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The Studio of the South

Worn down by his activities in Paris, on February 19, 1888, Van Gogh leaves for Provence in the south of France: "It appears to me to be almost impossible to work in Paris." Still hoping to establish an artists' cooperative, he rents a studio in Arles, the "Yellow House," and invites Gauguin to join him. In anticipation of his arrival, Van Gogh paints still lifes of sunflowers to decorate Gauguin's room. The flowers represent the sun, the dominant feature of the Provencal summer; Gauguin describes the paintings as "completely Van Gogh."

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Maturing Technique

Inspired by the bright colors and strong light of Provence, Van Gogh executes painting after painting in his own powerful language. "I am getting an eye for this kind of country," he writes to Theo. Whereas in Paris his works covered a broad range of subjects and techniques, the Arles paintings are consistent in approach, fusing painterly drawing with intensely saturated color.

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Seeing Color

Captivated by the spectacle of spring in Provence, Van Gogh paints the landscape. He concentrates on blossoming fruit trees and later, in summer, on scenes of rural life. He paints outdoors, often in a single long session: "Working directly on the spot all the time, I tried to grasp what is essential." He identifies each season and subject with characteristic colors: "The orchards stand for pink and white, the wheatfields for yellow."

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Gauguin finally arrives in Arles in October 1888. For nine weeks he and Van Gogh work together, painting and discussing art. Gauguin makes a portrait of Van Gogh in front of one of his sunflower canvases, which Van Gogh describes as "certainly me, but me gone mad." Personal tensions grow between the two men. In December Van Gogh experiences a psychotic episode in which he threatens Gauguin with a razor and later cuts off a piece of his own left ear. He is admitted to a hospital in Arles and remains there through January of 1889. Theo marries Jo Bonger in Amsterdam on 18 April 1889.

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