Monday, February 25, 2008

Oh Van Gogh!

Starry, starry night
Paint your pallette blue and gray...

If you are about my age, you'd probably remember the song Vincent made popular by Don MacLean when we were in our early teens. At that time, I didn't know who this Vincent was nor cared about the fine arts, paintings in particular. I was not even a fan of Don McLean. But I memorized this song without knowing what it meant.

Look out on a summer's day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul

Years later, at the university, I learned a little about Vincent Van Gogh--and different art styles, too--in my Humanities class. I say a little because the only thing that stuck in my head about Van Gogh was his self-portrait with a bandaged ear. Because of this, I would remember him more as a mental case rather than as a brilliant artist.

Fast forward to last November 2007. So when Gino booked a Van Gogh half-a-day tour that would take us around 3 towns of Provence outside of Avignon, I was not too excited about the Van Gogh part. I just wanted to see places.

First we went to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Vincent Van Gogh committed himself to an asylum here after signs of mental illness began to manifest themselves in the form of delusions and psychotic attacks. Once he pursued fellow artist Gauguin with a knife, then later in the day he mutilated his ear and offered it as a gift to a prostitute. That's the story behind the bandaged ear.


Although we did not enter what used to be the asylum, we saw the olive grove outside the building that was the subject of one of Van Gogh's paintings.

It is in this asylum that Van Gogh painted Starry Night that became Don Maclean's opening line in his hit song Vincent. It is one of many that Van Gogh painted in this hospital.

Starry Night

Next we went to Les Beaux de Provence, a small village in the Alpilles mountain. It is set on a rocky outcrop surrounded by rocks and cliffs. I don't know if Van Gogh ever went there, but it was on our itinerary.

View from Les Beaux de Provence

We were at a high altitude with the mistral pounding from all directions. It was verrrry cold. Even Gino, who can withstand the cold, was shivering.

Les Beaux de Provence was used by the Celts as a hill fort in 2 BC, according to Wikipedia. Now it is a mere tourist area with a population of 22.

Back to our Van Gogh tour, we headed for Arles where the artist planned to put up an art school that did not happen. It was very interesting to see structures that became the subject of Van Gogh's paintings.

That building was the yellow house in the painting below.
The bridge (partially seen at the right) is still there.

The Yellow House

The yellow coffee shop was the Cafe Terrace. According to our tour guide, it was painted yellow to match Van Gogh's famous painting shown below.

Cafe Terrace on the Place de Forum

I don't think Van Gogh painted this arena...

...but he made a painting of spectators inside it.

We capped our tour with a trip to the market, which was just as exciting for me, maybe even more. I couldn't wait to finish the guided tour so we could dash off and check out local products.

Olives! Lots and lots and lots of olives.

So that ended our tour. Looking now at the many works of Van Gogh on the Internet and reading about his life, I feel bad that he died a very sad man. According to the Van Gogh Gallery website, he "viewed his life as horribly wasted, personally failed and impossible" that he shot himself "for the good of all". Tragic.

Now his works are highly regarded though he was only able to sell one painting in his lifetime. His art is a gift to the world. Too bad he did not get the recognition he deserved while he was alive.

How you suffered for your sanity, and how you tried to set free
They would not listen they do not know how
Perhaps they'll listen now.

Don Maclean wrote Vincent after reading a book on Van Gogh's life. Now I understand why the lyrics were so sad and the melody so melancholic.

Here's a video I saw on youtube that you might like to watch.

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