Learn about Van Gogh at the Asylum in Saint Remy de Provence
I have to admit that I didn’t really appreciate the works of Van Gogh before I moved to Provence. I found the bright colours challenging. However, now that I live here I have a profound love of the works of Van Gogh! I just can’t get enough of them. The contrasty, textured paintings perfectly depict this area of Provence. Thanks to this new book, I understand more about Van Gogh’s mental struggles and appreciate his paintings even more.
Saint Paul de Mausole, close to where I live in Les Alpilles, is the mental hospital that Van Gogh checked himself into after cutting off his ear in Arles. If you’re in the area, the asylum is worth a visit and is one place I often bring people on my private tours. If you can’t get here and would like to know more about Van Gogh’s experience at this monastery/asylum, you should read the new book Starry Night, Van Gogh at the Asylum by Martin Bailey.
Starry Night, Van Gogh at the Asylum
This book is an account of Van Gogh’s final year, which he spent here in Saint Remy de Provence. His brother, Theo, decided that Van Gogh was unfit to live alone after he had mutilated himself by cutting off his ear after an argument with Paul Gaugin. Wrapping his ear in paper and then presenting it to a young woman in a local brothel didn’t help his cause either.
Theo, an art dealer, supported his brother and sent him paints from Paris in exchange for paintings. Bailey points out in the book that there is a correlation between Van Gogh’s episodes of manic depression and receiving news from his brother of marrying his wife subsequently having a baby. Van Gogh’s fear of abandonment may have been the cause of his self mutilation, made even more tragic by Theo’s failure to visit his brother in the South of France when he was only in Paris himself.
Prolific Painting in Between Manic Episodes
Bailey is a leading specialist on Van Gogh and details Van Gogh’s illness during his time at the asylum, where he painted over 150 paintings. During this time, he had several episodes of attempting to poison himself, often with his own paints. During these acute attacks of mania accompanied by visual and auditory hallucinations Van Gogh believed that someone else was poisoning him. Bailey points out that today, in addition to creeping epilepsy, Van Gogh would be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
It was at Saint Paul de Mausole where Van Gogh painted Starry Night, the celestial view of Saint Remy de Provence. Van Gogh also painted the extensive gardens of sunflowers, iris, and wheat. Some of my favourite paintings are Van Gogh’s olive groves, with the Alpilles mountains in the background.
Visit Saint Paul de Mausole
At the monastery you can visit the 12th century cloister, the room where Van Gogh painted, and the gardens which are lovely throughout the year; especially in the spring, where you’ll find draping wisteria and poppies in the fields. There are still some patients living here that are involved with an art therapy program. Their artwork, often Van Gogh inspired, is for sale in the boutique.
Van Gogh Walk Saint Remy de Provence
From the tourism office of Saint Remy, walk the 1 km south along a straight road that leads to the asylum. Every 20 paces or so there’s a panel with an example of one of Van Gogh’s many paintings of the region and an excerpt from his letters to his brother Theo. Across from the asylum, you can visit Les Antiques as well as Glanum, where you’ll find Celtic and Roman ruins of a town that was once very important on the Roman trade route.
The light show set to music in an old quarry in Les Baux is showcasing Van Gogh paintings starting in 2019. I honestly can’t wait!! If you’d like to go with me, book a Curiousprovence private tour during your stay and we’ll have a fun day out filled with culture, food, and stunning scenery.
To buy the book click here: Starry Night, Van Gogh at the Asylum by Martin Bailey