Vincent van Gogh spent a year at the asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Although it was a time when he struggled with his mental illness, he created some beautiful paintings inspired by nature in a garden and around the hospital. I’ve spent two days in this French town and looked for some places related to Vincent’s life.
Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
Van Gogh came to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in May 1889, after living for the last year in Arles. After being treated at the mental hospital there, and after the citizens of Arles signed a petition in which they asked him to leave the town, he’s submitting himself at the mental institution in a near-by Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
Although dealing with the attacks and anxiety, Vincent created some of his very famous paintings there. He has found his motives in the garden of the hospital and has painted them on many of his paintings. When feeling better he would go for a walk in a near-by Alpilles mountains and would paint the nature there. He visited the village only once during the year he has spent there. His painting style changed a lot during his time there, and restfulness, swirls and movement are much more visible on his paintings from that time.
After a year he has spent in a hospital, Théophile Peyron, a doctor who was treating him, proclaimed him to be cured. Vincent went to Paris to visit his brother Theo and his family. After spending two days there, he went to Auvers-sur-Oise, where he died after two months.
How much time to spend in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
I have spent two days there and it’s a minimum I would suggest to anyone looking for places related to van Gogh in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. However, if you would like to explore the nature around the village more, you can easily spent the whole week in the area. You can rent a bicycle in one of the rental shops there. It’s one of the best ways to explore the village and its surroundings.
I stayed at the Hotel Gounod, which is a lovely boutique hotel right in a centre of the village. It was named after the French composer Charles Gounod, who stayed in that hotel in 1864 and wrote his opera Mireille while there. Well, you won’t believe it, but I stayed in the same room as he did – room no 10.
Places related to Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
There are many places related to life and work of Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. I have started with going outside the village, to the Alpilles mountains. I’ve taken a walk from the village towards the mountains, located at the outskirts of it, around 1 kilometre from its centre.
Although, not directly related to Vincent’s life, but I visited archaeological site Glanum on my way. It was a town that was founded in the 6th Century BC. Excavation started in the early 20th Century, so during Vincent’s time it was probably a green area with olive trees and flowers, where he would come to paint. It’s located just next to the hospital where he was treated.
There are many hiking paths at Alpilles mountains, so I’ve taken a walk and just wandered around nature there. I had a few reproductions of Van Gogh’s paintings, he has created while in Saint-Rémy, with me. So, I looked for similarities in landscape, trees and flowers. It was so amazing how I could really recognize colours and motives from his paintings. Places where he was, really affected his painting style a lot.
Musée des Alpilles
*Address: 1 Place Charles Favier, 13210 Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
After a beautiful sunny morning at Alpilles mountains, I went back to the village. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is a cute little village, but as anywhere in France, there is some interesting history or link with art there. It was interesting to find out, it was a birthplace of Nostradamus in the 16th Century, for example.
I wanted to learn more about it and the area of Provence at the end of the 19th Century when Vincent lived there. So, I went to Musée des Alpilles. While browsing through its collection, I have found the most amazing thing there. Three, according to inscription next to them, typical vases for Arles from the 19th Century. And they looked completely the same as a vase on Van Gogh’s ‘The Sunflowers’. They are yellow with an upper part that’s glazed. I was quite amazed by that finding. And, the same as I felt while walking through the sceneries I could recognize from Van Gogh’s paintings. It felt like his art was coming to life, when I saw some of the objects that were motives in his paintings, too.
Saint-Rémy-de-Provence was the last stop on my trip during which I followed the footsteps of van Gogh, so I took a bit of a slower pace there. I decided to finish my day early and save some energy for exploring the village more tomorrow.
Although, the weather forecast said there’s going to be cloudy in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, I was woken up by some gorgeous sun the next day. And it ended up being a beautiful day to continue my search for Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
After a delicious breakfast at my hotel, I met with Philippe. He is a local Van Gogh expert and one of the partners in the Van Gogh Route project. I was very lucky to have him as my guide for a day because he has shown me all of those spots related to Vincent’s life.
*Address: 8 Rue Lucien Estrine, 13210 Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
We started our day by paying a visit to Musée Estrine. Located right in the centre of the village, it has a small section and a movie dedicated to Vincent van Gogh. It’s a lovely place to start with, for anyone visiting Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. The most interesting part of the exhibition to me was a graphic showing the progress by years of Van Gogh being more and more well known. And of becoming one of the most famous painters in the world today.
Signs with Van Gogh paintings
*Address: Between Musée Estrine and Saint-Paul-de-Mausole
After visiting a museum, we followed the 1.5 kilometers long path connecting it with Saint-Paul-de-Mausole. There are signs with reproductions of paintings Van Gogh has created while in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. They are accompanied with inserts from his letters. I loved stumbling on them during my visit. It felt like I was looking to the nature around me, through Van Gogh’s eyes.
*Address: 2 Voie Communale des Carrières, 13210 Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
Following that path, we came to the place where Vincent stayed while in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Saint-Paul-de-Mausole is still used as a hospital today. And only one small part of it is open to visitors. There are reproductions of his paintings in the garden of the hospital. One of the most famous paintings he has painted while there is ‘The Starry Night’. In a part of the hospital that’s open to the public is a small exhibition about his time there. It was quite interesting to learn about some ways mental illness was treated during the 19th Century. Although the room in which he stayed can’t be seen, there is a reconstruction of it created in a hospital. With its dark walls and an old metal bed, the interior of the room was in huge contrast with a beautiful garden and surrounding of the hospital. If nothing else, it’s symbolising his state of mind during that time, quite well.
The garden of the hospital was especially interesting to me. It’s a place where Van Gogh has found many of his motives during that time. Trees and flowers from it had an important place as subjects on his paintings.
Les Grands Fonds Quarry
*Address: Route de Maillane, 13520 Les Baux-de-Provence
After lunch at a local restaurant in a village, we drove through the Alpilles Mountains to Les Grands Fonds quarry. It’s not a quarry anymore, but a cultural institution and an amazing space where digital exhibitions and some other cultural events are organized. It’s called Carrières de Lumières and it’s located literally inside the mountain. Digital exhibition they had in a moment, was very appropriate to my trip, ‘Van Gogh, Starry Night’. The same one I’ve seen a few days before in Paris. But, to be honest, I loved it in this space much more!
Although Van Gogh’s time in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence was marked by his mental illness, it was also a place where he created some of his most famous and very beautiful paintings. His style changed a lot during that time. However, seeing the nature he painted, his motives and colours while there, was something that made my visit so special.
You can read all of the posts from my Van Gogh trip below:
# – I’m going to follow the footsteps of Vincent van Gogh
# – Visiting Kröller-Müller Museum
# – Vincent Van Gogh in the Netherlands
# – Vincent Van Gogh in Belgium
# – Vincent van Gogh in Paris
# – Vincent Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise
# – Vincent Van Gogh in Arles
# – Vincent Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
# – General info about my Van Gogh trip
*My visit to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence and places related to Van Gogh’s life there was a part of my “Follow the Footsteps of Vincent van Gogh” trip. It was supported and organized by the Van Gogh Europe and their partners. Many thanks to all of them, Hotel Gounod and especially to Philippe for helping me organized it.