Van Gogh’s Life In France

My most recent trip to France became an unexpected journey in the life of Van Gogh. And it actually started out where Van Gogh’s life tragically ended. So it was that our friends from Chantilly decided to take Paul and I to Auvers-sur-Oise, a small town in rural France that is itself a lovely village.

The Church in Auvers-sur-Oise painted by Van Gogh in June, 1890

Vincent Willem van Gogh was a Dutch (post-impressionist) painter who ranks very high as one of the most influential painters of the 19th century. In just over ten short years he created over 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, most of which date from the last two years of his life. That is an amazing fact in and of itself. He left Holland in March, 1986 and joined his beloved brother Theo in Paris. The next four years were a stormy and dark time for Vincent. He stayed in Paris living with his brother and painting there for two years, then moved to the South of France. In Arles, France he roomed with artist Paul Gauguin. But it was a tumultuous friendship. Indeed it was during this time that in one of Van Gogh’s volatile eruptions with Gauguin, that he cut his own ear off. Vincent who suffered from deep depression, is believed to have experienced debilitating hallucinations. He was in and out of asylums. At least once he admitted himself. After being released from the asylum in Provence in May 1890, he returned to Paris where he stayed with Theo, Theo’s wife and young son for only two days. And that is when on May 20, 1890 he arrived in Auvers-sur-Oise which lies about 20 miles Northwest of Paris. Here Theo had asked his good friend Dr Paul Gachet to keep an eye on Vincent and perhaps even help nurse him to health. Dr. Gachet was himself an accomplished painter. He had a huge heart by all accounts and wanted nothing more than to keep his word to Theo. Vincent resided with Dr. Gachet for a very short while before moving to the Ravoux Inn in the center of town. He rented a room in that Inn. He ate in the dining room downstairs every day. His room is exactly as it was when he lived there except there is no bed. Our tour guide told us when the Inn was purchased and restored they found the original furniture missing from Vincent’s room and chose not to disturb it any further so kept it empty. (No pics were allowed inside of the Ravoux.) Tragically, only a couple of months after moving to Auvers-sur-Oise, Vincent Van Gogh shot himself in the chest on July 27, 1890. He did so while painting alone in a nearby field. He literally dragged himself back to his room where he lay dying for over 24 hours before being found by someone. That person immediately got Dr. Gachet to come. Theo was also contacted and arrived soon after. But they were too late. Theo was by his side when he died on July 29, 1890 at 1:30 am. The fact that he might have been saved if he had been found sooner, and then probably greatly suffered during the time he was alone in his room, makes this true story all the more tragic. He was buried the next day in the Auvers cemetery which is where we finished our visit. He was a brilliant man whose paintings exude so much life and stir up so many emotions. But he was truly tormented. I thoroughly enjoy his artwork. It is one of a kind. But then so was Vincent Van Gogh.

An added piece of history about this French village. The people of this town were liberated by the 30th Infantry Division of the United States Army during WWII on August 30, 1944 after a 4 year German occupation. We found this memorial of gratitude situated on the edge of town.

We moved on to Paris from Auvers-sur-Oise. And so it was that Paul and I made another trip to our very favorite Paris art museum and saw Van Gogh’s painting of the church of Auvers-sur-Oise. After seeing this church with my own eyes and walking through it, it was such a thrill to see the painting at Musée d’Orsay. And later on my way up to Sacre Coeur, I once again set my eyes on Van Gogh’s and Theo’s old residence on Rue de Lepic. (From the outside only.)

As if all of that wasn’t enough, I was fortunate enough to happen to be in Paris during the Van Gogh light show. I couldn’t have timed that better with my trip to France if I had tried. As it was, I was thrilled to be able to go see this light show which only lasts about 1 hour and 15 minutes during which you can walk around the whole time or just sit or stand. Van Gogh’s paintings were illuminated or superimposed upon the huge walls of a studio warehouse with accompanying music. It would seriously dazzle even the most cynical of non art lovers. It was a feast for the senses both sight and sound. And it seemed fitting as I rounded out this Van Gogh journey, that after seeing it in person in Auvers-sur-Oise , then seeing the painting of it in the Orsay, that the church of Auvers-sur-Oise  would be one of those epic creations illuminated on the wall in front of me. Take a look. There might be one or two masterpieces here that you also recognize.

Yet another great reason to travel to France.

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