Less than 30 kilometres outside of Paris, the quaint town of Auvers-sur-Oise is a pilgrimage of sorts for those on Vincent van Gogh’s trail. This was here that the painter spent the last seventy days of his life, living in a sparsely furnished room at Auberge Ravoux and producing eighty oil paintings and sixty-four sketches of the town and its people, before dying of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 37. The artist’s body is buried in the town’s cemetery, alongside that of his brother Theo.
Vincent van Gogh, who had just left an asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence and was looking for a quiet place close to Paris where his brother worked and lived, arrived in Auvers in May 1890, having just left the asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Shortly upon his arrival, he wrote in a letter to his brother, “Auvers is really beautiful – among other things many old thatched roofs, which are becoming rare… I’d hope, then, that in doing a few canvases of that really seriously, there would be a chance of recouping some of the costs of my stay – for really it’s gravely beautiful, it’s the heart of the countryside, distinctive and picturesque.”
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More than a century later, not much has changed in this ville fleurie (flowered city) as it continues to enchant the visitors with its old houses, narrow ivied passages and vast wheat and corn fields. Below, we take you through some of the historical sites and places of interest in Auvers-sur-Oise that inspired, or were the subject of, one of the most prolific phases of van Gogh’s career.
Auberge Ravoux (also known as Maison de Van Gogh)
No trip to Auvers-sur-Oise would be complete without a visit to the Room no. 5 of Auberge Ravoux, the final address of Vincent van Gogh. His room, which has never been rented out since his suicide, has been restored and is open to public visits. Dimly lit, bare and unfurnished save for an old chair, a visit to van Gogh’s room fills one with a strange melange of emotions – awe, elation, sadness, loneliness – for being a part of the last, and perhaps, the most overwhelming moments of the artist’s life.
In the room next door, the visitors can see a slideshow presentation that explains the final days of van Gogh through his letters and paintings. Van Gogh’s body is buried in the village cemetery, a ten-minute walk from the railway station, next to his brother Theo, who died six months after Vincent’s death. Before the burial, van Gogh’s body was laid out on a table in the café downstairs, the coffin surrounded by flowers and his paintings. The funeral was attended by Theo, Doctor Gachet, the Ravoux family and some of his artist friends from Paris.
In one of his letters to his brother before the suicide, van Gogh wrote, “One day or another I believe I’ll find a way to do an exhibition of myself in a café.” The Van Gogh Institute, that runs the Auberge Ravoux, aims to fulfil this wish of van Gogh by acquiring one of his paintings painted in Auvers and exhibiting it in Room no 5.
A lovely café-restaurant downstairs serves traditional French cuisine and is open for lunch and dinner.
Auberge Ravoux (also known as The House of Van Gogh), Place de la Mairie, 95430 Auvers-sur-Oise. For more information on tariffs and opening hours, please visit the official website.
The House and Garden of Charles-François Daubigny
Vincent van Gogh painted ‘Daubigny’s garden’ three times. In his last known letter to Theo, he described one of these paintings as being “one of my most deliberate canvases… Foreground of green and pink grass, on the left a green and lilac bush and a stem of plants with whitish foliage. In the middle a bed of roses. To the right a hurdle, a wall, and above the wall a hazel tree with violet foliage. Then a hedge of lilac, a row of rounded yellow lime trees. The house itself in the background, pink with a roof of bluish tiles. A bench and 3 chairs, a dark figure with a yellow hat, and in the foreground a black cat. Sky pale green.”
Born in Paris in 1817, Charles-François Daubigny was a member of the Barbizon school of landscape painting, along with Jean-Francois Millet and Théodore Rousseau, who painted realistic landscapes and people working on the land. Seen as an important precursor to the Impressionist school, Daubigny painted ‘en plein air’ (outdoors) often using loose brushstrokes. He also had a boat (named ‘Botin’) converted into a floating studio, to be able to paint waterscapes from the vantage point of the river, a technique that was subsequently adopted by Monet and several other painters.
The house and studio of Daubigny in Auvers-sur-Oise, completed in 1871, was in many ways a pilgrimage for several artists of the era, including Paul Cézanne and Corot. Van Gogh, who had also long admired the work and style of Daubingy, came to Auvers partly for it being the residence of Daubigny and his family.
Daubigny’s house-cum-studio, classified as a historic monument, and the gardens are now open to public visits. The quaint house, which is still the home and property of the artist’s descendants, contains many of his works as well the models of his floating studio. The walls, decorated with paintings by Daubigny himself, his children and friends, Corot, Daumier and Oudinot, have also been impeccably preserved and, along with the family memorabilia, are some of the highlights of this ‘house of the famous’.
House and Studio of Daubigny, 61 rue Daubigny, 95430 Auvers-sur-Oise. For more information on tariffs and opening hours, please visit the official website.
A few meters away from Daubigny’s house, is the Musée Daubigny (Daubigny Museum) which houses four permanent art collections. The major collection features a large selection of paintings, drawings and engravings from the end of 19th century to the beginning of 20th century. The central focus of this collection is Charles-François Daubigny’s work, which is further supplemented by the works of his son Karl Daubigny, Jules Dupré, Maximilien Luce, Norbert Goeneutte and Armand Guillaumin. The museum also has one of the largest collection of Naïve art in France, as well as a collection of contemporary artworks by Alechinsky, Corneille and Otto Freundlich. (Corneille, one of the founding members of the CoBrA group along with Karel Appel, spent the last years of his life in Auvers and is also buried in the village cemetery, a few meters from Vincent and Theo’s graves.)
As part of the 2017 cultural season of Auvers-sur-Oise – Sur les pas de Daubigny (‘In the footsteps of Daubigny‘), the Daubigny Museum is also hosting a temporary exhibition titled ‘Aux sources de l’Impressionisme’ (‘The sources of Impressionism’) from March 26 to September 3, 2017. The exhibition examines the exceptional work and artistic style of Charles Daubigny through a selection of 84 paintings, etchings and drawings. The show also emphasises on the evolution of Daubigny’s artistic process with a special focus on how he painted the riverscapes, particularly those of Oise and Seine, from his floating studio ‘Botin’.
Daubigny Museum, Manoir des Colombières, Rue de la Sansonne, 95430 Auvers-sur-Oise. For more information on tariffs and opening hours, please visit the official website.
Doctor Gachet’s house
In Auvers, van Gogh was under the medical care of Doctor Paul-Ferdinand Gachet, who was recommended to his brother Theo by artist Camille Pissarro. On meeting Doctor Gachet, Van Gogh wrote to Theo, “I’ve seen Dr Gachet, who gave me the impression of being rather eccentric, but his doctor’s experience must keep him balanced himself while combating the nervous ailment from which it seems to me he’s certainly suffering at least as seriously as I am.”
The eccentric doctor, a practitioner of homoeopathy and a specialist of sorts in psychiatry, was a friend to many artists at the time. Renoir, Monet, Cezanne, Pissarro, Sisley were either his patients or friends, or both, and Gachet himself owned a large collection of impressionist paintings, some of them given to him in lieu of payment for his medical bills. Van Gogh, who initially found the doctor to be eccentric, was soon friends with him, seeing him “something like a new brother, for we are so alike, physically and mentally.” Van Gogh painted two portraits of Doctor Gachet, two paintings of the terraced garden and a portrait of Doctor Gachet’s daughter Marguerite Gachet.
The house, with its discretely-lit small rooms, some of Doctor Gachet’s instruments and other medical paraphernalia, visiting cards, other family belongings and memorabilia, shed some light on the ‘fairly bizarre’ personality of Gachet. The terraced garden, which still resembles the one in van Gogh’s paintings, offers picture-perfect views over the rooftops and surrounding wheat fields of Auvers.
In 2017, the visitors will also have the rare opportunity to view a rather eccentric collection of some bizarre dinner invitations sent out to the members of a Parisian society called the Eclectics Society of which Doctor Gachet was also a member. Between 1872 and 1903, the society’s members, mainly artists and poets, gathered one Monday of each month for a dinner in a Parisian cabaret. To announce this monthly event, personalised invitations were sent out to the members. Each such invitation came in the form of an etching, produced by the member artists. Doctor Gachet’s collection of these irreverent and often satirical invitations, which are now in the possession of the ‘Society of Old Montmartre’, showcase thirty years of artistic styles (pointillist, impressionist, academic, caricatural, etc.) as also the social and political issues of the time. The temporary exhibition of some 300 of these dinner invitations titled “The Dinners of the Eclectic Society” is on view at Doctor Gachet’s house until June 25, 2017.
Maison du Docteur Gachet, 78 rue du Docteur Gachet, 95430 Auvers-sur-Oise. Free entrance. For more information on opening hours, please visit this website.
The Absinthe Museum
Dedicated entirely to the ‘green fairy’ that fuelled many artists’ and writers’ imagination in the 19th and 20th century, the Absinthe Museum is a gem of a place to visit when you are in Auvers-sur-Oise. Created by Marie-Claude Delahaye, the museum houses an excellent collection of some rare artworks, posters, advertisements, old bottles, absinthe fountains and other paraphernalia and makes for an interesting side-visit for those interested in the history, traditions and socio-cultural influences of this pseudo-notorious drink. An absinthe-café, reminiscent of the Belle Epoque era France, has also been recreated where you can also taste absinthe prepared in the traditional French fashion.
For the 2017 cultural season, the Absinthe Museum is also hosting a temporary exhibition of caricaturist, painter, lithographer and sculptor, Honoré Daumier’s caricatures on absinthe. Daumier lived in Valmondois, close to Auvers, and often visited Daubigny to help him decorate his house. He created more than five thousand drawings and over one hundred canvases and contributed his sketches and cartoons on contemporary social issues to La Caricature and Le Charivari.
A little bit of trivia – sale of absinthe, that was banned in France in 1915, was finally re-legalised almost a hundred years later in May 2011. Contrary to popular belief, it is now perfectly legal to drink, and be drunk on, absinthe but whether it resembles anything that the poets and artists drank back in the 1900s remains questionable.
Musée de l’Absinthe (Absinthe Museum), 44 rue Callé, 95430 Auvers-sur-Oise. For information on tariffs and opening hours, please visit the official website.
Other places of interest in Auvers-sur-Oise
Auvers Cemetery and the tomb of Van Gogh
The village cemetery, where the bodies of van Gogh and Theo were laid to rest, is a short ten-minute walk from the railway station. Painter and CoBrA founder, Corneille who lived in Auvers in his final years, is also buried in the cemetery a few metres away from van Gogh’s grave.
Chateau of Auvers-sur-Oise
At the time of writing, the Château d’Auvers (Chateau of Auvers-sur-Oise) was undergoing modernisation and is scheduled to reopen in Autumn 2017.
Eglise de Notre Dame d’Auvers
Immortalised by van Gogh in his painting The Church at Auvers, the Eglise de Notre Dame d’Auvers is a small Romanesque-Gothic church dating back to the 12th-13th century. Van Gogh’s painting of the church can be viewed at Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
The Municipal Gallery of Contemporary Art
The Municipal Gallery of Contemporary Art is run by an artists’ collective GRAPS (Groupe d’artistes plasticiens). A free exhibition by the collective’s artists, all of whom live and work in Auvers-sur-Oise, is currently on view at the gallery. 5 rue Montcel, https://graps-auvers.jimdo.com/.
The 2017 edition of this annual classical music festival of Auvers-sur-Oise is scheduled to take place between June 9 and July 7, 2017, at the church of Notre-Dame. This year’s performers include Matheus and Jean-Christophe Spinosi, Karine Deshayes, Pascal Amoyel, Trio Wanderer, Thomas Enhco, Emmanuel Rossfelder, Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante,
Henri Demarquette, Insula Orchestra, Accentus and Laurence Equilbey, Lucas Debargue, Annie Challan, Moscow Virtuosi and Vladimir Spivakov, Daniel Lozakovitch, La Maitrise de Paris, Philippe Cassard and Nathalie Dessay. More details and bookings.
Eat and Stay
Les Relais de Peintres and the restaurant-café at Auberge Ravoux serve excellent French food and are open for lunch and dinner. More options for eating and accommodation in Auvers can be found on Auvers Tourism Office’s website.
Getting to Auvers-sur-Oise from Paris by Train
The tourism season in Auvers-sur-Oise usually runs from April to March. During these months, direct trains leave on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays from Gare du Nord, Paris to Auvers in the mornings and from Auvers to Gare du Nord, Paris in the evenings. On weekdays and during the rest of the year, trains to Auvers leave from Gare du Nord and Saint-Lazare stations in Paris. Please consult https://www.transilien.com/ for train schedules.
Map of Auvers-sur-Oise with the House of Van Gogh (All the sites mentioned above are within walking distance of each other):