Who is your favourite artist? I would probably say Australian painter Brett Whiteley has been mine since high school, but I am also partial to Monet, Dali and Van Gogh. Of course, living in the Netherlands means I am able to see many of the great Dutch artists at the myriad museums and galleries in Amsterdam; although I haven’t done much of that yet! What I find especially interesting apart from an artist’s work are the stories of their lives. I think Van Gogh is as well known for the details of his life as he is for his artwork. While we were holidaying in Provence in France I discovered that the monastery turned mental health clinic where Van Gogh lived and worked for a year from May 1889 until May 1890 was very close to us and open to the public. So, of course, we were going to visit it!
Located in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, the monastery of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole was an Augustinian priory dating from the 12th century and was converted into a mental asylum during the 19th century. It was here that Van Gogh voluntarily admitted himself after his period of living in Arles, and the infamous ear-cutting event. During his treatment at the asylum, he continued to paint and created around 150 canvases using the area surrounding the monastery as his inspiration. Many of his most recognisable pieces were painted while here, including “Irises” and “The Starry Night”.
We parked a little way from the monastery and discovered a sort of Van Gogh ‘walk’ leading to it through the streets, with occasional boards depicting images of his paintings and extracts from letters he wrote during his stay. There were also little circles on the ground at intervals with his signature which we followed before eventually finding the monastery/clinic itself.
The clinic is still operational today, but the part where Van Gogh stayed and is open to the public is separated from where current patients are located. Of course, this means that visitors should be mindful of the patients living there. The monastery itself is beautiful, and the walkway from the tourist entrance is lovely. I can just imagine it being a very soothing and inspirational place for those needing treatment in a secluded place. I especially liked the statue of Van Gogh holding sunflowers which was on display in the garden.
There is an old chapel next to the entrance to the part of the monastery where Van Gogh stayed, and on the ground floor of the monastery building is a display of artwork created by current patients at the clinic. The interior garden inside the monastery is also stunning.
Upstairs you can visit the same two rooms where Van Gogh lived during his time here, which have been recreated to look like it would have done then. You can also see the view from his window which inspired so many of his paintings and read about 19th century psychiatry practices.
Then you can go outside and walk into the fields to see the lavender, the view of the monastery and more large-scale reproductions of his paintings on display. It was an absolutely scorching hot day but it was very interesting to see the actual views, how they differed from his paintings but also to see where he got his inspiration from.
It’s definitely an interesting place to visit, especially if you are a fan of Van Gogh, but it’s also quite sad. He had such a troubled life and 19th-century psychiatry practices weren’t the best. Then, of course, he shot himself in the chest on 27 July 1890 (only two months after leaving the asylum) and died from his injuries two days later. You can read more about his life and work here, and specifics about his time at the monastery here.
After visiting the monastery and reading more about his time living in Provence, I am much more interested in seeing the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, so definitely keep an eye out for that in the future! Have you ever visited somewhere important to one of your favourite artists? Tell me about it in the comments! And remember to pin this for later if you enjoyed this post.