The town of Arles sits at the entrance to the Camargues region, in the wide Rhône river delta, where a national preserve wetland hides the wild white horses and the fierce bulls roaming the salt marshes, flat beach shores and scrubby dry vegetation that never rises taller then a man. The landscape is unique, rough, almost inhospitable, strikingly beautiful, and certainly different from the rest of Provence and the surrounding lush provinces of the South of France.
The 1953 short film Crin Blanc (White Mane) is to this day the best way to see what Camargues looks like. The ranchers of the movie, called gardians, are the equivalent of the cowboys, herding horses as well as livestock. Today only a few roads traverse the vast expanse of land, the best way to see the salt piles and the wild horses is to travel on horseback, with a guide, as the flat surroundings can be somewhat difficult to decipher.
Arles is best known for its Roman monuments, part of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, with its nearly intact amphitheater, cloister, and obelisk. But Arles is also a beloved cradle of classic painters, who liked the light, the colors, and the rich and vibrant culture of its inhabitants, and chose to settle here to paint or sculpt in better weather condition than almost anywhere else in France. Arles is where Dutch master Van Gogh painted his most recognizable masterpieces, reflecting the special light and colors of Provence. During his relatively short stay in Arles (444 days to be exact), he produced 200 paintings and some 100 drawings and watercolors. He also wrote 200 letters during that same period.
Now the newly-opened museum Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles took over the Hôtel Léautaud de Donines, a 15th century historic mansion outfitted with a modern addition to the building, to host its premiere exhibit: Van Gogh Live! Other artists included in the opening celebration, and who helped enhancing the work of Van Gogh with their own artistic specialties, are contemporaries Thomas Hirschorn (graphic arts), Elizabeth Peyton (stylized portraits), Raphael Hefti (industrial process), Gary Hume (gloss-paint panels), Bertrand Lavier (abstract found objects), Camille Henrot (photo/video), Bethan Huws (conceptual art), Guillaume Bruere (sculpture/drawings), and Frtiz Hauser (music.)
Info: Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles, 35 rue du docteur Fanton, 13200 Arles. Tel: +33 04 90 93 08 08. Open everyday 11 a.m.-7 p.m., and open late on Thursdays 'til 9 p.m. General admission is 9 €; Reduced priced entrance 4 € to 7 € (Youth/Students); free admission for children 12 and under, disabled persons, museum curators, tour guides, unemployed and welfare recipients, and journalists.