Van Gogh – Life in Arles, Provence

In February 1888, Vincent Van Gogh, the Dutch painter, left the hectic Parisian capital for Provence. Coming from the cold and grey city, Van Gogh fell for the bright colors, sunshine and rugged landscape of Southern France.

Van Gogh’s life in Provence started in Arles, where he stayed for two years. Despite suffering with bouts of severe mental illness, the Dutch artist was extremely prolific during his time in here.

Vincent van Gogh self-portrait
Vincent van Gogh self-portrait

Van Gogh – Life in a Mental Asylum in Saint Remy

In spring 1889, Van Gogh left Arles and admitted himself into a mental asylum, St. Paul Monastery & Hospital ( St. Paul de Mausole) in Saint Remy. He felt hopeful that here he would be treated for his mental illness.

Theo, Vincent’s brother, arranged for two small rooms in the asylum. These were two adjoining cells with barred windows. One was Vincent’s bedroom and the second room was his painting studio.

Van Gogh's bedroom in  St. Paul de Mausole
Replica of Van Gogh’s bedroom in St. Paul de Mausole – The Asylum for the Insane
An old photo of a bedroom in the St. Remy Asylum
An old photo of a bedroom in the St. Remy Asylum at St. Paul de Mausole

The Terrible Conditions of a 19th Century Mental Hospital

In the asylum, Van Gogh was at first confined to the hospital grounds and painted the world that he saw through his barred bedroom windows. Later when he was allowed to leave the asylum grounds, Van Gogh painted the wheat fields, olive groves, and cypress trees in the surrounding countryside.

Irises in the Asylum's garden  - Vincent Van Gogh Painting
Irises in the Asylum’s garden – Vincent Van Gogh Painting

Life in the mental asylum was difficult in those days. The food was meager. The patients mostly received bread and soup. Van Gogh’s only apparent form of treatment were two-hour baths twice a week. It is not surprising then that during his one year stay in the asylum, Van Gogh suffered with periodic psychotic episodes. Van Gogh was clearly not getting better.

However despite his severe mental illness, Van Gogh painted with intensity and produced more than 150 paintings, some of which are his iconic masterpieces. With thick, swirling brush strokes and vivid bright colors, Van Gogh painted his surroundings.

I put my heart & soul into my work,& have lost my mind in the process. ”
– Vincent Van Gogh quotes

Things To Do & See in Beautiful Saint Remy and the nearby Provence towns

The Van Gogh Trail

The Van Gogh walk – Start your walk from the Saint Remy Tourist Information. From there stroll along the Vincent Van Gogh Avenue. Throughout the walk you will see reproductions of Van Gogh’s paintings, quotes and information about Van Gogh during his time in Saint Remy. There are also markings along the trail (small brass circular plates with the Vincent signature embedded into the pavement). This trail will lead you to the mental asylum, where Vincent Van Gogh stayed for one year.

Van Gogh Walking Trail
Van Gogh Walking Trail

2. St. Paul de Mausole (St. Paul Monastery & Hospital)

This is where Van Gogh stayed, in an attempt to recover from his mental illness. The entry ticket is 6 Euros. Inside, you can visit a a replica of Van Gogh’s bedroom and his small painting studio….very poignant.

In addition, while strolling around the grounds, you will see plaques with reproductions of the scenes Van Gogh painted — the courtyard, the trees, the view of nearby fields from his studio room upstairs, and the beautiful, rocky Alpilles mountains. This is a MUST for all Van Gogh fans.

Van Gogh Life in Saint Remy - St. Paul de Mausole
St. Paul de Mausole / Photo by Philippe MARC (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
St. Paul  Monastery & hospital - Van Gogh artwork
St. Paul de Mausole – Vincent Van Gogh Painting

3. Musee Estrine

Musee Estrine is is a small museum housed inside a beautiful building. It has a fabulous Van Gogh presentation about the artist’s life, including a well-made short film. Here you will only see Van Gogh reproductions. In addition, the museum has other interesting art exhibitions. Visit the website for more details about current exhibitions.

4. A day trip to Les Baux de Provence

The beautiful village Les Baux en Provence

If you have the time, you should plan at least half a day in Les Baux de Provence. It is only 10 kms from Saint Remy. Press here for details how to get there from Saint Remy.
In Les Baux there are three wonderful attractions:

  1. Explore the picturesque town of Les Baux. Wander through the small alleyways and enjoy the views of the rugged surrounding mountains. The architecture in the village is stunning and there are plenty of great boutique shops, cafes and restaurants.
  2. Visit the ruins of a 12th century medieval fortress with an audioguide and enjoy the the incredible views of the region
  3. Go to the world famous art-themed Sound & Light show called Carrières de Lumières. It is a MUST place to visit, especially if you love art. The stunning venue is a former limestone quarry (you have to see it to believe it!!). It is a very popular attraction and often very crowded. So if possible, book in advance to avoid waiting in long queues. Press here to book tickets online.
Carrières de Lumières – The Stunning Sound & Light Show