Arles: Vincent van Gogh and a Villanelle

The winds in Arles can blow up to 80 kilometres an hour (or 50 mph). These ferocious winds are known as le mistral. Some people say it drove Vincent van Gogh to cut off his own ear.


Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo, about Le Mistral and how it affected his work.

It’s beginning to get cold, especially on the days when the mistral blows.
I’ve had gas put in the studio, so that we’ll have good light in winter.
Perhaps you’ll be disillusioned with Arles if you come at a time when the mistral’s blowing, but wait… It’s in the long term that the poetry down here soaks in.
You won’t find the house as comfortable yet as we’ll gradually try to make it. There are so many expenses, and it can’t be done in one go. Anyway, I believe that once here, like me, you’ll be seized with a fury to paint the autumn effects, in between spells of the mistral. And that you’ll understand that I’ve insisted that you come now that there are some very beautiful days. Au revoir, then.
Ever yours,

It’s a haunting episode that I think about often.

However, scientists, have found something interesting in van Gogh’s swirling paintings. They capture the brutal wind, yes. But also the paintings he did in his disturbed mind mimicked the pattern of wind turbulence. Stunning, right?


Do artists see the world differently? Did van Gogh? Something to mull about.

For something different – I wrote a villanelle.


I see the wind, Brother

Howling coils of cerulean

I fear it will draw me under


Ochre wheatfields it buffers

To the merciless Mediterranean

Did you send the wind, Brother?


Twisting swirling colors –

Vermilion, ergotism, viridian

Le Mistral may draw me under


My maligned ears it smothers

I hear my sin, words not spoken

I curse the wind, dear Brother


Freckled hands, impasto summer

My mind now slips, all protean

I’ve resigned – draw me under


Now I suffer, I shudder

Crows, shadows, medicine

Do you see the wind, Brother?

Will it draw me under?