In the summer of 1944, the American air force decided to preface their army’s occupation of the South of France with series of bombing raids, ostensibly to destroy the railway bridges across the Rhône and various other strategic targets. One of their targets was the rail bridge in Arles between the present bus and train station and Tranquetaille. Owing to their propensity for bombing from high altitude in spite of the fact that Arles has no anti-aircraft “defences”, (few Germans either by that time either) the bombing was less than precise and cut a great swathe through Arles in a north-north east direction starting south east of the Place de la Major (and Smith's house), taking in a side of the Arena (and Smith's) and finishing in Tranquetaille thus reducing a major part of an erstwhile beautiful town to rubble, for reasons that still mystify slightly. There is a scurrilous rumour in the town’s folk law that the Americans were actually intending to bomb the much more important rail crossing at Avignon and made a mistake having seen a river and a bridge from a great height. To be fair, given that Avignon was liberated exactly a month later after similarly intensive bombing this would seem to be unlikely. But ...
They “got” the bridge - although it is difficult to see the strategic value of the single track line that went only to Stes Maries de la Mer on the Camargue and Nimes, a direction very different from that in which the occupying Germans were already withdrawing. They also “got” Van Gogh’s famous little Yellow House on the north side of what is now the Place Lamartine. It exists only as dust and memories.
Oh dear. This thoroughly pseudo Italianate but nevertheless imposing building (the so-called Palais Luppé) to the west of the Amphitheatre used to house the utterly misnamed Fondation van Gogh de la Ville d’Arles. There was a substantial charge to get in (€6) so I have no reservations about telling you that you would NOT have found any van Gogh works inside. There are none in Arles. What you did find (when other contemporary art shows are not taking up the wall space) is a permanent collection of works “inspired by van Gogh”. The collection is pretty mediocre - dreadful, is a better word, in my opinion - and should only be visited by people who might be interested in seeing arguably one of the worst Francis Bacons ever painted. Visit only if it is raining and you are desperate for something to do. Recent information is that the Bacon had been reclaimed by those in the UK by his inheritors who clearly wish to own the things more than the artist did. This will be a relief and ironically might improve the collection by leaving it.
Recent news is that the Foundation is to be re-located in 2014 to the rather distinguished neo-classical Banque de France building on the Rue de la Liberté. This is a better building but it remains to be seen as to whether the permanent collection improves. What is going to befall the Palais Luppé remains to be seen. The Palais Luppé is closed in the interim and the Foundation is operating, appropriately enough, out of a shop on the rue de la République although what precisely it is doing there remains a slight mystery