Vincent van Gogh arrived in southern France in 1888, attracted by the luminescent quality of the light and the consequent intensity of the colors. Fired by the vibrant shades of the landscape - the blossoming fruit trees, the poppies, sunflowers, and oleanders - his creativity burst forth in prolific brilliance.
In St Rémy de Provence, we can visit Saint Paul-de-Mausole, the 11th century monastery turned asylum, where Van Gogh lived for a year (1889-90) and created over 300 works of art. The building, which remains a behavioral health facility today, is set amidst olive groves and cypress trees on the edge of the village. From his bedroom window, Van Gogh could view a wheat field with les Alpilles (the Little Alps) in the background. He described it as a “landscape of the utmost simplicity,” and is one he painted dozens of times throughout the year. He was also able to amble and paint in the surrounding countryside, and from these powerful landscapes came the distinctive swirling clouds that are quintessentially Van Gogh. Today we can stroll the lavender fields, sketch and paint in the garden, and absorb the atmosphere of this evocative place.
Saint Paul-de-Mausole also houses a permanent exhibition of works for sale made by the patients at the art therapy studio. Upstairs we can see a reproduction of the room where Van Gogh stayed, and across the hall is a small museum of 19th century psychiatric treatment.
A 20-minute walk takes us into the heart of the old town of St Rémy. Along the way are several panels showing photographs of Van Gogh’s paintings, some with the original scenery as backdrops. As we view the colors and shapes that inspired his expressions, his personal interpretations and perspectives come to light. We briefly share the world that he perceived, and appreciate his genius.