July 18, 2004
Across from the Hotel Estrine entrance, an illustrated easel marks the spot where Van Gogh painted a small garden. Inside, on the first floor, are large reproductions of Van Gogh paintings–the closest thing you'll find to his real art in the Provencal region. Originals are in Paris, New York, London, Moscow, and of course, Amsterdam which celebrates their most famous son since Rembrandt. The sheer variety and quantity of the realistic reproductions surprised me.
But the gem of this quiet place was the ten minute audio-visual show.
I entered the curtained room, a small space large enough for six chairs across that felt spacious under the high arched ceiling. Tapestries hung on stone walls between sculptures, all dramatically lit by sconces. And then classical music began.
Colored images of Van Gogh's paintings appeared one by one on a screen set into a niche in the wall. The slides were narrated in French but English text summarized them periodically. Trees, especially cypress and olive trees, were omnipresent in his paintings during his stay in St. Remy's St. Paul Monastery. He treated them as his brothers, an extension of his expression whether it was joyful blossoms or gnarled trunks of olive trees.
Quite often he painted the black line of a tall cypress touching the moon or sky to "give equilibrium to the universe." He prided himself in his communion with nature, painting swirly stars and leaves of elms, oaks, plane and mulberry trees. Bold blues and yellows dominated colored scenes of flowers, mountain landscapes, and peasant people working in the wheat fields.
The soft music, lilting narration and ever-changing images was indeed a "garden of poetry" that I found peaceful and highly enjoyable. Relaxed, and better acquainted with his art, I continued upstairs to visit the rest of the museum.
The 2nd floor smelled of fresh paint although the art displayed was from 1998. Huge abstract pieces hung on the wall. The central work was a red bed, brushed in wide strokes, on a black background. I followed the winding staircase up to the 3rd story and breezed past an odd assortment of modern art from 2003. Teepees, skeletons and a painting of a mattresses seemed to communicate something, I'm just not sure what.
Back downstairs, I lingered in front of replica Van Gogh paintings one last time...viewing cypress trees, olive groves, and purple irises already familiar in the Provencal landscape in just a mere week.
From journal Tracing Van Gogh's Footsteps (in Provence)