Liberal Arts Blog — Vincent Van Gogh: The Hospital Ward, The Hospital Courtyard, Doctor Gachet

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Today’s Topic: Vincent Van Gogh: The Hospital Ward, The Hospital Courtyard, Doctor Gachet

I just learned that the last year of Van Gogh’s life saw a frenzy of artistic production. Today, three of the works that stood out to me. The commentary is from Wikipedia, that miracle of the our time. The footnotes tell the stories of Arles, St. Remy, and Auvers-sur-Oise, as well as Adeline Ravoux’s account of the artist’s death. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

WARD IN THE HOSPITAL IN ARLES (1890) — the “exaggerated length of the corridor,” Dostoevsky

1. “Vincent described the painting to his sister Wil, “In the foreground a big black stove around which some grey and black forms of patients and then behind the very long ward paved in red with the two rows of white beds, the partitions white, but a lilac- or green-white, and the windows with pink curtains, with green curtains, and in the background two figures of nuns in black and white. The ceiling is violet with large beams.”

2. “Debra Mancoff, author of Van Gogh’s Flowers, comments, “In his painting, Ward of Arles Hospital, the exaggerated length of the corridor and the nervous contours that delineate the figures of the patients express the emotional weight of his isolation and confinement.”

3. In October 1889 van Gogh resumed painting of a fever ward titled Ward in the Hospital in Arles. The large study had been unattended for a while and van Gogh’s interest was sparked when he read an article regarding Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s book “Souvenirs de la maison des morts” (Memories of the House of the Dead.”

COURTYARD OF THE HOSPITAL IN ARLES — the melancholy hues, the fish garden

1. “The vantage point for the painting was his room within the hospital.”

2. “Van Gogh’s description and his painting of the garden allow for identification of its flowers, such as: blue bearded irises, forget-me-nots, oleander, pansies, primroses, and poppies. The original design of the courtyard as described by Van Gogh has been preserved.”

3. “Radiating segments are surrounded by a “plante bande” now filled with irises.”

NB: “A difference between the painting and the garden is that van Gogh increased the size of the central fish garden for better composition. Adept at using color to convey mood, the shades of blue and gold in the painting seem to suggest melancholy. The yellow, orange, red and green in the painting are not vivid shades seen in other work from Arles, such as Bedroom in Arles.”

DR. GACHET — “like another brother, so much do we resemble each other physically and mentally”

1. “Vincent van Gogh’s first impression of Gachet was unfavorable. Writing to Theo he remarked: “I think that we must not count on Dr. Gachet at all. First of all, he is sicker than I am, I think, or shall we say just as much, so that’s that. Now when one blind man leads another blind man, don’t they both fall into the ditch?”

2. “However, in a letter dated two days later to their sister Wilhemlmina, he relayed, “I have found a true friend in Dr. Gachet, something like another brother, so much do we resemble each other physically and also mentally.”

3. Van Gogh spent the last months of his life being treated by Dr. Gachet — “producing more than seventy paintings.”

NB: “I’ve done the portrait of M. Gachet with a melancholy expression, which might well seem like a grimace to those who see it… Sad but gentle, yet clear and intelligent, that is how many portraits ought to be done… There are modern heads that may be looked at for a long time, and that may perhaps be looked back on with longing a hundred years later.”

FOOTNOTES — Arles (pop. 53,000), St. Remy (pop. 9700). Auvers-sur-Oise (pop. 6900)

1. Arles is a town on the Mediterranean coast of southern France with a long history dating back to Roman times. The “southern light” and the Roman ruins (including a theater, an amphitheater, and a necropolis) have made the town a magnet for artists. Van Gogh lived there from 1888 to 1889, “producing over 300 paintings and drawings.”

2. St. Remy is inland, about 12 miles south of Avignon. in a small range of mountains, the Alpilles. It was here that Van Gogh spent a year in the St. Paul asylum and painted “The Starry Night” depicting the view from his window.

3. Van Gogh died in his room at the Auberge Ravoux in Auvers-sur-Oise on July 29, 1890 having shot himself two days before. Vincent and his brother Theo are both buried in that small town, about 17 miles from the center of Paris. He had moved to Auvers-sur-Oise to be treated by Dr. Gachet.

NB: In the month before he died he painted this portrait of Adeline Ravoux, the eldest daughter of the owner of the inn where he was staying.

Adeline Ravoux’s recollection of the morning that Van Gogh shot himself in a wheat field:

“Vincent walked bent, holding his stomach, again exaggerating his habit of holding one shoulder higher than the other. […] [He] crossed the hall, took the staircase and climbed to his bedroom. I was witness to this scene. Vincent made such a strange impression on us that Father got up and went to the staircase to see if he could hear anything. He thought he could hear groans, went up quickly and found Vincent on his bed, laid down in a crooked position, knees up to his chin, moaning loudly. “What’s the matter,” said Father, “are you ill?” Vincent then lifted his shirt and showed him a small wound in the region of the heart. Father cried: “Malheureux [poor soul], what have you done?” “I have tried to kill myself,” replied Van Gogh.”

Portrait of Dr. Gachet — Wikipedia

Death of Vincent van Gogh — Wikipedia

Paul Gachet — Wikipedia

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence — Wikipedia

Saint-Paul Asylum, Saint-Rémy (Van Gogh series) — Wikipedia

Irises (painting) — Wikipedia

The Starry Night — Wikipedia

Auberge Ravoux — Wikipedia

Quote of the Month:

“The single biggest challenge in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” (William H. Whyte, author of The Organization Man” (1856)


PDF with headlines — Google Drive


#1 A graphic guide to justice (9 metaphors on one page).

#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, 11/17/20


Please share the coolest thing you learned recently or ever related to art, sculpture, design, architecture, film, or anything visual.

This is your chance to make some one else’s day. And to cement in your own memory something cool or important you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than you otherwise would about something that is close to your heart.



Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.

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John Muresianu

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.