You know the story. Van Gogh was living and painting in “The Yellow House” in Arles when he became increasingly unstable, began fighting with Gaugin, and cut off part of his own ear.
It happened just two days before Christmas in 1888. Van Gogh was hospitalized and by May of 1889 he had voluntarily committed himself to St-Paul-de-Mausole, a psychiatric asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
When Van Gogh entered the asylum, he was diagnosed with a form of acute mania and epilepsy. The lead physician, Dr. Théophile Peyron, believed that only complete rest would help, but Theo Van Gogh convinced Peyron to allow his brother limited painting privileges. Van Gogh converted an adjacent cell into an art studio and began painting within the grounds of the hospital. Later, Van Gogh was considered stable enough to paint in the fields around Saint-Rémy as long as he was accompanied by a hospital aid.
It is here that Van Gogh would paint Starry Night and some of his most magnificent paintings, over 130 of them during this one-year period alone.
A trip to St-Paul-de-Mausole was on this art lover’s travlist for years. St. Rémy is a lovely little town within a short drive of Avignon in southern France. I traveled there in September, when unfortunately no lavender or iris were in bloom. If you’re lucky enough to visit from late June through early August, you might catch the gardens at just the right time.
You can take a guided tour of the grounds of St-Paul through the St-Rémy tourist office or grab a map and do it yourself. There is a lovely pedestrian path with art walk signs all the way from the tourist office to St-Paul-de-Mausole (Le Promenade Dans L’Univers de Vincent Van Gogh).