And mind my dear fellow, Paris is Paris, there is but one Paris and however hard living may be here and if it became worse and harder even – the french air clears up the brain and does one good – a world of good.
Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Horace Mann Livens, Paris, 1886.
When he arrived in Paris in 1886, Van Gogh was only one painter among many. The French capital was overflowing with artists and fortune-seekers who sometimes came from far to seek riches and fame. Vincent, who was living with his brother Theo, was at the very heart of this melting-pot, only a few steps from the studios of Toulouse-Lautrec and Cormon and the supply shop of Père Tanguy.
Many painters, poets, sculptors and composers were making their art in the same neighbourhoods, crowding the Montmartre hill, the Boulevard de Clichy, Place Blanche and Place Pigalle.
Most of the new arrivals, brimming with over-optimistic hopes and all too easily led astray by the temptations of the big city, burnt their wings.
Van Gogh himself succumbed to practically every excess available in Paris. After two years, in February 1888, he realised that he was subjecting both body and soul to too much strain and decided to extricate himself from the capital while he still could.
In terms of his art, his interactions with the Parisian painters and their methods had been a revelation. He abandoned his dark palette, started experimenting with Impressionist methods and set up a whole network of friends and acquaintances with whom he could discuss paintings and experiments.
He learnt new techniques in order to surpass them. Like Degas, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Seurat and Bernard, Van Gogh created a series of unforgettable art works. This period can be seen as a major preparatory phase in his artistic development, a practice study undertaken before his immortalisation of the Provence scenes for which he would become famous.
Download a facsimile of the plate (pdf).