The Art of Travel: de Botton And van Gogh in Provence

az-the-world-turns-bonnie-maclaird

I have a favorite book on travel; one of many, but today I’m musing on this wonderful little book. It is The Art of Travel, by Alain de Botton, 2002. It’s not an easy book to read, not one that anyone would call a ‘page turner’. I read it in bits and pieces, and I believe this is the author’s intention. While broken down into five sections that flow sequentially, it is actually a series of his unrelated essays on the subject of travel. The five sections of the book are: Departure, Motives, Landscape, Art and Return, each with a couple essays by de Botton.

Think about those five categories. If you were writing a non-fiction book on the subject of travel, is this how you’d break it down? I might have added a section on people, culture or cuisine in between the Landscape and Art sections. Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t have thought about including a section on Art, but it’s a brilliant addition and the topic of today’s ramble.

"And insofar as we travel in search of beauty, works of art may in small ways start to influence where we would like to travel to." (de Botton, pg 183.)

In the essay On Eye-Opening Art de Botton is in Provence, France, and reflecting on the role Vincent van Gogh’s art has had on his preconceptions of Provence, and realizes van Gogh’s paintings trained him to be cognizant of the landscape and colors of the sky, the fields, the flowers, and even the people. And, according to de Botton, this was van Gogh’s purpose for painting: to reflect the true beauty of the south of France, and to allow others to open their eyes to this beauty. 

The Old Peasant Patience Escalier, van Gogh 1888The Old Peasant Patience Escalier, van Gogh 1888

While on vacation in Provence, de Botton finds a coffee table book on Vincent van Gogh and the following days he sees the landscape through new eyes.

"…I began to notice that there was something unusual about the colours of Provence as well” writes de Botton. He goes on to describe the climactic and geographic reasons behind this, and quotes van Gogh’s letters to his sister. “The colour is exquisite here. When the green leaves are fresh, it is a rich green, the likes of which we seldom see in the North. Even when it gets scorched and dusty, the landscape does not lose its beauty, for then it takes on tones of various tints: green-gold, yellow-gold, pink-gold…and this [is then] combined with blue, from the deepest royal blue of the water to the blue of the forget-me-nots, a cobalt, particularly bright blue." (van Gogh, The Art of Travel, pg 193)

Three Cottages in Saint-Maries, van Gogh 1888Three Cottages in Saint-Maries, van Gogh 1888

Van Gogh saw color in the night landscapes of Provence as well. "The night is even more richly coloured than the day…if only one pays attention to it…" (pg 196)

Cafe Terrace at Night, Arles 1888 – van GoghCafe Terrace at Night, Arles 1888 – van Gogh 

Of course de Botton was familiar with van Gogh’s prolific art of the region from the late 1880’s but it wasn’t until he was there and looking at the scenery through van Gogh’s eyes did he see and understand what the artist was capturing.

Haystack near a Farm, Arles 1888, van GoghHaystack near a Farm, Arles 1888, van Gogh

The author, Alain de Botton, concludes his chapter "On Eye-Opening Art" with this statement: "Art cannot single-handedly create enthusiasm…it merely contributes to enthusiasm and guides us to be more conscious of feelings that we might previously have experienced only tentatively or hurriedly."

After rereading this chapter I now have a tremendous urge to travel to Provence and see the colors for myself.

Azamara Club Cruises regularly embarks and disembarks in Nice, France. See the voyages here. 

Bonnie MacLaird

Bonnie MacLaird is Azamara's Chief Blogging Officer. She has worked in the cruise industry for over 20 years and shares a passion for travel with Azamara guests. You can most often find Bonnie offering helpful tips and sharing Azamara news in the Cruise Critic online forum.

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