Starry Night: Van Gogh at the Asylum… Review & Giveaway

Starry Night

Greeting dear readers and friends. I hope you’ve enjoyed these last few weeks of summer, and I’m delighted to be able to present to you a book review and giveaway on the blog today.

I was very pleased to be asked to review Martin Bailey’s follow-up to Studio of the South: Van Gogh in Provence. You may remember that the book was featured on the blog a few years back and it gave us an intimate look at the painter’s life in the city of Arles where he set-up his studio in the Yellow House and enjoyed a brief, but turbulent, artistic collaboration with Gauguin.

Starry Night: Van Gogh at the Asylum recounts the difficult decision that Van Gogh undertook to leave Arles in 1889 and place himself in an asylum, Saint Paul de Mausole, outside the town of Saint Rémy de Provence. Following the unfortunate “ear incident”, and with the consent of his brother Theo, the painter embarks on just over a year’s stay at the asylum which will prove both personally tumultuous and artistically enriching.

Van Gogh was fortunate to be admitted to such an institution as Saint Paul as the care at other asylums around the South of France at the time, notably Marseille, was notoriously unfavorable and did not have the serene quality of Saint Paul. Despite being surrounded by other afflicted souls, some in severely distressed emotional states, the painter had access to exquisite natural beauty in the form of the asylum garden and surrounding Provençal landscape.

Van Gogh was free to roam the garden and used this opportunity to observe and paint its natural splendor. The grounds seemed to have had a calming effect on the artist, and he created several paintings of the garden featuring irises, lilacs, pine trees with growing ivy, poppies and butterflies.

Garden of the Asylum,1889

The painter was also allowed to leave Saint Paul on excursions into the countryside where he painted images that captured the essence of the region; notably olive groves, wheat fields, and cypresses – all under the backdrop of the well-known Alpilles (little Alps) mountain range.

Unfortunately, Van Gogh also experienced several crises at Saint Paul; some of which kept him confined to his room or impeded his ability to leave the asylum to continue his landscape work. Nonetheless, the painter seems to have exhibited a resolve that went beyond his mental and physical state as he remained incredibly “lucid and self-possessed”. From his “Saint Paul” period there are just over 150 surviving paintings, with another one or two dozen which have been lost. This represents a picture every two days.

Irises, 1889

The author also gives us the very detailed and captivating history of one of Van Gogh’s most famous works: Starry Night. Painted during the artist’s time at Saint Paul, it is most likely based on Van Gogh’s observations of the night sky and not a reproduction of one evening in particular at the asylum. The artist “retained memories of having seen countless night skies, allowing his imagination free reign to create a stunning, highly personal vision”.

I was completely captivated by Starry Night. The book is both a beautifully stylized collection of art from one of the world’s most renowned painters, and also an extremely human tale of Van Gogh’s emotional and physical struggles.

Giveaway —————————-

If you’d like to enter to win a copy of Starry Night: Van Gogh at the Asylum, please leave a comment below telling us what inspires you most about the region of Provence.

One winner will be chosen on Saturday, September 29th at 12pm EST, using

Thank you and wishing you a lovely day from belle Provence.

28 thoughts on “Starry Night: Van Gogh at the Asylum… Review & Giveaway”

  1. It has to be the light. What inspires me most about the Provence region happens in very few places where I paint outside. The way the light falls on the landscape is stunningly beautiful. New Mexico, where Georgia OKeefe used to paint, shares this unique light that I can’t wait to get back to. -S

    Liked by 1 person

  2. From the first, of several visits to Provence in 2008, I felt at peace. The beauty of the region inspired me to photograph everything I saw. I did visit Arles that first time and saw the replica of Van Gogh’s Cafe Terrace at Night and became interested in his history. When I visited Aix, I learned about Cézanne and “his” Mont Sainte-Victoire. Provence seems to have a hold on me and I feel I must return. Peaceful beauty!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We have been fortunate to visit and enjoy Provence on several occasions. Each and every time it has been a new adventure. We usually rent a house so we are free to travel at our own speed with daily ventures out to explore new villages and sights and revisit our special favorites. Enjoying the scenery, the history and of course sampling new wines and food is a must. Buying local produce from the local markets to prepare in our temporary abode is such a treat. Always super fresh and flavorful. Every time we have met lovely very welcoming residents, who provide us with great ideas of special places to visit as well as the locals giving us tips on the best markets and sights to include in our visit. Provence has a special spot in our hearts, the light, the people, the food. Time for another visit!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great reply Susan, thank you! I’m glad you’ve been able to visit Provence so many times… renting a house is really the way to go, you get to experience the daily life here and really “soak up” the best of the region.


  4. I spend part of the year in St-Rémy and have visited the Mausole many times. You can visit Van Gogh’s room there and look out the same window he did…it makes you kind of dream.

    One of the nice things about St.-Rémy is that there are prints of Van Gogh paintings around town, near the spots where he painted them. This lets you see what something really looked like and then the way Van Gogh captured it in his painting–very cool!

    What inspires me about Provence? There are so many things–the light, the landscape, the food, the traditions, the history, the wine. But most of all the people. Some of my best friends in the world live in Provence and every time I return to California I wish I could bring them home with me!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks Keith! After reading the book, I absolutely have to get to Mausole. And what an inspiration St. Rémy, and the countryside around it, is… so much beauty in this lovely region of Provence.


  5. I am drawn to Provence and love to visit as often as I can because of the many unique characteristics this area of the world possesses. The location of Provence with its proximity to the sea and the terrain of arid land juxtaposed with the beautiful Alpilles and Mont Ventoux gives the terroir significance in its bountiful feast of products that reflect daily life here. The many varieties of olive trees that can grow only in the soil here and that give way to fabulous culinary delights and wooden products, the vineyards that produce fabulous wines, the special clay that artisans use to create beautiful vessels and santons, lavender fields that delight the eyes and the flowers that are used to make all kinds of fragrant health and food products, and of course, the many artists like Van Gogh who found inspiration in the beauty of this special place, its glorious vivid colors of nature – red, blue, green, yellow, white, lavender. The sound of the cigales, the wind, the sea…..Provence is a feast for our senses!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lovely reply, Mary Lynn, so well-written! Provence really is a unique place as you mentioned. Full of natural beauty and with a culture / style-of-life all its own. Thank you very much for entering the giveaway. Tuula


  6. I’ve loved Vincent Van Gogh’s work since I visited Amsterdam in c.1980! I was also lucky enough to see some of his paintings at the Musée D’Orsay earlier this year. I was also surprised to see The Sunflowers in Philadelphia but it was certainly a wonderful surprise.

    Thanks for a lovely article, Tuula…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, the Musée D’Orsay is so nice… I’d love to go back! What an inspiration and what a wonderful way to capture the “feeling” of Provence – Van Gogh’s paintings are truly captivating. Thank you for your kind comment Jane!


  7. So many ways to be inspired in Provence: the landscape from sea to mountains; the architecture of castles, farmhouses, hotels, hillside homes; flora and fauna; all the people from native French to ex-pats. Such a wonderful place!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I found your blog shortly after we returned from our trip to France last September, I love reading of all your experiences in the region . My husband comes From Arles and I love the area. Hopefully we will return again next year! Interestingly I just watched a special on Van Gogh’s time and works from the Asylum.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Sharon, So glad that you enjoy the blog! And Van Gogh’s time at the Asylum is so fascinating… I hope you get back to France soon and thanks so much for entering the giveaway. Best wishes, Tuula


  9. the atmosphere is so different to anywhere else, we stayed in Arles and saw where several paintings were done, Hubby visited the asylum in St Remy too, we just love Provence, Van Gogh, wine, lavender and olives xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway. Your answers were all quite inspirational and captured a lot of what I love about living in Provence. The winner, Patty, was chosen at random as #3 of 12 comments posted. Congratulations!

    Thank you again and I hope to have another giveaway coming soon! Tuula


  11. Wow the article is great! You put some very interesting points here. I think his madness was very important part of his art as well as asylum period was very emotional period of his life.


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