First Impressions: Van Gogh vs. Real Life

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By Ye Charlotte Ming

Vincent Van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853 in Groot-Zundert, Netherlands. The famed post-impressionist artist lived in many European cities including London, Brussels and Paris, but his most creative and prolific period as an artist was when he lived in the Provençal town of Arles, on the Rhône River in Southern France. Here are the actual places that inspired one of the most influential artists of our time. 

Starry Night over the Rhône , 1888

Starry Night Over the Rhône is one of Van Gogh's most famous paintings. It depicts the bank of the River Rhône in Arles under a sparkling night sky. The scene is not far from his rented apartment, "the Yellow House", on Palace Lamartine. 

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Café Terrace at Night, 1888

Café Terrace at Night is another remarkable painting of Arles at night. The café on the Place du Forum that inspired Van Gogh has been refurbished in the early '90s to look exactly like it did in the painting and has been renamed after him. 

Van Gogh wrote to his sister, Wilhelmina, in the autumn of 1888, describing the place: "It amuses me enormously to paint the night right on the spot. They used to draw and paint the picture in the daytime after the rough sketch. But I find satisfaction in painting things immediately." 

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The Yellow House, 1888

Van Gogh's time living at the Yellow House, on 2 Place Lamartine in Arles, was the most creative period of the artist's short and troubled life. He rented four rooms in the two-floored apartment, seen in the center of the painting. Unfortunately, the Yellow House was heavily bombed during WWII and was later demolished. 

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Bedroom in Arles, 1889

Van Gogh was at a much more joyful and optimistic phase in life when he first arrived in Arles, hoping to start a "Studio of the South" where he and his artist friends, such as Paul Gauguin, could live and create work together. For that reason, the artist decorated his bedroom with cheerful colors. "I have depicted no type of shade or shadow; I have only applied simple plain colors, like those in crêpes," he wrote his brother Theo. 

The picture above is not of Van Gogh's original bedroom in the Yellow House but a replica created by the Art Institute of Chicago based on the painting. The room is posted on Airbnb and costs only $10 per night. The host, Vincent, promises to give his guests "an experience of a lifetime". He is apparently living up to the expectations judging by the reviews. 

Artwork provided by De Agostini via Getty Images; Photo by Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images 

The Langlois Bridge at Arles, 1888

Japanese woodblock paintings influenced many impressionist artists including Van Gogh. He thought the Langlois Bridge on the outskirts of Arles looked Japanese and portrayed it many times in paintings and drawings. 

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Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, 1884

Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen was one of Van Gogh's early works. His family lived in Nuenen, southern Netherlands, between 1883 to 1885, and his father, Theodorus, was a minister at the church. The painting was stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2002 and was only discovered last year by Italian police and returned to the museum earlier this year. 

Artwork provided as handout from Van Gogh Museum via Getty Images; Photo: Yves Forestier/Sygma

The Church at Auvers, 1890

After living in Arles and spending time at a mental hospital in Saint-Rémy de Provence, north of Arles, Van Gogh moved to Auvers-sur-Oise, a village outside Paris. He painted the Church of Auvers a few weeks before his death on July 29, 1890. 

At the end of his life, Van Gogh was nostalgic of his earlier time in Neunen. In a letter he sent to his sister in 1890, the artist wrote: "Once again it is nearly the same thing as the studies I did in Nuenen of the old tower and the cemetery, only it is probably that now the color is more expressive, more sumptuous." 

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related gallery: the legacy of van gogh

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Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh attracts fans across the globe. See the images here.