Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Yellow House

Last weekend I finished The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Provence by Martin Gayford. It had been on my list of books to read for a while, probably since hearing about it closer to its publication date, so I decided to bring it along as my reading on my flight to Ottawa.

The Yellow House is beautifully written. Gayford sweeps the reader away with his storytelling that one almost forgets the tragic ending that awaits. Even though I've long admired Van Gogh's art, after reading The Yellow House, I feel I understand him and his artistic mission better. He was trying to capture emotion in colour.

Despite the tragic end, Gayford doesn't leave his reader on a down note (something the Van Gogh Museum might improve on). Gayford discusses Van Gogh's posthumous success and recognition as a great artist, his mental health as it likely affected his art, and the fate of the Yellow House in Arles. Gayford leaves us with the impression that Van Gogh's brief stay in Arles was in medias res in the history of the town and art.

While in France, I had taken a brief trip to Arles to retrace Van Gogh's footsteps. The town of Arles actually has a "Van Gogh Trail" pamphlet that indicates a number of sites that the artists painted so you can compare the view. Like Les Alyscamps:

There are 10 sites marked on Van Gogh route, though we didn't visit them all. As I recall, it was a bit tricky to find some of them, or some were a bit on the outskirts of town. You can see the other sites here.

One thing I couldn't believe was that Van Gogh's Yellow House no longer existed. It had been bombed during the end of the war. Although there is a gallery dedicated to Van Gogh's time in Arles, la Fondation Vincent Van Gogh Arles, I am shocked that nobody has undertaken the task of building a replica of the yellow house to serve as a museum, akin to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London.

(Van Gogh's paintings of the Yellow House and Les Alyscamps public domain via Wikipedia)

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