After his Parisian lifestyle became too intense and exhausting, Van Gogh started looking for a calmer place where he could produce a series of works which would attain success on the art market.
Theo seems to have encouraged Vincent’s departure, as the painter’s passionate temperament had its drawbacks. His dissolute life and its dramatic crises were not compatible with the more conventional way of life Theo was expected to lead.
Books evoking Southern France, discussions with Toulouse-Lautrec and his admiration for Zola led the painter to select Arles as his point of departure for exploring Provence. He also wished to promote Impressionism in Marseille and build a market there for Theo.The city of Arles and its immediate surroundings provided Vincent with an infinite range of subjects. Portraits, urban scenes, rural landscapes, interiors, still lifes – everything he saw inspired him. His experimentation with colour reached a peak with the high yellow note, found not only in his dazzling Sunflowers, but also in the subtle shimmer of his stars.
After a few weeks in a boarding house he thought hideously expensive and where he felt he was being cheated, he rented a small house with three rooms where he hoped to welcome other artists. In October 1888, Paul Gauguin was the first and last painter to take up residence. Their attempt to live and work in one house was a resounding failure. One night in December, after a violent argument, Vincent cut off the lobe of his left ear in what has become one of the most discussed episodes in the history of art.
Despite his run-ins with alcohol and the occasional brush with madness, Van Gogh’s sojourn in Arles produced a series of impressive masterpieces.
Paradoxically, the paintings and drawings of this period attest to an exceptional lucidity, sensitivity, intellectual refinement and mastery of technique.
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