Sunday, May 16, 2010


Vincent is part of the reason I returned to Arles.  I first visited Arles in 1987, with a group of students.  It was a very brief visit.  In 2005, I had the opportunity to return, thanks to, grâce à, a summer grant from my school.  I chose Arles for two three reasons-- Van Gogh painted there, I wanted to take a cooking course and I wanted to go back to Provence.  I decided to spend all of my time in Arles so that I could feel at home in one place.  I spent a week at the Hôtel du Cloître, now closed, right next to the antique amphitheatre.
The painting above, La Nuit étoilée, sometimes called Starry Night Over the Rhône, is my favorite painting.  I pay homage to it every time I go to the Musée d'Orsay, its home.
One of my students got this photo of the back of my head, proving that I really was there.  It's (Note:  Okay, the it here refers to the painting, not my head!  Signora read this and substituted my head for it, instead of the painting in the next few sentences and she has been laughing ever since!) been on loan the last two times I was in Paris.  I hope it is back where it belongs when I return to Paris the next time.  I miss it.  I have a copy of it in my classroom, one at home and one in Arles at Chef Érick's house.  That one was framed for me by my dear friend GBear.  I just haven't figured out how to get it back here without breaking the glass.  The frame is perfect.  The spot where Vincent painted it was just a two minute walk from where I lived, at Chef Érick's on Rue Pierre Euzeby.  I walked down there many, many times at night during the months I lived there.  Arles does not own any of his paintings unfortunately.  But they have a walking tour of all the spots where he painted his most famous works.  During the summer, there is also a guided walk offered through the tourist office.  These are the sidewalk markers that direct you on your walk-
I spent quite a bit of time during the summer of 2005 in a park in Arles, les Jardins d'Été, where he painted and where this memorial is found.
There is also the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh, with works by other artists.
About 20 years ago, I was given a copy of Irving Stone's Lust for Life.  That is when my love affair with Vincent began, to tell the truth.  I had seen paintings and heard about the crazy painter who cut off his ear, but I didn't know much more than that.  After reading that book, which is based on letters he wrote to his brother, Théo, I felt as if I truly knew Vincent.  I tried to watch the film by the same name, but I just didn't want to see Kirk Douglas' face instead of Vincent's.

Here I am posing with Vincent outside the Musée d'Orsay--
I look confused, as usual, but Vincent's blue eyes are so beautiful.  I love the blue swirls.  What was Vincent thinking as he painted himself?
The flowers have been replanted, based on his painting, at what was once a hospital in Arles--

I just finished reading The Yellow House- Van Gogh, Gauguin and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Provence by Martin Gaylord.  It explains their relationship and Vincent's hope to build a colony for artists in Provence.  There is quite a bit of detail about some of the paintings he did there.  Arles is where he cut off his ear and the author offers more speculation about his mental anguish, offering bi-polar disorder as a possibility.   Arles is also where he found his own style and produced his most beautiful paintings.  On June 25, 1944, the building where the yellow house stood was hit in by a bomb.  Vincent's bedroom was destroyed, but part of their studio and Gauguin's bedroom survived a little bit longer.

Now, at Place Lamartine, there are a few shops and cafés, a Monoprix, a roundabout and a middle school is being built nearby.
Vincent was influenced by Monticelli, a French painter born in Marseille.  Chef Érick and I went to an exhibit there during my stay in 2008.
If you visit Provence in the summer, you can see why he was so taken by the light and the colors.

After leaving Provence, Vincent lived the last months of his life in Auvers-sur-Oise, in northern France. My friend Ghislaine knows how I love Vincent and she took me there one day.  We visited the house he lived in, we walked through the wheat fields and we visited his and Théo's graves. Vincent shot himself on July 27, my birthday, but in 1890, 68 years before my birth.  He died two days later at the age of 37.
I have another Vincent book on my bedside table, waiting for summer vacation, Van Gogh's Women His Love Affairs and Journey Into Madness by Derek Fell.  Vincent is quoted as saying "I cannot live without love, without a woman."  Another quote at the beginning of this book is "A woman is not old as long as she loves and is loved."  Thank goodness he wrote all those letters to Théo so we can know what he was feeling.
The song Vincent (also known as Starry, Starry Night) was recorded by Don McLean in 1971.  I've listened to it quite a few times lately, since finishing The Yellow House.

Starry, starry night.
Paint your palette blue and gray,
Look out on a summer's day,
With eyes that know the darkness of my soul.
Shadows on the hills,
Sketch the trees and the daffodils,
Catch the breeze and the winter chills,
In colors on the snowy linen land.

Now I understand what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they did not know how.
Perhaps they'll listen now.

Starry, starry night.
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze,
Swirling clouds in violet haze,
Reflect in Vincent's eyes of china blue.
Colors changing hue, morning field of amber grain,
Weathered faces lined in pain,
Are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand.

Now I understand what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they did not know how.
Perhaps they'll listen now.

For they could not love you,
But still your love was true.
And when no hope was left in sight
On that starry, starry night,
You took your life, as lovers often do.
But I could have told you, Vincent,
This world was never meant for one
As beautiful as you.

Starry, starry night.
Portraits hung in empty halls,
Frameless head on nameless walls,
With eyes that watch the world and can't forget.
The ragged men in the ragged clothes,
The silver thorn of bloody rose,
Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow.

Now I think I know what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they're not listening still.
Perhaps they never will...

Bon appétit, Vincent!

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