Saint-Paul Asylum, Saint-Rémy Van Gogh Series

Hospital at Saint-Rémy-de -Provence
Saint-Paul Asylum, Saint-Rémy is a collection of paintings that Vincent van Gogh did when he was a self-admitted patient at the Saint-Paul asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, since renamed the Clinique Van Gogh, from May 1889 until May 1890.

During much of his stay there he was confined to the grounds of the asylum, and he made paintings of the garden, the enclosed wheat field that he could see outside his room and a few portraits of individuals at the asylum.

The Garden of Saint-Paul Hospital
May 1889
Corridor in Saint-Paul Hospital, 1889

During his stay at Saint-Paul asylum, Van Gogh experienced periods of illness when he could not paint. When he was able to resume, painting provided solace and meaning for him. Nature seemed especially meaningful to him, trees, the landscape, even caterpillars as representative of the opportunity for transformation and budding flowers symbolizing the cycle of life. One of the more recognizable works of this period is The Irises. 

Irises, 1889
Works of the interior of the hospital convey the isolation and sadness that he felt. From the window of his cell he saw an enclosed wheat field, the subject of many paintings made from his room. He was able to make but a few portraits while at Saint-Paul.

Enclosed Wheat Field with Rising Sun, May 1889

Within the grounds he also made paintings that were interpretations of some of his favorite paintings by artists that he admired. When he could leave the grounds of the asylum, he made other works, such as Olive Trees (Van Gogh series) and landscapes of the local area.

Events leading up to stay at the Saint-Paul hospital

Following the incident with Paul Gauguin in Arles in December 1888 in which van Gogh cut off part of his left ear he was hospitalized in Arles twice over a few months.

Ward in the Hospital in Arles
In January 1889, he returned to the Yellow House where he was living, but spent the following month between hospital and home suffering from hallucinations and delusions that he was being poisoned. In March 1889, the police closed his house after a petition by 30 townspeople, who called him "fou roux" (the redheaded madman). Paul Signac visited him in hospital and Van Gogh was allowed home in his company. In April 1889, he moved into rooms owned by Dr. Félix Rey, after floods damaged paintings in his own home. Around this time, he wrote, "Sometimes moods of indescribable anguish, sometimes moments when the veil of time and fatality of circumstances seemed to be torn apart for an instant." Finally in May 1889 he left Arles and traveled to the asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

Van Gogh was initially confined to the immediate asylum grounds and painted (without the bars) the world he saw from his room, such as ivy covered trees, lilacs, irises of the garden, and the enclosed wheat field, subject of many paintings at Saint-Rémy. As he ventured outside of the asylum walls, he painted the wheat fields, olive groves, and cypress trees of the surrounding countryside, which he saw as "characteristic of Provence." Over the course of the year, he painted about 150 canvases.

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