The Yellow House
The Yellow House
"a square no. 30 canvas showing the house and its surroundings under a sulphur sun, under a pure cobalt sky. That’s a really difficult subject! But I want to conquer it for that very reason. Because it’s tremendous, these yellow houses in the sunlight and then the incomparable freshness of the blue. All the ground’s yellow, too. I’ll send you another, better drawing of it than this croquis from memory; the house to the left is pink, with green shutters; the one that’s shaded by a tree, that’s the restaurant where I go to eat supper every day. My friend the postman lives at the bottom of the street on the left, between the two railway bridges. The night café that I painted isn’t in the painting; it’s to the left of the restaurant."
The related images are a drawing, a floor plan and old photograph of the same location as Vincent’s painting of the Yellow House. The painting is created with roughly crosshatched cobalt blue in wide brushstrokes. The trees at left are painted on top of the deep blue sky in first a deep green and then a lightened green and finally a layer of stroked yellow brown leaves whose tone is repeated in the window frames and eaves of the yellow house. The deep green is repeated in the door frames of the yellow house and the window frames upstairs with an even deeper blue than the sky behind the windows.
The figures are faceless and somewhat awkward with a woman in Arlesienne dress and a man walking in a hunched manner on a sidewalk fronting the downstairs cafe where a patron is seated with his back to us. The awning above is a rectangle of pink strokes bordered by a thick cloissonesque cobalt border. The yellow of the house is mirrored in the dusty street below and in the distance to the right, the train is steaming into the station as a young family and lone stroller head to meet it.
Vincent moved into what he would call “The Yellow House” in May of 1888. He rented two rooms above the restaurant on the street level below and set to painting the faded walls of the place inside (white) and out “the yellow color of fresh butter on the outside with glaringly green shutters”. One room was used as a studio and the other as a sleeping quarters. While it was situated across the street from a small park and garden, and a short walk to the banks of the Rhone river, it also was a few hundred yards from the train station in Arles and around the corner from a night cafe frequented by the rough and imbibing denizens and visitors of Arles nights. Hot summers with poor ventilation and being above a dusty street corner had kept the upstairs rooms Vincent rented vacant for some time.
But Vincent saw beyond the dust and faded shutters to the beginning of the realization of his dream of a colony of artists pushing the boundaries of modern art while working hand in hand with their art dealer to support these dedicated and struggling men of the canvas. He had a vision which was supported and/or shared by his brother Theo of a spartan community of artists living and working together and producing canvases for Theo to sell in exchange. This “Studio of the South” as biographers would later refer to it, was being readied for whom Vincent saw as “The artists of the Petit boulevard”, Emile Bernard, Toulouse Lautrec, Louis Anquetin, Charles Angrand, Paul Signac, Paul Gauguin, George Seurat, Camille and son Lucien Pissarro and others pushing art beyond impressionism but as yet unable to consistently sell their work.
In another group, the artists of the “Grand Boulevard” were the established impressionists who, after years of suffering breaking through the norms and expectations of the Parisien and art world’s upper echelons, were consistently selling their canvases and being awarded consignments for their work (Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, August Renoir). Vincent envisioned himself in the midst of his like minded companions toiling under the brilliant light of the Provence sun that had inspired Monticelli in Marseille and Cezanne in Aix by day and then coming home to communal meals back home in the yellow house where they would discuss color theory and brush stroke and new branches of art long into the night. Filled with optimism and in his new nest at 2 Place de Lamartine, he likewise fills his studio with a series of new large format canvases “on the go” simultaneously in his first week in the Yellow House at 2 Place de Lamartine:
Three canvases of the park across the street: The Public Garden (‘The Poet’s Garden’), Path in the Public Garden and a painting he had previously described as ‘a round cedar or cypress bush’ and soon after this as ‘the garden with the round bush and the oleanders’. The letter sketch The public garden (‘The poet’s garden’) JH 1584 is after this painting, which is now lost.
“The decoration of the house absorbs me terribly. I dare to believe that it would be quite to your liking, although it’s very different from what you do, of course. But just as you spoke to me in the past about paintings that would depict, one flowers, the other trees, the other fields. Well, I have the Poet’s garden (2 canvases) (among the croquis you have the first idea for it, after a smaller painted study that’s already at my brother’s). Then The starry night, then The vineyard, then The furrows, then the view of the house could be called The street, so unintentionally there’s a certain sequence.”
To Emile Bernard. Arles, Wednesday, 3 October 1888.
To Theo. Arles, on or about Saturday, 29 September 1888.
Painting, Oil on Canvas – 76 x 94 cm – size 30 Figure
Arles: September 28, 1888
Van Gogh Museum
Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe
F: 464, JH: 1589