sorrowful eyes of his many self-portraits. This is why, to my mind, Van Gogh is a true Dutch master.

Van Gogh, The Potato Eaters (1885, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam)

Come back tomorrow for Dutch Master number 2.

Postscript: In case you were wondering, no, Norms don’t have ears, but that doesn’t mean that this Van Gogh pretender couldn’t have inflicted a grizzly wound on himself in the same general area!