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In Van Gogh's Footsteps

June 14, 2017

Few artists have captured the public’s imagination like Vincent Van Gogh, whose self portraits, sunflower still lifes and sun-soaked fields are instantly recognized world-wide.


It was in the south of France that Van Gogh’s genius took root. Artists such as Cezanne (lifelong resident of nearby Aix-en-Provence) and Van Gogh made much of the quality of light in southern France, and as a fellow painter I was curious to see if I could perceive this special light that held such prominent artists spellbound.


Perhaps this was due to the fact that many French artists touting southern light were originally situated near Paris where the light is inconsistent, not ideal for landscape painting. Van Gogh wrote at length about his infatuation with the yellow fields surrounding Arles, and he couldn’t wait for his friend Gauguin to pay a visit to experience it.


Frankly, I didn’t notice a unique quality to the light. It was sunny, but then I grew up in California where it’s sunny most of the time. Still, I found it fascinating to follow in the footsteps of these great artists, particularly Van Gogh.


Arles, an ancient Roman city reduced to a small agricultural town in Van Gogh’s day, didn’t roll out a welcome mat when the rumpled artist arrived in 1888; his personal habits were hard to tolerate, his unorthodox painting not appreciated or encouraged. While there isn’t a single Van Gogh painting to be found in Arles, it isn’t hard to spot locations recorded by the artist’s brush. Strolling through the city center and the ruins of a nearby Roman amphitheater, I experienced déjà vu, a feeling I’d been here before, as anyone might who’s flipped through the pages of an art book.


A local guide escorted us to places painted by Van Gogh and it was fascinating to see the inspiration for paintings so strongly etched on our collective consciousness. Many of us can close our eyes and feel the burning, tortured brushstrokes of an artist consumed by the desire to recreate his world in paint, as if by doing so he could touch the face of God—the Creator he’d tried so desperately to honor while serving as a missionary in an impoverished coal-mining district in Belgium.



A local guide escorted us through the town, pointing out places where Van Gogh had erected his easel.




Café Terrace at Night (1888). Our guide pointed out that the walls were never painted yellow (the artist’s favorite color) and the tower at the end of the street was an invention. Evidently, this café, now a tourist trap, serves bad overpriced food and is often closed by the health department. We ate somewhere else.






The Hospital at Arles (1889-89) where Van Gogh was brought after cutting off a portion of his ear.






Field with Arles in the Distance (1888). You can clearly make out the arches of the Roman amphitheater.







Yours truly along with Van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles (1889), hanging in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.





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You must have really enjoyed this trip! Interesting about the lighting claim...i would have never thought about anything like that. Reminds me of how New Yorkers claim our pizza is so good because of the water...I think it is because we have so many chefs named Mario.
By: cranky on June 14, 2017
Great tour, thanks, Skinny!!
By: fishducky on June 14, 2017
Is it the light, or is it the talent? Either way, he had it.
By: messymimi on June 14, 2017
Interesting tour. The background to the story of the hospital painting makes that one rather melancholy, to me.
By: jenny_o on June 14, 2017
Those are nice paintings but he wasn't much for titles, was he?
By: PT Dilloway on June 14, 2017
I hope you don't mind my saying two things: You look very cute. And (as if I could stop at 2.) you could do better than that painting your standing by. Third ~ how fascinating to have walked in Van Gogh's steps. I appreciate the cafe photo even more now, actually.
By: Robyn Engel on June 14, 2017
What a cool trip for you as an artist (although I would also have enjoyed it & I can't even draw a stick figure!).
By: The Bug on June 14, 2017
What a trip. Thanks for sharing the current views. It transports me. And YOU look incredible!
By: Mitchell is Moving on June 14, 2017
I've seen that painting (the last one). When we lived in Maryland, we had a half-wall in the entry way to our house. My daughter was a budding artist, so I allowed her to paint on the wall. That painting was one that she copied, along with another Van Gogh. She was sketching Falling Water (the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in Pennsylvania) so she could paint it when we had to move and were forced to paint over the wall. It broke my heart. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on June 14, 2017
Sorry. The name of the house should be one word: Fallingwater.
By: Janie Junebug on June 14, 2017
Like many I am well aware of Van Gogh but don't have a clue of what his art is about. thanks for explaining.
By: red Kline on June 14, 2017
It's like walking through time and flipping through an art book reading your posts. Thanks!
By: scott park on June 14, 2017
Great post, Van Gogh was a genius
By: Sage on June 14, 2017
Good travel and art report and a quite snappy hat there, Stephen.
By: Catalyst on June 14, 2017
I would love to walk around this area and just take inthe colours. I live in a place with 4 seasons and in Canada, that means winter and construction or July...take your pick:) we can have some rainy, cool gloomy days or, right now, humid, hot scorchers. Anyway, what a shame that restaurant is now so bad and just trying to take In suckers who want to say they have eaten in a place Van Gogh painted. Just wonderful to see the pics
By: Birgit on June 14, 2017
I've always enjoyed Van Gogh's work, and I really love what you have done here by putting his paintings beside photos of the actual places he painted. Fascinating trip!
By: Marcia @Menopausal Mother on June 14, 2017
A wonderful post Stephen. We have trod in some of those places you present and your piece invokes great memories. I will hazard a theory about your take on the wonderful light of the south of France. You know it. Being a native of California you are already acclimated to the light. They are very much alike, the saturation of light and color in the south of France and in California. Lana, a painter, and my own sensitivity as a producer/director were immediately enthralled with the light of California. It was such an obvious difference from the light of the mid-west. Our first few years out here, we continued to rave about the light. We appreciate it endlessly, but have come to accept it as "normal." Perhaps that is why the light of the south of France did not overwhelm you as it would someone from Indiana or Michigan, etc.
By: Tom Cochrun on June 14, 2017
what a great and educational post! and don't you look spiffy with that jaunty hat!
By: Kathe W. on June 14, 2017
That is so cool! To see the painting along with the subject that was painted! You're looking fit. Good thing they didn't ban you from the tour because of your attire this time.
By: Val on June 14, 2017
Thanks for letting us see what he painted and how it looks today. The hospital would have given me goosebumps. You are looking marvelous young man. Keep up the good work.
By: Arkansas Patti on June 15, 2017
Loved your showing his paintings and then the actual site. Must have been a wonderful trip.
By: Kate on June 15, 2017
Still one of my favourite painters. I saw a very interesting documentary on his life recently on Sky Arts. Greetings from London.
By: A Cuban In London on June 15, 2017
You are looking younger. French food seems to agree with you! I think we took a very simiar tour two years ago.
By: Tabor on June 15, 2017
You must revel at being 'on location' where these paintings were inspired and created. Are you inspired in creating you own version of these sites? Vive la France! :)
By: Daniel LaFrance on June 16, 2017
I love that you posted a picture of the painting and a photo of what it looks like today! And you certainly are looking very fit and trim these days.
By: Pixel Peeper on June 17, 2017

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