On May 8, 1889, Vincent van Gogh took a train to St. Remy and became a self-admitted patient at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in the south of France. Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, arranged for him to have two small adjoining rooms, or cells, each with bars on the windows, just as all the rooms in the asylum. One room was for Van Gogh to stay in, while the other was for him to use as a studio to paint. And paint he did, Van Gogh created nearly 150 paintings and over 100 drawings while in the hospital.
Shortly after arriving at St. Remy, Van Gogh wrote to Theo saying,
“I want to tell you that I think I have done well to come here, because, by seeing the reality of the assorted madmen and lunatics in this menagerie, I am losing my vague dread, my fear of the thing. And bit by bit I am getting to consider that madness is just a disease like any other. Thus the change in surroundings will do me good, I think.”
In a letter to Jo van Gogh Vincent said,
“It may well be that I shall stay here long enough – I have never been so peaceful as here and in the hospital in Arles – to be able to paint a little at last.”
On May 22, 1889, Van Gogh wrote to Theo and described his accommodations,
“I assure you that I am all right here, and that for the time being I see no reason at all to take lodgings in or around Paris. I have a small room with greenish-grey paper with two sea-green curtains with a design of very pale roses, brightened by touches of blood-red.
These curtains, probably the legacy of some deceased and ruined rich person, are very pretty in design. A very worn armchair, probably from the same source, is covered with a tapestry speckled like a Diaz or a Monticelli in brown, red, pink, white, cream, black, forget-me-not blue and bottle green. Through the iron-barred window I can see an enclosed square of wheat, a prospect like a Van Goyen, above which, in the morning, I watch the sun rise in all its glory.
In addition – as there are more than thirty empty rooms – I have another room for doing my work.”
When Van Gogh first arrived at Saint-Remy he was confined to the immediate asylum grounds. With limited exposure to the world around him, Van Gogh painted what was within view from his room; however, he usually left out the bars that covered the windows.
In October, he created a watercolor of the window in his studio which looked out into the garden. In this painting the bars are clearly visible.
Van Gogh stayed at the asylum until May 16, 1890.