Friday, September 25, 2015

The Mad Redhead In The Yellow House

September 25, 2015
   Vincent got off the train at Arles in February of 1888. He had left Paris, where he was living with his brother Theo in Montmartre and was seeking a new place to paint. Van Gogh, like so many artists of that era was in love with Japanese prints and he wanted to find a landscape that matched the snow-capped scenes in the oriental woodcuts that were all the go in Paris. A freak snowstorm blanketed the area when he arrived and he impulsively decided this was going to be his Japan. After a stay in the Hotel Carrel he found a dilapidated house just south of the train station and set about refurbishing it. He had the outside repainted yellow.

Vincent van Gogh's painting of his beloved "Yellow House" in Arles.

   Vincent envisioned Arles as an art mecca for the Impressionists and tried to talk several artists into joining him. Guaguin was not his first choice, but he was the only one who came. Before Guaguin arrived, Vincent began to paint with a newfound intensity and in the next several months would produce many of the iconic paintings he is famous for, including "Sunflowers," "Starry Night Over The Rhone," "The Bedroom," "Langlois Bridge," "The Night Cafe" and ""The Cafe Terrace On The Place Du Forum."

   Of course, Gauguin came, they fought over everything, Gauguin left and Vincent had a meltdown (and cut off his ear), ending up in the local hospital. After a time, he got out, but had a relapse and 30 neighbors signed a petition to have him arrested for groping the local women and following people into their houses. The locals called him "flou roux"—The Mad Redhead. Kids threw rocks at him. The house was closed and all his stuff impounded. Van Gogh was moved to an insane asylum in nearby Saint Remy. It's amazing that any of his paintings survived, considering the animosity towards the Mad Redhead, but Theo had everything shipped to Paris and he saved it all.

The Yellow House in the early 1900s.

   Vincent never came back to Arles and in a year he was dead, perhaps shot down by a Buffalo Bill wannabe. The Yellow House continued to deteriorate until World War II when. . .

The Yellow House after being hit by Allied bombing in 1944.

   A bombing raid demolished the Yellow House. Today the site is a mecca for painters and fans of The Mad Redhead, Vincent van Gogh.

The site of the Yellow House today. Note elevated train trestle at right.

   We had lunch in the brasserie of the building that stood behind the Yellow House. It was eerie to look out on scenes he would paint many times. We had traveled a long ways, but it was a thrill to be on the spot of van Gogh's beloved Yellow House.

"There are three types of people who major in art: those so full of passion they find inspiration in a falling leaf; those who yearn to feel anything at the sight of a falling leaf; and those who cannot do math."

—Jessica C. Bakule


  1. Bob, your recounting of the story of van Gogh in Arles and St. Remy is very engrossing, but it seems that every time you touch the keyboard to type a French word or phrase you spell it wrong. They called him, "fou roux": mad redhead, not "flou" roux, which makes it sound as if he was feverish with the flu.

    1. Thanks. Perhaps the quote, above, should have an addendum: Those who cannot do math or spell." Did I spell "addendum" right?

  2. Anonymous9:51 PM

    Sad that, instead of being the "Mad Dane" or the "Mad Artist" or the "Mad Painter", he was the "Mad Redhead".

  3. Anonymous11:45 PM

    It was a pleasure to read it...


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