He was the thief of sunflowers, gathering them via rapid brushstrokes. Vincent van Gogh was one of the most prolific and influential of the Post-Impressionist painters, producing over 2,000 paintings and drawings in just over 10 years in the late 1800s.
When he lived in Arles, van Gogh painted canvas after canvas of sunflowers. He had vases with three, five, twelve, or fifteen of the blooms with backgrounds of different colors. These striking images didn’t earn him great recognition—or wealth—at the time, but one sunflower painting was auctioned for $39 million in 1987.
Van Gogh spent a year in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, self-committed to the Saint-Paul de Mausole mental home for treatment of depression.
Here amid olive orchards, cypress trees, and flowering gardens, he painted some of his best known works. Along Avenue Vincent Van Gogh, posters of his most famous works are displayed on the way to the asylum as an art appreciation walking tour, “Walking in the universe of Vincent van Gogh.” Naturally, we followed the walk, trying to imagine ourselves in the artist’s footsteps.
Van Gogh lived in a single room at the asylum, but since the building wasn’t full, he had plenty of space to paint and store his supplies in a second room. He was allowed to paint in his room and in the gardens and travel up to an hour’s walk away in the countryside for inspiration. Think of it as early “art therapy.”
During his time in Saint-Rémy, Van Gogh wrote “Through the window and its bars I can see a square wheat field. A perspective ‘a la Goyen,’ above which I see the sun rising each day in its glory every morning.”
Even more popular and expensive (now) than van Gogh’s sunflowers are his irises, also painted in Arles. This painting sold for $54 million in 1987.
We found a modern-day thief of irises in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
Van Gogh’s asylum today has a beautiful setting with a central courtyard filled with colorful flowers.
Yet in this quiet, tranquil place van Gogh still suffered from depression and melancholy. He wrote: “Sometimes I feel desperately hopeless,” and “Except for a sense of melancholy, the nightmares no longer torment me.”
Along with his melancholy and despair, at times he felt euphoric. He wrote to his brother, “During my delirium so many pleasant things go through my mind.” Whether experiencing a melancholy or pleasant phase, he created this masterpiece while in Saint-Remy.
Van Gogh eventually felt that he had recovered and was ready to return to society. He left the asylum in May of 1890 and continued painting at Auvers-sur-Oise, where he completed a painting a day for 79 days. Then in July he shot himself and died within two days. He sold just one painting during his 37 years on earth, but will live forever in history as one of the world’s greatest painters.