Vincent’s Starry Nights in Provence & Beyond Part 2
PART 2/2 - Follow van Gogh’s journey.
Europe in the second half of the 19th century was a time many artists travelled & painted the European cities & countryside. This was the impressionist & post-impressionist era, the revolutionary time in France the artists were experimenting with radical ideas in art. Vincent van Gogh was one of the artists of this time. He was famous for his rich use of colour, light & conveying emotion through the manipulation of paint. His paintings also give you an insight into his soul & how life was in Europe at this time in history. Vincent van Gogh was a keen traveller & his journeys were from the 1870s to 1888. He said, “I am not an adventurer by choice but by fate."
The tragedy of Vincent van Gogh’s life is that he never knew the success he achieved as one of the most famous, influential & perennial favourite artists in modern times. He typifies the romantic image of the misunderstood tormented artist. In all he painted around 2,100 artworks including 860 oil paintings.
Photos: Serap Yeni and Unsplash.
Where to find Van Gogh
14 Places you can visit where Vincent van Gogh painted & travelled to, galleries & museums where you can learn more about the man & see his paintings:
1. Amsterdam, the Netherlands where you can visit the Van Gogh Museum
Otterlo, the Netherlands where you can visit the Kröller-Müller Museum where “Café Terrace at Night” has its permanent home
Zundert, the Netherlands was Vincent van Gogh’s birthplace
Etten-Leur, the Netherlands was the place Vincent van Gogh started his career
The Hauge, the Netherlands was where the “Bulb Fields” was painted
Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands you can visit the Het Noordbrabants Museum
Tilburg, the Netherlands was where Vincent van Gogh had his first drawing lessons
Nuenen, the Netherlands was where he painted “The Potato Eaters” & “Chapel at Nuenen”
Antwerp, Belgium was where Vincent van Gogh took lessons at the City’s Art Academy & approached various art dealers hoping to sell his works
Borinage, Belgium was where Vincent van Gough became a pastor & painter, where “Coalmine in Borinage” was painted
Paris, France where you can visit the Musée d'Orsay to see some of his masterpieces. You can see places Vincent van Gogh visited including the Moulin Rouge (apparently), Pigalle & Rue Lepic, he lived in Paris from 1875 to 1876 & later with his brother Theo from 1886 to 1888. In Paris he painted “Restaurant de la Sirene at Asnieres''
Arles, France where the “Starry Night over the Rhone”, “Café Terrace at Night”, “Caravans, gypsy camp near Arles” & “Van Gogh’s bedroom at Arles” were painted 1888
Saint-Remy-de-Provence, France. Visit Arles Museum, where he stayed in the Asylum for a year & painted many “Irises”, “Sunflowers” & “Starry Night”
Auvers-sur-Oise, France where Vincent van Gogh spent the final year of his life, visit the Church of Auvers & Rovoux Inn
I recommend if you take this adventure you travel by train & canal boats. You will really enjoy exploring the places linked to Vincent van Gogh & where he painted his famous masterpieces. To get the most flexibility & enjoyment look into getting a Eurail Pass & hire at least one Le Boat charter, they have canal boats to hire in all regions of Europe.
Now some background to Vincent van Gogh’s journey. He was born in Zundert, the Netherlands 30 March 1853. As the story goes, in the early days he painted peasants, rural & industrial scenes at the beginning of his career in Southern Holland & Belgium. These were sober themes & he used dark, gloomy earth colours.
He was transferred to London for a short time. He returned to Southern Belgium, turned to religion & spent time in Christian missionary. He kept his religious faith the rest of his days.
Studying the Flemish Masters still life artworks marked a turning point in his art, where he started to use a palette of opposite colours being blue with orange, red with green, yellow with violet. The iconic colours he’s so famous for.
Vincent van Gogh dedicated every resource, energy & emotion to his art. As he was a penniless artist, he would often paint inanimate objects as he did not have to pay a model if it was a chair, bottle, vase, shoes or flowers. Hence the abundance of van Gogh still life & self-portrait paintings.
When Vincent van Gogh moved to Paris, his younger brother Theo encouraged him to paint brighter, more colourful subjects. He then started painting his self-portraits, landscapes & flower paintings showing lighter backgrounds & quicker brush strokes. The colours he used at this time were pink, soft or bright green, light blue, violet, yellow, orange & red.
Vincent van Gogh first lived in Paris from 1875 to 1876 & later with his brother Theo from 1886 to 1888. It was about 200 paintings he completed in Paris. There were a lot of artists & their egos in Paris at that time, Vincent had a friendship with Paul Gauguin & Emile Bernard during his time there. But it’s fair to say his brother Theo was Vincent’s best friend all his life.
After a hectic time in Paris Vincent van Gogh left the big city in February 1888 & took a 750 km train trip to Arles in the South of France. His time in Provence & the River Rhone was an extremely productive time for his painting, drawing & writing, completing about 200 paintings there. In May 1888, Vincent took a trip to Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, a coastal town in the Camargue. There he would have seen the salt plains of the lagoons & marsh that were populated by flamingos, wild bulls & wild horses - that you can still see today. He also saw gypsies in this region, which inspired three paintings depicting caravan life at this time, Vincent van Gogh wrote. “Now that I have seen the sea here, I am absolutely convinced of the importance of staying in the Midi & of positively piling it on, exaggerated colour – Africa is not so far away". For that first summer in Arles Vincent van Gogh aspired to be a painter of rural life & nature.
In Arles, Vincent van Gogh had a vision to make a place other artists could come to stay & paint. In anticipation of his good friend Paul Gauguin coming, he painted Sunflower canvases to liven the place up. Sunflowers became a theme & we have many paintings to see of this subject that Vincent van Gogh left us. Paul Gauguin loved the paintings too, he appreciated the gesture & put some paintings in his room.
Starry Nights was another series he painted in the South of France. It was sparked by his observation, emotion & memories. Painting the night sky became a serious preoccupation which consumed Vincent van Gogh all summer in Arles. He feared he would not be able to accomplish this challenge that he set himself. He wrote: “At present I absolutely want to paint a starry sky. It often seems to me the night is still more richly coloured then the day, having hues of the most intense violets, blues & greens. If only you pay attention to it, you will see that certain stars are citron-yellow, others have a pink glow, or a green blue & forget-me-not brilliance. And without my expatiating on this theme, it will be clear that putting little white dots on the blue-black surface is not enough.” “… the most paintings are those which you dream about when you lie in bed smoking a pipe …”
Despite his trepidation Vincent van Gogh Starry Night paintings have become the most beloved of all his creations. It seems he certainly achieved the “unspeakable perfection” he so longed for within the two years on the Rhone River & Provence.
Unfortunately, there was some traumatic event in Arles that led to him cutting off part of his ear. This was when he was admitted to an asylum hospital, Vincent van Gogh was diagnosed with various mental illnesses & had treatment there. In the facility he painted the Irises that also became a theme & series. When his brother Theo saw the paintings, he loved the colour & composition so much. Theo entered both the Sunflowers & Irises into Salon Les Indépendants in 1889, the paintings have gone on to become the perennial favourites for people all over the world.
He was feeling good about himself & the mental health treatment he had when he left the asylum. He wrote “I tell you, as regards (to) work, my mind feels absolutely serene, & the brush strokes come to me & follow each other very logically.”
Vincent van Gogh later did a beautiful study of pink roses in a vase with a green background. You can see from the painting they show the optimism, renewal & hope he had for the future. Unfortunately, a few months after leaving the asylum Vincent would tragically die of suicide on 29 July 1890.
The paintings he left behind are a reminder of the happiness & hope he had in his times of good health, particularly his bright happy sunflowers & the mesmerizing Starry Starry Nights. Vincent van Gogh believed colour to “express something of itself”. Above all yellow meant the most to him, because it symbolised sunlight, life & God.
Summary reflection: It’s always important to be there to support & encourage each other. We can see from Vincent’s brother Theo the fine example of how friendship & encouragement are two of the best things you can give!