Van Gogh’s Ear

Yesterday I met up with local author Bernadette Murphy whose book ‘Van Gogh’s Ear – The True Story’ has been such a success.  It was chosen by BBC Radio 4 as their book of the week and was also the subject of a BBC2 TV documentary.

It’s a fascinating and gripping story of detective work as Bernadette travelled extensively and exhumed endless archive material to find out exactly what happened that night in December 1888.

When I visit, it always strikes me how little must have changed in Arles.  The back streets are still as quiet and dusty as they must have been in Vincent’s time, although his Yellow House was destroyed in 1944.  The tourist offices in both Arles and Saint-Remy have done a good job of placing boards with his paintings in key places – now is a good time

The old hospital in Arles is now a mediatheque – but the garden is as he painted it, and described in a letter. A lovely space.

to visit before these places get too crowded.  Plus the Fondation Van Gogh is showing ‘Calm and Exaltation. Van Gogh in the Buhrle Collection’ with 8 of his paintings, until 17th September.


Bernadette’s book is on sale in Aix’s Book In Bar, and from this week is available in paperback.


More details of the book below:

On a dark night in Provence in December 1888 Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear. It is an act that has come to define him. Yet for more than a century biographers and historians seeking definitive facts about what happened that night have been left with more questions than answers.

In Van Gogh’s Ear Bernadette Murphy sets out to discover exactly what happened that night in Arles. Why would an artist at the height of his powers commit such a brutal act? Who was the mysterious ‘Rachel’ to whom he presented his macabre gift? Was it just his lobe, or did Van Gogh really cut off his entire ear? Her investigation takes us from major museums to the dusty contents of forgotten archives, vividly reconstructing the world in which Van Gogh moved – the madams and prostitutes, café patrons and police inspectors, his beloved brother Theo and his fellow artist and house-guest Paul Gauguin. With exclusive revelations and new research about the ear and about ‘Rachel’, Bernadette Murphy proposes a bold new hypothesis about what was occurring in Van Gogh’s heart and mind as he made a mysterious delivery to her doorstep that fateful night.

Van Gogh’s Ear is a compelling detective story and a journey of discovery. It is also a portrait of a painter creating his most iconic and revolutionary work, pushing himself ever closer to greatness even as he edged towards madness – and one fateful sweep of the blade that would resonate through the ages.



The ‘myprovence’ website has sent out an excellent piece on the relationship between Provence and the cinema, working its way from the original film shown at the Eden Cinema at La Ciotat back in 1895, through the many movies filmed in the region.


One of the films listed is ‘Cézanne et Moi’, which was released last year in French. I have just learnt the date for the English-version DVD release: June 26th.  I loved the ambiance of the film and now look forward to understanding a bit more of  the dialogue! What with Cézanne’s passionate outbursts and Zola’s false beard, I did find the French version tricky……..

Brie, France, 1968, (C) Henri Cartier-Bresson Magnum Photos

The Musée Yves Brayer at Les Baux-de-Provence has an exhibition of photography by Henri Cartier-Bresson, who was a friend of Brayer in Paris.

Cartier-Bresson, from a well-to-do family in Seine-et-Marne was given a Kodak Brownie as a child, the beginning of his love for photography.  He studied art and worked in cinema, at one stage as assistant to Jean Renoir.

During WW2, he was imprisoned but managed to escape and join the resistance.  It must have been a wonderful experience for  him to photograph the Liberation of Paris.

Syphnos, Greece, 1961, (C) Henri Cartier-Bresson Magnum Photos

‘L’imaginaire d’apres nature’ is on daily until 28th September, 10-12:30 and 14-18:30. http://www.lesbauxdeprovence.com/fr/expositions/henri-cartier-bresson-l-imaginaire-d-apres-nature

Remember you can round off your visit to Les Baux at the Carrieres de Lumiere to see the ‘Bosch, Brueghel, Arcimboldo’ son-et-lumiere which runs daily until January 7th.


Eddie is the British guy who is encouraging people in Marseille to pick up one piece of rubbish a day….read about him here:

This is a must for your diary if you are in the Aix area on Friday 16th June….Les Grooms are appearing in Trets.  If you have seen them in Aix in past years, you will know how good this band is – and how amusing. Continue Reading »

Photo : © Tate, London 2016 Les Petits Prés au printemps, Tate,
Présenté par un corps de souscripteurs en mémoire de Roger Fry, 1936©
Tate, London 2016.

The painter, was born to English parents in Paris, hasn’t been the subject of a retrospective since 2002. Forty per cent of this show includes paintings from private collections not seen in public before.

Sisley excelled at painting landscapes and capturing a sense of place. He especially loved working in the countryside around Paris, where he often painted with fellow-Impressionists such as Monet, Renoir and Pissarro.  He liked to paint the same view at different times of the year and excelled at snow-scenes.

A follower of the work of Constable, Sisley loved to work on skies.  MaryAnne Stevens, exhibition curator explains: ‘In all his landscapes, the sky reigned supreme: he was the painter of skies, the artist who comprehended their role in shaping the structure of a scene, determining its atmosphere and establishing its distinct poetry’.

The exhibition caters for English speakers as explanatory panels in all rooms are also in English, plus there is an English leaflet (1€).  Inside the exhibition there is a film on the artist.

Unlike his contemporaries, he didn’t paint in Provence, but recorded scenes from Hampton Court after a visit there, and painted many studies of his final town Moret-sur-Loing.

So, sixty landscapes.  Some include figures but they are insignificant and coloured to almost fade into their backgrounds.  His subtle treatments, however, of the wind in the trees, the reflections in water, the shadows in the snow and above all the ever-varying skies will delight lovers of landscapes.

Until 15th October. Open daily, 10-19:00. Late night Friday to 21:30.

14 Euros.  Don’t miss the  elegant café and wonderfully restored gardens!


Hôtel de Caumont
3, rue Joseph Cabassol
13100 Aix-en-Provence
Tél : 04 42 20 70 01


Visitors to Marseille’s MuCEM or the Musée Regards de Provence can eat in either venue, or may like to wander along the main road a little to try Les Halles de la Major which is in the vaults tucked underneath the magnificent 19th century cathedral. Continue Reading »