In 1888, Vincent van Gogh, ravaged by heavy drinking and disillusioned with life in Paris, found refuge in Arles, intent on creating an artists’ commune. ‘L’Atelier du Sud’ would, he hoped, become a laboratory to experiment with colours and light, repositioning the Provençal city as a centre for artistic production. But the project ended abruptly the same year, after a series of violent quarrels with his friend Paul Gauguin – the only artist who had responded to the invitation – drove the Dutchman to a mental breakdown, during which he famously cut off part of his own ear.
Despite its failure, the ideals behind l’Atelier du Sud left an indelible mark on Arles which, some 130 years later, may get its artist colony after all. Designed by the Cuban-born American artist Jorge Pardo, l’Arlatan – a hotel and artist residence, housed in a 15th-century palace once belonging to the Counts of Arlatan de Beaumont – is set to become a hub for the international intelligentsia brought to the city by the newly established contemporary art centre, Luma Arles.
By BenoÎt Loiseau