Following in Vincent van Gogh’s footsteps, we went to the South of France, to Provence, Arles, St Rémy and the Mediterranean to see whether the light there was any different from that in Holland. Vincent van Gogh wrote the following lines in a letter to his brother Theo in May 1888. ‘I’ve got two new studies, a bridge and a main road. Many of the motifs here – as types – are exactly the same as in Holland. The difference lies in the colours. Wherever the sun glows you see sulphur. What a green and what a blue!’
Van Gogh loved the light and colours of Provence and the Mediterranean, so different, he insisted, from those in Holland. Nor was he alone. Matisse went even further, observing that there were differences between the light in Collioure, Nice and Marseilles. Had he remained in northern France, he said, his paintings would have been misty and grey.
On another occasion Van Gogh wrote: ‘Having seen the sea here, I realise how important it is for me to remain in the South and bear in mind that I need to use stronger colours. You see, you can’t paint nature in the South with a palette like Mauve’s, for instance, who belongs in northern Europe and is and always will be a master of grey. But the palette of today is colourful in the extreme: sky blue, pink, orange, vermilion, strong yellow, bright green, wine red and violet…’