entrance fondation van goghThe Fondation Vincent van Gogh is a new gallery in Arles dedicated to the artist who immortalised the city in some of his greatest work.

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Van Gogh lived for just 15 months in Arles, in 1888-1889, before committing himself to the psychiatric asylum in nearby Saint Paul de Mausole.

His time here was brief, then. But his art reached a new peak, as he discovered the intense light, passions and colours of the South.

He created hundreds of works in Arles, including some of his best-known and greatest paintings. Click here to read more about them, and about exploring the town in his footsteps.

Today, posters and souvenirs on sale all over Arles remind you of van Gogh's visit (and try to cash in on it). But you couldn't see any of his actual work here. Until now.

The Fondation Vincent van Gogh was created in 1983 to promote the artist's work in Arles. But the real game-changer came more recently, in 2014, when the foundation opened a new, stunning gallery with the facilities to host prestigious shows.

fondation van gogh urs fischerIts base is in the mediaeval quarter of Arles, in the 15th century Hôtel Léautaud de Donines, once a hôtel particulier (private town house) belonging to a wealthy merchant.

It's just round the corner from the Musée Réattu, and many of the sites which van Gogh painted while he was in Arles.

This mansion has been given a lavish 21st century makeover. Around 11 million €uros have been spent on transforming the interior into a complex of flexible and luminous modular spaces that can exhibit both small and very large scale works.

The emphasis throughout is on the light of Provence that once dazzled van Gogh. Pictured: An installation paying tribute to van Gogh by the Swiss artist Urs Fischer at the Fondation in the winter of 2016-2017.

The gallery's total capacity is 1,000 square metres / 10,700 square feet and it has all been adapted to modern international standards of security and climate control.

So the venue itself is very swish. But the Fondation Vincent van Gogh doesn't have its own collection, let alone any actual paintings by the man whose name it bears. In fact, no museum in Arles possesses a single piece by van Gogh.

So, to compensate, the Fondation's Artistic Director, Bice Curiger, has developed a canny two-pronged policy: to host temporary loans of pieces by van Gogh and to devise exhibitions around contemporary artists inspired by him.

The big 2018-2019 winter exhibition at the Fondation Vincent van Gogh is called Dark Centuries and focuses on the German film-maker and writer Alexander Kluge and the engravings of the Belgian artist James Ensor.

Both men take a highly political view of the upheavals of recent history. 17 November-10 February.

In the summer, the spotlight is firmly on the master's own work. In previous years shows have been mounted on the themes Couleurs du nord, couleurs du sud (Colours of the North, Colours of the South) (2014), van Gogh's drawings (2015), van Gogh in Provence (2016) and "calm and exaltation", with eight paintings by van Gogh from the EG Bührle Collection in Zurich and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (2017).

In 2018 Soleil chaud, soleil tardif (Hot Sun, Late Sun) explored the relationship of van Gogh to other artists, in particular Picasso, and the way they were influenced by the Mediterranean light. These shows attract thousands of visitors.

van gogh skullIn addition to all this, one painting by van Gogh, loaned by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, remains on display in Arles all year around, changing each spring.

This year (until spring 2019) it is Crâne (Skull), pictured. It was painted by Vincent in spring 1887 while studying in Paris. He stuck out the course for only a few months before, frustrated by his tutors' academic approach, he left to base himself in Arles.

His skull is very different from conventional anatomical studies and, far from being a traditional memento mori, seems to shimmer with life.

Museums worldwide are massively reluctant to loan out van Gogh's work. It's a sign of how respected the Fondation has quickly become that it has been able to secure such loans and to stage some very ambitious shows.

The man behind it all was the Swiss philanthropist and conservationist Luc Hoffman, who also founded the World Wildlife Fund and had previously been involved in major environmental projects in the Camargue.

His daughter, Maja, is working on the huge LUMA Arles cultural campus on the edge of the city, which is scheduled to open in 2018. When all that is complete, Arles will confirm itself as a must-visit focal point in Provence for modern art.

The Fondation is of note for its own architecture and design too. While visiting it, you should also check out the roof terrace, which has great views over the rooftops of Arles, Bertrand Lavier's entrance portal, pictured top left, designed around van Gogh's distinctive signature and the glass roof sculpture, pictured, by Raphael Hefti that, on sunny days, casts a shimmering play of multi-coloured shapes into the gift shop.

raphael hefti fondation van goghBut the art is the thing, of course. You can't visit Arles without bumping into the Vincent's ghost. Now, finally, you can see some of his masterpieces here too.

Where: Fondation Vincent van Gogh, 35 ter rue du Docteur Fanton, 13200 Arles Website for the Fondation Vincent van Gogh in Arles

Insider tip for the Fondation Vincent van Gogh in ArlesIf you are planning to visit several sites, check out the combination tickets on sale at the Arles Tourist Office which will get you reduced-price admission (and free admission for an accompanied child under 18) to the city's main museums and monuments.

Find further reading on Amazon:

Click here to buy The Letters of Vincent van Gogh, here to buy The Yellow House by the art critic Martin Gayford, an account of van Gogh's tumultuous nine weeks in Arles with Paul Gauguin, and here to buy Van Gogh's Ear by Bernadette Murphy, a new look at the facts behind the notorious ear-severing incident.

Photo credits (from top): © Hervé Hôte, SJ for Marvellous Provence, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Hervé Hôte.


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