Van Gogh and Saint Paul de Mausole

In 1889, Vincent Van Gogh was admitted to the Saint Paul of Mausole Monastery, a psychiatric establishment situated in Saint-Rémy de Provence. It was a peaceful haven that would inspire 146 oil paintings and 150 drawings. We talked to Jean-Marc Boulon, a psychiatrist and the current medical director of the institution – which is still in operation today – about one of the greatest painters of the 20th century and the time he spent at Saint-Rémy.
Par Caroline Taret

The Saint Paul of Mausole Monastery has existed since the 11th century. This monument of Romanesque architecture in Provence was managed over the centuries by a succession of benevolent congregations until the State purchased it during the French Revolution. Finally, in the mid-19th century, a doctor bought the space to establish a modern psychiatric hospital there, following the implementation of a law on June 30th 1838, which regulated procedures for the internment of the mentally ill, improved conditions, and allowed patients to work.

In 1889, Vincent Van Gogh was admitted to the Saint Paul Monastery following several compulsory placements in other psychiatric establishments. It was his brother, the faithful Théo, who negotiated for Vincent’s placement at Saint Paul between May 1889 and May 1890; this explains the note “voluntary placement,” which, according to Doctor Boulon, does not mean that the painter went of his own accord.

Nevertheless, Van Gogh discovered in Saint Paul a place of quietude. Doctor Péron, his psychiatrist, was considered one of the pioneers of Art Therapy, and supported his work by giving him the comfort of three rooms: one for sleeping in complete tranquility, one for painting, and a third for storing his paintings. From his bedroom, Vincent could see a beautiful wheat field, which he would paint 14 times. According to Doctor Boulon, it was the support of the medical staff, as well as religious care-givers and lay-people working in the establishment during Van Gogh’s time there, that would contribute to creating an atmosphere conducive to the calm that would allow Vincent to express his creativity. Doctor Péron worked with Van Gogh and allowed him to leave Saint Paul when his state improved. Little by little, the painter of sunflowers and irises was able to enjoy the Monastery’s park for a few hours; then, he would have the opportunity to take a one-hour walk around the hospital, and finally all the way to Arles! Van Gogh made sketches of the natural surroundings that he then painted in his room: among his subjects were fields, olive trees, the Alpilles, and also the flowers in the hospital garden, including the famous irises and flowering trees. It was the intensity of the Provencal light and the power of Provence’s landscapes that had fascinated the artist since he first arrived in Arles, but here, Van Gogh would develop a real interest in these flowering trees that he painted with a delicacy reminiscent of Japanese artists Utagawa Hiroshige. Today, the site is filled with reminders of Van Gogh’s presence, but above all, it pays him homage in truly meaningful ways. One such example is the association, Valetudo, created by Doctor Boulon, which welcomes sick artists at the Saint Paul hospital. These artists benefit, along with the patients at the psychiatric hospital, not only from devoted care, but also from an exhibition space where they can show their work. This initiative would certainly have pleased Vincent, who dreamed of creating an artists’ association in the South of France like his friend Emile Bernard had created with the Ecole de Pont-Aven. To live amongst his artist friends, to support one another, and above all to sell their work together as they aspired to a decent and enjoyable standard of living: this was a wish that Van Gogh expressed on multiple occasions in his correspondence with Théo. Doctor Boulon has responded to Van Gogh’s great dream more than a year after his time at the hospital.

Today, the public can visit this unusual site and see the Valetudo association’s gallery, as well as the sublime cloister of the Saint Paul Monastery dating back to the 13th century. You will also be able to immerse yourself in Van Gogh’s story in Provence by visiting a reconstruction of his room and admiring his wheat field… not a painting, but the real thing.

Discover 
Saint Paul of Mausole in Saint-Rémy de Provence
www.saintpauldemausole.fr
Guided tour “In the Footsteps of Van Gogh”
Tourist Office of Saint Rémy de Provence
Place Jean Jaurès
13210 Saint Rémy de Provence
T 33 (0)4 90 92 05 22
www.saintremy-de-provence.com
Van Gogh and Saint Paul de Mausole
Van Gogh and Saint-Paul de Mausole
Saint-Rémy de Provence
Photography José Nicolas
Van Gogh and Saint Paul de Mausole
Van Gogh and Saint-Paul de Mausole
Saint-Rémy de Provence
Photography José Nicolas
Van Gogh and Saint Paul de Mausole
Van Gogh and Saint-Paul de Mausole
Saint-Rémy de Provence
Photography José Nicolas

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