It’s a village of real charm and character just north of Paris, and where Vincent van Gogh spent the final 70 days of his life. There is plenty here to interest both casual van Gogh tourists and aficionados alike as many of the places he painted still exist.
When I first came to Auvers in 1982 for my 19th birthday it was a very different village indeed. Since then, van Gogh tourism has taken off in a big way! In 1982, for example you could go to the cafe called La Maison de Van Gogh and sit outside, have a beer, smoke a fag, and watch the world go by. And then, when you’d had enough beer, (here I am as a 19-year-old, having enough beer)…
… you could pluck up the courage to ask the barman if you could see the room where van Gogh died. No entrance fee, no tickets, no fancy audiovisual presentation.
Today, the cafe has been restored to how it was in Vincent’s day in 1890, when it was the ‘Auberge Ravoux’:
The front has been repainted:
And the cafe now a hopelessly overpriced restaurant from which we were barred as there was nothing for vegetarians!
Nevertheless, I wanted to see again the grim little attic room where Vincent lived for 70 days, and then – on 29 July 1890 – died. So I paid my money and virtually had to plead with the staff not to see the audiovisual presentation and be let upstairs to view the room. “No photos”I was told. “Oh, OK. May I draw?” I asked. “Of course” came the delighted reply. So I went up the dingy, poorly lit staircase, turned on my camera, took a sneaky photo…
…and started to draw.
Vincent’s room is tiny and very poorly lit by a single tiny skylight. Yeah, suicide would feel like a welcome option if you lived here! The printed literature you get when you buy your ticket has a great phrase on it about the room. “There is nothing to see, but everything to feel.” So true!
After seeing the cheerless room where he lived and died I thought it would be a good idea to go out into the village and spot some of the places he painted, places full of light and life. Just round the corner (literally) from the Auberge is this scene:
…which Vincent painted.
I could tell you about many, many more of the scenes he painted in Auvers, but we’d be here all day and this blog would be ridiculous long, so I’m going to limit myself to just a few which may interest the general reader and not just Vincent aficionados. The church, for example:
Much has been written about the symbolism in this painting, the fact that it’s the back of the church, a church (in the wider sense) which he felt alienated from, increasingly putting his ‘faith’ in the natural world. I’m not so sure about any of those suppositions, but what I do know is that this the priest of this church, which Vincent immortalisd on canvas one sunny spring day in 1890, would later that summer refuse to host his funeral because he committed suicide. So much for christian charity and compassion, eh? Bastards.
On our last evening in Auvers we sat at the roadside, at the exact spot where Vincent set up his easel, and set up our camera on the tripod to take this shot. We were aiming to get the blue of the sky as deep as Vincent’s:
A short walk north up the sunken lane takes you into the great rolling fields above the Oise valley, where Vincent painted this, Wheatfield with crows, supposedly his last ever painting:
This is the supposed spot today, a crossroads of farmtracks, though how this could have been accurately identified, I really don’t know:
Note the Japanese tourist, just one of many hundreds we saw on our van Gogh travels. Van Gogh sites have clearly made it onto most Japanese tourist itineraries! I decided that as it was a beautiful hot day, and Moth had retired to our B&B to watch the Belgian F1Grand Prix, I would sit and make a sketch.
As I sat quietly today with my paints out, many parties of tourists, from all over the world came to this spot. When I was here only 10 years ago, I sat on this path to paint and only a couple of locals walking their dogs passed by.
From here, the site of the supposed last painting, perhaps even the field where our boy shot himself, the walls of the cemetery rise up above the field line:
And so to the cemetery, to pay respects once again at Vincent and Theo’s graves:
On previous trips, I’ve sat at the simple gravesides for some time and seen no-one. But today it was heaving:
Vincent, if only you could know how loved and admired your extraordinary, visionary views of the world are.
Finally, here’s a lovely touch. Auvers, the place where Vincent ended his life, is twinned with Zundert in the Netherlands where Vincent was born. I spotted this road sign and smiled:
What a fabulous journey Vincent has taken me on through my life!
If you want to see more of Vincent’s works, make sure you check out this website created and run by my friend David Brooks in Toronto. It displays 100% of Vincent’s works and letters. Extraordinary!