Visit the Provençal town of Arles and look back upon the incredible life of Vincent van Gogh.

The name Vincent van Gogh may call to mind the vibrant yellows of Provençal sunflower fields, the swirling deep blues and glowing stars of the night sky, and the dwindling crowds at the terrasses of French cafés on quiet evenings. While Van Gogh found little to no success in the art world during his lifetime, the tormented painter has risen to become one of the world’s most famed artists. Sailing with us through the South of France on our Colors of Provence and Essence of Burgundy & Provence itineraries, you will have the opportunity to learn more about the painter as you discover the scenic landscapes, or paysages, that inspired some of his most famous works of art. While painting extensively in France, Van Gogh left his footprints across Europe, which you can discover on some of our other European river cruises as well. 

Admire Van Gogh in Amsterdam 

Born in Holland in 1853, Van Gogh spent the first half of his life in the Netherlands and Belgium, working various jobs as an art dealer and as a Protestant missionary. Today, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam holds the largest collection of Van Gogh’s œuvres, or works of art. The most visited museum in the Netherlands, the Van Gogh Museum is a must-see for any art lover or anyone wanting to get a glimpse into the mind of the famous Dutch painter. We encourage you to do so during your free time as part of an optional pre- or post-river cruise land package or extra hotel nights in Amsterdam, available on many of our Rhine & Moselle river cruises, as well as Tulip Time, and Best of Holland & Belgium sailings. 

A Community Among Parisian Artists 

In 1886, Van Gogh left home to move to Paris, where he remained for two years. During his time in Paris, he befriended members of the avant-garde, Impressionist, and Neo-Impressionist art movements, including Paul Gauguin and Georges Seurat. Van Gogh was initially unimpressed by their work, writing at one point that: “People have heard of the Impressionists, they have great expectations of them ... and when they see them for the first time they’re bitterly, bitterly disappointed” (Van Gogh to Willemien van Gogh, 1888). However, after about a year in the City of Light, Van Gogh began experimenting with Impressionist techniques and styles, incorporating loose brushstrokes and a lighter color palette into his artwork.  

Finding His Style: Van Gogh in Provence 
Van Gogh left the grey wintery skies of Paris in 1888 for a warmer, brighter Arles, which he famously painted in rich yellows, ultramarine, and mauve. Van Gogh spent much of his time there living in what he referred to as “The Yellow House” on “The Street,” properly known as Place Lamartine. Painted with pale yellow walls and vibrant green shutters, the Yellow House acted as Van Gogh’s home and studio. In Arles, at the age of 35, he painted masterpieces such as Bedroom in Arles, The Yellow House, and Café Terrace at Night. During your visit to Arles, you’ll be able to enjoy some of the places that sparked the painter’s imagination on our Van Gogh Walking Tour. 

Diminishing Mental Health: The Ails of Van Gogh 

It was near the end of the same year that Van Gogh suffered from a mental breakdown, famously cutting off his own ear after hearing voices. After the incident, he became known around town as “le fou roux,” or “the redhead madman.” Unfortunately, his stay at the hospital in Arles only tarnished his reputation, damaging his already limited success as a painter.    

In 1889, Van Gogh checked himself into Saint-Paul de Mausole Asylum in Saint Rémy, a mere 19 miles outside of Arles. He remained at the asylum for the better part of a year, living in two barred cells, one of which acted as his studio. The clinic and the gardens of the asylum became central to Van Gogh’s artwork. During this period, his art became increasingly abstract, characterized by his trademark swirling patterns. It was at the Saint-Paul Asylum that Van Gogh completed one of his most celebrated artworks, The Starry Night.  

Shortly after leaving the clinic and moving to Auvers-sur-Oise in 1890, Van Gogh tragically took his own life at only 37 years old. On the Artist Walk of Auvers-sur-Oise excursion on our Paris & Normandy itinerary along the Seine, visit the charming town where Van Gogh spent his final weeks at the Ravoux Inn.  

Discover Arles Through an Artist’s Gaze 

Walking the streets of Arles, one cannot help but feel as though they are retracing Van Gogh’s footsteps and soaking in some of the vibrant colors and beautiful scenery that so inspired him. The coiling olive trees, buzzing streets, and yellow buildings seem to be right out of one of his paintings. 

See the Provençal city of Arles through the eyes of Vincent Van Gogh while sailing on the Rhône River through France on our Colors of Provence itinerary aboard our award-winning AmaKristina, or cruise our Essence of Burgundy & Provence itinerary.

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