• montage-02montage-03montage-04montage-05montage-06montage-07montage-08montage-09montage-10

From Amsterdam to Rome Cruise Post #13: ‘The Great Freedom Port of Marseille & the Starry, Starry Night of Van Gogh’s Arles, France.’

Port of Marseille - Marseille, France

Port of Marseille – Marseille, France

Marseille is as cosmopolitan now as when the Phoenicians first founded it. Vital to the Crusades in the Middle Ages and crucial to Louis XIV as a military port, Marseille flourished as France’s market to the world – and still does so to this day. Marseille’s port is the second largest Mediterranean port, with over eighty-six thousand tons of goods transported annually. It has also served many travelers to freedom to America, including my great grandfather and his family – fleeing the Armenian Genocide.

Roman amphitheater built in 90 AD - Arles, France

Roman amphitheater built in 90 AD – Arles, France

Our tour began by driving fifty miles northeast of Marseille to the city of Arles, where post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh lived from 1888–1889 and produced over 300 paintings during his time there. Before exploring everything Van Gogh, we learnt about the city’s Roman history. We stopped at the Arles Amphitheatre, a two-tiered Roman amphitheater built in 90 AD – inspired by the Colosseum in Rome (built in 70 AD). The amphitheater was capable of seating over 20,000 spectators, and was built to provide entertainment in the form of chariot races and bloody Gladiator battles.

Home of author and astrologer, Nostradamus - Arles, France

Home of author and astrologer Nostradamus circa 1547 – Arles, France

Continuing on foot through Arles, we explored the old town of Vieille Ville, a maze of high shuttered houses looming over narrow cobbled streets, stone stairways and tiny squares. On the way, we stopped at the house where physician, author and astrological consultant, Nostradamus lived in 1547. Besides his other well-known predications, Nostradamus is famous to have predicated the 21st century clash between Judeo-Christian and Islamic civilizations. During his time in Arles, Nostradamus assisted the prominent physician Louis Serre in his fight against a major plague outbreak in the city.

Karen at the site of Van Gogh's "Café Terrace at Night " - Arles, France

Karen at the site of Van Gogh’s “Café Terrace at Night ” – Arles, France

Turning a corner into the Place due Forum, we came upon a very familiar Van Gogh scene, The Cafe Terrace (now named Café Van Gogh) where he painted the Café Terrace at Night in September 1888. Visitors of the restaurant can still sit at the table where Van Gogh set up his easel looking south towards the artificially lit terrace of the popular coffee house, and into the darkness of the rue du Palais. This is the very first painting in which he used starry backgrounds; he then went on to paint star-filled skies in the iconic, The Starry Night a year later.

The Mausoleum of the Juliiin at the Ancient Roman City of Glanum

The Mausoleum of the Julii at the Ancient Roman City of Glanum

The Triumphal Arch (with The Mausoleum of the Julii in the background) in Ancient Roman City of Glanum - Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France

The Triumphal Arch (with The Mausoleum of the Julii in the background) in Ancient Roman City of Glanum – Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France

We returned to the bus and continued traveling twenty-miles outside of Marseille to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where we visited the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Glanum. The city was founded in the 6th century BC by a Celto-Ligurian people called the Salyens. Glanum is known for two well-preserved Roman monuments of the 1st century B.C. – a mausoleum and a triumphal arch. The Mausoleum of the Julii dates to about 40 BC, and is one of the best-preserved mausoleums of the Roman era. Next to the mausoleum is The Triumphal Arch, a visible symbol of Roman power and authority. It was built near the end of the reign of Augustus Caesar (who died in 14 AD).

Karen in Van Gogh's room at the Saint-Paul Asylum - Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France

Karen in Van Gogh’s room at the Saint-Paul Asylum – Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France

From Glanum, we continued on foot to the Saint-Paul Asylum, where on May 8th, 1889, Van Gogh voluntarily admitted himself (he suffered from various types of epilepsy, psychotic attacks, and delusions – even cutting off his ear as a gift to a prostitute). During much of his stay there, he was confined to the asylum, painting the world he saw from his barred window (in his paintings though, he painted the scenes without the bars). In his room, we saw an uncomfortable looking wire bed, a water pitcher and basin, and a wooden chair. I felt the claustrophobia that Van Gogh must have felt as he slept in this little cage of a room. In the communal bathroom, there was an old porcelain tub, with a wooden collar to place around the patient’s neck, in order to hold them imprisoned in the icy water – which Doctor’s believed was a cure for mental illness.

Karen looking out into the garden of the Saint-Paul Asylum - Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France

Karen looking out into the garden of the Saint-Paul Asylum – Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France

When Van Gogh was permitted to venture outside of the asylum walls, he painted the wheat fields, olive groves, and cypress trees of the surrounding countryside, which he saw as characteristic of Provence. Over the course of the year, he painted over 150 canvases. One of his more recognizable works of this period is the Irises. It was painted before his first attack at the asylum, possibly due to a form of epilepsy he suffered from. He called the painting, “the lightning conductor for my illness,” because he felt that he could keep himself from going insane by continuing to paint. His works of the asylum’s interior convey the isolation and profound sadness that he must have felt. As I stood in the Asylum garden, tears came to my eyes… I felt a strange peace come over me – possibly and hopefully what Van Gogh might have felt as he painted this beautiful and iconic scene before me.

Garden at the Saint-Paul Asylum - Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France

Garden at the Saint-Paul Asylum – Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France

One of the many landscape scenes Van Gogh painted during his stay at the Saint-Paul Asylum -  Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France,

One of the many landscapes Van Gogh painted during his stay at the Saint-Paul Asylum – Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France,

While Van Gogh’s time at Saint-Rémy forced management of his vices, such as coffee, alcohol, poor eating habits and periodic attempts to consume turpentine and paint – his stay was not pleasant. The food was poor. His only apparent form of treatment were two-hour ice baths twice a week. By early 1890, Van Gogh’s attacks of illness worsened and he believed that his stay at the asylum was not helping to make him better. This led to his plans to move to Auvers-sur-Oise, just north of Paris in May, 1890.

Vincent van Gogh's Red Vineyards, 1888

Vincent van Gogh’s Red Vineyards, 1888

It is so ironic that Van Gogh only sold one painting during his lifetime, Red Vineyard at Arles (and that to a friend). This painting now resides at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. The rest of Van Gogh’s more than 900 paintings were not sold or made famous until after his suicide in 1890 by gunshot (he was 37).

Van Gogh's view of the outside world from the Saint-Paul Asylum - Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France

Van Gogh’s view of the outside world from the Saint-Paul Asylum – Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France

If it were not for his caring and financially supportive brother Theo, we may not have had one of the greatest artists that ever lived. In her memoir, Theo’s wife Johanna refers to a letter from her husband after his arrival at Vincent’s deathbed: “He was glad that I came… Poor fellow, very little happiness fell to his share, and no illusions are left him.” When Dr. Gachet told him that he still hoped to save his life, Vincent replied, ‘Then I’ll have to do it over again.’ And after his death, Theo wrote: “One of his last words was, ‘I wish I could pass away like this,’ and his wish was fulfilled. A few moments and all was over. He had found the rest he could not find on earth…”

Vincent & Theo van Gogh's Tombstones - Auvers-sur-Oise, France

Vincent & Theo van Gogh’s Tombstones – Auvers-sur-Oise, France

 Vincent van Gogh is buried next to his beloved brother Theo at the cemetery in Auvers-sur-Oise.

Vincent Van Gogh’s probable last painting, "Wheat Field with Crows"

Vincent van Gogh’s probable last painting, “Wheat Field with Crows”

All photographs except 1, 11, 13, 14 taken by Ryan Oksenberg

Comments

  1. Alan Mandell says:

    Terrific post. I must see it all.

    Love,
    Alan

Speak Your Mind

*