A special place: Studio of the South

Van Gogh in Provence

by Martin Bailey

#StudiooftheSouth #NetGalley

This book’s title is derived from Van Gogh’s description of his home in Arles. He lived there for 444 artistically productive days, leaving after the notorious incident with his ear. Intriguingly, the book’s author has a theory about why that happened when it did.

This work is well-researched and engaging. It can be enjoyed by both serious art scholars and those who simply adore Van Gogh. The number of reproduced paintings is impressive and readers will enjoy studying them at leisure and learning more about them, the artist and those who knew him.

This title is highly recommended. It offers readers an immersive and involving reading experience.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher . All opinions are my own.

From the Publisher

The Yellow House, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

Studio of the South tells the story of Van Gogh’s stay in Arles, when his powers were at their height…

Van Gogh’s home and studio was the Yellow House, which he rented two months after his arrival in Arles. It provided his own personal space to sleep and paint – a welcome change from a cramped hotel room. Van Gogh immediately dreamed of sharing his new home with a fellow artist from Paris. Life would be cheaper, but more importantly it would be stimulating to live and work with a companion. He described it as the ‘studio in the south’. Vincent first used this expression in a letter to his brother Theo. Asking for money to buy beds and other furniture, he exclaimed: ‘How I’d like to set myself up so that I could have a home of my own!’ Once furnished, ‘we’d have a studio in the south where we could put someone up’. He regarded his beloved Yellow House as not simply a physical space, but a ‘living studio’.

The Yellow House, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

Arles seen from the Wheatfields, Musée Rodin, Paris

DISCOVERING ARLES

Van Gogh arrived in Provence at an extraordinary moment. Having taken the overnight train from Paris he awoke on the morning of 20 February 1888 to find the countryside blanketed with snow, although Arles normally enjoys mild Mediterranean winters. He described the scene to Theo: ‘The landscape under the snow with the white peaks against a sky as bright as the snow was just like the winter landscapes the Japanese did.’ The white hills were the Alpilles (the Little Alps), a chain with craggy peaks which begins just north of Arles – and which would soon appear in the background of many of his landscapes. A local newspaper reported that the snow was 45 centimetres deep, ‘enormous for the land of the sun’.

Arles seen from the Wheatfields, Musée Rodin, Paris

THE RHÔNE AND ITS CANALS

Langlois Bridge with Washerwomen, Kröller- Müller Museum, OtterloQuay with Sand Barges, August 1888, oil on canvas, 55 x 65 cm, Folkwang Museum, Essen (F449)Trinquetaille Bridge, October 1888, oil on canvas, 74 x 93 cm, private collection
Langlois Bridge with Washerwomen, Kröller- Müller Museum, Otterlo Langlois Bridge with Washerwomen was completed in mid-March 1888, just three weeks after Vincent’s arrival. Writing to Theo, he described it as ‘a drawbridge, with a little carriage going across it, outlined against a blue sky – the river blue as well, the banks orange with greenery, a group of washerwomen wearing blouses and multicoloured bonnets’.Quay with Sand Barges, August 1888, oil on canvas, 55 x 65 cm, Folkwang Museum, Essen (F449) Van Gogh later painted a similar scene, Quay with Sand Barges, this time with part of the embankment. His striking perspective omits the sky. He described the scene: ‘Boats seen from a quay, from above; the two boats are a purplish pink, the water is very green, no sky, a tricolour flag on the mast. A workman with a wheelbarrow is unloading sand.’Trinquetaille Bridge, October 1888, oil on canvas, 74 x 93 cm, private collection On the other side of the Rhône lay the small town of Trinquetaille, which in 1875 had been linked to Arles by a bridge. Van Gogh painted Trinquetaille Bridge from the Arles side. Selecting a dramatic viewpoint, he looked up the wide steps heading from the street to the embankment and then up to the bridge itself. A sprinkling of pedestrians add scale and movement. The cylindrical object behind the small tree is probably a pissoire.

More from Martin Bailey

MARTIN BAILEY is a leading specialist on Van Gogh and an arts journalist. He is a London-based correspondent for The Art Newspaper. Bailey has curated several exhibitions on Van Gogh including one at Tate Britain in 2019. His most recent books include:

Author: joycesmysteryandfictionbookreviews

I love to read, recommend books and open the world of reading to others. I tutor to ensure that the next generation of readers will know the joys of a good book because their reading skills have improved. I am an avid reader, especially of mysteries and fiction. I believe that two of the world's greatest inventions were the public library and eyeglasses!

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