The Yellow House: Sunflowers and a Sword

In Vincent, Theo and the Fox, the first place the fox visits on his adventure is Vincent van Gogh’s yellow house in Arles. In art history, this house was where van Gogh created some of his greatest paintings and experienced some of his worst tragedies. Today, we look deeper into this incredible painting.

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The fox ran to a village. He saw a yellow house and a restaurant. Boy was he hungry. The fox was young. That morning, he had left home determined to learn his way in the world. “I shall be like a human and eat in that restaurant,” he thought.

Vincent, Theo and the Fox is a story about Vincent van Gogh and growing up (for ages 4-10). It is illustrated with 30 of van Gogh’s paintings. Some readers want to know more about the paintings so, on Mondays, I blog about one or more of them.

When Van Gogh moved to Arles, he lived in temporary lodgings before finding the yellow house in May 1888. The house was two blocks from the Rhone river. There was a small grocery store next to the house (in the painting, the building to the left, with banner and awning). Vincent frequently ate at the pink-hued restaurant to the right. In a letter to his sister, van Gogh described the building as “painted in yellow colour of fresh butter on the outside…it stands in the full sunlight in a square which has a green garden…it is completely whitewashed inside, and the floor is made of red bricks. And over it there is the intensively blue sky. In this I can live and breath, meditate and paint.”

He rented four rooms. image019On the ground floor, he made two large rooms into his atelier (studio) and a kitchen. Upstairs, on the left was Vincent’s famous bedroom (in the painting above, the one with one green shutter open). The other room, with both shutters open in the painting, was a guest room.

The guest room was important to Vincent. He hoped to attract other artists to Arles and start an artists’ colony, a “studio of the south” as he termed it. He wanted painter Paul Gauguin to be the head of the colony. As Michael Prodger points out, the two artists made a very odd pair. Theo van Gogh brought the two men together. Theo was Gauguin’s art dealer and Vincent’s sole source of support; he thought it would be good for Gauguin to keep an eye on Vincent. Gauguin wanted to keep Theo as his dealer and wanted to save money on rent so that he could leave for Tahiti earlier.

work_25At first, Vincent was excited that Gauguin was going to join him in Arles. He proceeded to decorate the house, buying used furniture and making paintings for the dwelling, including four of his sunflower paintings. Today, with sunflowers such as the one on the left, used on greeting cards, it is hard to appreciate how beautiful, new and intense they were.

Unfortunately, the two men had contrasting personalities. After nine weeks they fought and, in the fight, van Gogh lost his ear. The popular story is that van Gogh cut off his own ear with a razor. However, in a 2009 study, two German art historians argue that Gauguin cut off the ear with a sword he always carried. The two men “kept a “pact of silence” – Gauguin to avoid prosecution and Van Gogh in a vain attempt to keep a friend with whom he was hopelessly infatuated.” The truth, of course, is buried in the past. Personally, given Gauguin’s narcissism, meanness, and treatment of underage women in Tahiti; I prefer to believe the account of the German scholars.

51jilwaqgyl-_sx313_bo1204203200_Two books about the time van Gogh and Gauguin were together may be of interest. For adults there is The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Provence by Martin Gayford.

512tkmkpg3l-_sx357_bo1204203200_For children, Susan Goldman Rubin (author) and Jos. A. Smith (illustrator) wrote a picture book called The Yellow House: Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin Side by Side. It was published in connection with the Art Institute of Chicago’s exhibit Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South. It is no longer in print. To find it you will have to go to the library or buy it used.

The real yellow house was bombed during World War II and no longer exists (although there is a placard there). The painting never left the artist’s estate and is on permanent loan to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

– Ted Macaluso

Ted Macaluso writes books for kids that make art more fun. Born in Brooklyn, he was a successful researcher on child nutrition and hunger before turning full-time to writing. His book, Vincent, Theo and the Fox, is a fictional adventure about the young Vincent van Gogh that teaches about growing up and learning from failure (for ages 4 – 10). He now lives in Reston, Virginia with his wife, son, and kind hearted dog. Find out more at tedmacaluso.com.

Text © 2016 by Ted Macaluso. May be freely reproduced provided attribution back to tedmacaluso.com is included. Uses affiliate links.

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