Thursday, February 11, 2010

Van Gogh and the Yellow House in Arles

The Yellow House (The Street) September 1888
Vincent Van Gogh
76 x 91.5cm, oil on canvas

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam / photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell

One of the joys of visiting the Van Gogh exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London is being able to see the painting of the yellow house in Arles where Van Gogh lived AND a drawing of the same painting.

The painting belongs to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the drawing is in a private collection in the USA. So this exhibition provides a rare occasion of which the two are exhibited together.

It's always interesting to see how Van Gogh makes marks to indicate the changes in form, value and colour in the drawing as compared to the painting of the same subject

The Yellow House c. 29 September 1888
Vincent Van Gogh
11.3 x 20.6cm, pen and ink on graph paper
private collection USA / photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell

In May 1888, Van Gogh rented four rooms on the right-hand side of a house on the Place Lamartine in Arles. His living quarters were the ones with the green shutters. His bedroom lay beyond. Vincent had finally found a place where he could not only paint but also welcome his friends. His goal was to establish a “Studio of the South,” where he and like-minded artists could work together.
Van Gogh Museum - The Yellow House 1888
The Yellow House is where Van Gogh painted his bedroom and the series of paintings of sunnflowers. Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin shared the yellow house for six weeks and it's where he also painted portraits of the chairs they each used

This is what Van Gogh write in his letter after he rented the house whic was situated at 2, Place Lamartine in Arles.
Ah, well — today I rented the right-hand wing of this building, which contains 4 rooms, or more precisely, two, with two little rooms.

It’s painted yellow outside, whitewashed inside — in the full sunshine. I’ve rented it for 15 francs a month. Now what I’d like to do would be to furnish a room, the one on the first floor, to be able to sleep there. The studio, the store, will remain here for the whole of the campaign here in the south, and that way I have my independence from petty squabbles over guest-houses, which are ruinous and depress me. .....I hope I’ve been lucky this time — you understand, yellow outside, white inside, right out in the sun, at last I’ll see my canvases in a really bright interior. The floor’s made of red bricks. And outside, the public garden, of which you’ll find two more drawings.

The drawings, I dare assure you, will become even better.
Letter 602 / from Vincent van gogh to Theo van Gogh 1st May 1888
I'd never realised before but the painting shows piles of sand in the street. Apparently the gas was being connected to houses in the street - which then enabled Van Gogh to paint in the evening as well. It's also clear that this is not a drawing of the painting per se as the piles of sand appear to be different.

It's possible to view its location today using Google Streetview and somebody has usefully posted a copy of the painting against a photo of the place today.

You can read about Van Gogh's time in the yellow house in Arles in a couple of highly rated books
Links to details/posts about the exhibition:


  1. Whoops - just hit the wrong button by mistake when moderating comments. This is what got inadvertently rejected - Sorry Celeste!

    Celeste Bergin has left a new comment on your post "Van Gogh and the Yellow House in Arles":

    Katherine..I am always amazed at the depth of everything you post. So much valuable content! The information here---literally "takes my breath away" --almost the same way a masterful painting does. Bravo! Thanks for this, and so many other great posts!

  2. I get mixed feelings when I think of the old keener's yellow house.

    What I didn't know before I read Gayford's book was that it contains a trapezoidal space, rather than a squared off space. This makes sense of the interior paintings.

    I also think about how children would come to the window and harass Vincent for being an oddball. It reminds me of a scene from The Elephant Man.

  3. Léon Ramser has done a Floor plan of the Yellow House and it certainly does show a trapedoizal space. Like you said it certainly explains the bedroom painting!

    You can see it by clicking on the artwork tab for the letter reference (in the letter quote)

  4. Very interesting,
    today the Place Lamertine is a not really a place you want to stay /traffic). Next time I will have a closer look...

  5. It IS interesting to see them together--lucky you to see them in person. I like the drawing better. The painting seems to lack (emphasis on 'seems' since I am looking at the image from many removes) the animating brushwork that his best paintings have. The drawing is vivid and immediate.

  6. Very interesting post Katherine, as are all of your posts...
    I was looking at the street view.... (what a great idea so we can see the then and now..) but it looks like the actual HOUSE isn't there any more... only the larger hotel looking building...
    Am I looking at it right?????

  7. Exactly right Marian. You can clearly make out the buidling behind the yellow house in the painting - and the spot where the Yellow House used to be is now grass - and it's right next to a roundabout and a car park if you twizzle round in Streetview!

  8. Without looking it up (lazy me) I remember something about it being destroyed in WW II - I don't recall if it was bombed or simply torn down.

    BTW, I am also fascinating by the comparisons. Lovely idea to post this.


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