Sunday, June 12, 2016

Van Gogh at Saint Paul's

Window in the entrance portico of Saint Paul Asylum

From May 1889 to May 1890 Vincent Van Gogh was a patient at the Saint Paul de Mausole Asylum outside Saint Remy just 12 miles north of his former home in Arles. Following his legendary ear cutting episode Van Gogh committed himself and picked adjoining cells so he’d have a studio. Well into the 1920s France was at the forefront of all medicine, the place where doctors from around the world came to learn the latest treatments for the gamut of afflictions including those of the mind. At least at Saint Paul's the humane treatment that the mentally ill received in late 19th century France provides a stark contrast to the care of the mentally ill in 21st century America.

Van Gogh's cell.

For Van Gogh the stability of the regimented life in the hospital was a tonic and within those safe confines he painted 150 paintings that year. “I feel happier here with my work than I could be outside. By staying here a good long time, I shall have learned regular habits and in the long run the result will be more order in my life.” 

In September 1889 his Starry Night over the Rhone and The Irises were exhibited at the Société de Artistes Indepéndants and and in January 1890 six of his paintings were shown at the seventh exhibition of Les XX in Brussels. Sadly, just as he was gaining recognition his epileptic attacks became more frequent and, feeling that he was not improving, he vacated Saint Paul's for the Paris suburb of Auvers-sur-Oise.

Saint Paul's, now Clinique Van Gogh, is still an operating mental hospital, one that uses art as a therapeutic tool. On the day we visited an art show displayed the work of patients and therapists alike. 

Wander Saint Paul's sunswept grounds and signs show what Van Gogh saw when he painted during that prolific year in France’s Alpilles.


Blacks Crossing said...

As a great admirer of van Gogh the man and the painter, I appreciate seeing part of his healing abode in Paris in your beautifully rendered black and white photographs, and hearing the story of his life there. We Americans at once seem so caring for our fellow human beings and at the same time hating them to the extent that some are moved to insanity and killing. Facilities like St. Paul de Mausole Asylum that help rather than hinder the healing of emotionally or mentally ill individuals should be available in every country. If they were, perhaps some of the violence that is so prevalent these days could be avoided. Thank you for telling the story, Steve.

j. Madison Rink said...

Very cool, Steve. Thanks!

John Farnsworth said...

Well told, Amigo. Who will step forward and provide the humane, safe sort of care to which the mentally ill will self-commit?

Steve Immel said...

There's the rub, Juan. Nobody. Apparently there are greater priorities like fighting unwinnable wars for trillions. That's not progressive versus conservative. It's priorities and common sense.

John Farnsworth said...

Right, both progressive and coservative governments fight expensive wars. I was thinking more along the line of churches, fellowship organizations, caring individuals, philanthropists, civic organizations, communities, organized groups comprised of families of the afflicted, etc.

Steve Immel said...

That would be wonderful, too. The folks with the big bucks, the ones who actually give away billions, have to choose their beneficiaries. And caring for the mentally ill hasn't been given much attention as far as I know.