AUVERS-SUR-OISE … WHERE THE SPIRIT OF VINCENT VAN GOGH CONTINUES TO LIVE …

I will start by saying that visiting Auvers-sur-Oise is a most emotive experience. I have been to the town several times and returned on July 30 this year (2015) the day on which Vincent van Gogh was buried in 1890 – 125 years ago. He had died two days previously, on July 29 1890, having […]

Vincent van Gogh's painting of the Auvers-sur-Oise church (cc Marilyn Z. omlins)

Vincent van Gogh’s painting of the Auvers-sur-Oise church (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

I will start by saying that visiting Auvers-sur-Oise is a most emotive experience. I have been to the town several times and returned on July 30 this year (2015) the day on which Vincent van Gogh was buried in 1890 – 125 years ago. He had died two days previously, on July 29 1890, having committed suicide by shooting. 

Arriving in the town there is no way not to know that one is in Auvers-sur-Oise.

Auvers-sur-Oise station (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Auvers-sur-Oise station (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

If you arrive buy train from Paris (I will be telling you which train to take) on leaving the station, the Van Gogh experience will start immediately: ahead of you will be sunflowers in full bloom – if it is summer – growing as if wild, as if a spring wind had by chance blown sunflower seeds on to the rockery on the square in front of the station, and nature had then done the rest.

Sunflowers everywhere in Auvers-sur-Oise (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Sunflowers everywhere in Auvers-sur-Oise (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Standing on the square, ahead of you and a little to your right, you will see, above the rooftops, a church’s bell-tower.

Auvers-sur-Oise church (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Auvers-sur-Oise church (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

You would have seen photographs of that bell-tower, of that church.

You would have seen a painting (the one above) of the church in Paris’s Orsay Museum.

But the picture you will have of the church in your mind’s eyes will be all in blue and yellow and green, and a little orange too.

It will be van Gogh’s painting, ‘The Church at Auvers’ – L’église d’Auvers.

The Auvers-sur-Oise church (cc Marilyn Z Tomlins)

The Auvers-sur-Oise church (cc Marilyn Z Tomlins)

But, no, not to visit the church immediately.

No, first you have to visit the room where Van Gogh had died: the little room where he had spent the last 70 days of his life, the last 48 hours of those days in agony, his beloved brother Theo at his bedside and him listening to his dying brother telling him, “I wish I could die now”.

From the station you walk to your left along the main street, Rue du General-De-Gaulle. It is narrow and there will be few cars. “Here one is far enough from Paris for it to be real country …,” Van Gogh had written to Theo in a letter.

Auvers-sur-Oise main street (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Auvers-sur-Oise main street (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

All over the town you will see green on orange boards that will direct you to what there is to see in the town with a connection to Van Gogh, and the Van Gogh House ( La Maison Van Gogh) is one such place.

Not far along Rue du General-de-Gaulle you will come to a small garden. In the garden is a sculpture of Van Gogh. He is tall and thin and he is holding a paint box and an easel and it is the work of the Russian-born sculptor Osip Zadkine (1890-1967) and it pains me to say that it is most ugly and in no way does that sculpture resemble Vincent van Gogh. (Of course Zadkine having been born in 1890 the year of Van Gogh’s death he had never seen him.)

Zadkine statue of Van Gogh (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Zadkine statue of Van Gogh (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

But not to be upset about the sculpture, because Van Gogh’s spirit is so greatly present in the town.

Walking on past the square with the sculpture, one comes to The Auberge Ravoux which is on the same side of the road. It is there in that inn (auberge) where Van Gogh had gone to stay on May 21, 1890, a man deeply disturbed psychologically after a stay in a mental asylum in the south of France: to be exact the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole Asylum in Saint-Rémy close to Arles.

The Auberge Ravoux (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The Auberge Ravoux (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The town of Auvers had been recommended to Theo by the French artist Pissarro, who lived in the nearby town of Pontoise, because of the presence in the town of a medical doctor, Dr Paul Gachet. The latter, having befriended and treated several artists, notably Cézanne, Manet and Renoir and the writer Victor Hugo, Theo had hoped that he would care well for his brother.

The inn is no longer an inn, but its restaurant is still open, and it is very very expensive.

Entrance to Van Gogh room on this street (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Entrance to Van Gogh room on this street (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The entrance to the Van Gogh House is on Rue de la Sansonne (see photo above) which is alongside The Auberge Ravoux. There is no sign outside – not on the front of the restaurant or on the pavement – and visitors do walk around wondering where to go. (Seeing I knew I showed several the way.)

There is a fee to visit the room: €5 for an adult.

The ‘inn’ has remained as it was when Van Gogh had Room No. 5. The room is in the attic (there are just two floors) and it is miniscule – 7 sq.m – with one tiny skylight. It reminds me of a prison cell. There is no furniture in the room. (No photos sorry.)

Beside the room is the room where another Dutch artist, Anton Hirschig (1867-1939) stayed.

After having stood for a few minutes in first Van Gogh’s room and then that of Hirschig one goes to watch a video about Van Gogh. One is shown some of his paintings, a caption to each from letters he had written to Theo. It too is most heartrending – and I can never not shed a tear or two or three.

Once one has visited the Van Gogh House it is time to visit the church and then after the church it is time to pay one’s respect to the dead artist at his grave.

The Auvers-sur-Oise church (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The Auvers-sur-Oise church (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The church is on a little bit of a hill: it is not luxurious but you would not want it to be and, like so many churches in France, it needs some restoration. (Since the separation of Church and State it is the responsibility of local communities to keep up the holy places and frankly the money is not there.)

From the church – this is if you are without transport – you have to walk to the cemetery. It is not far, and you might have heard that the road climbs up a steep hill. Nonsense! If you are fit and able to walk then the walk to the cemetery is no problem.  And if you are a woman and on your own, know that the road is without danger: I’ve done that walk on two occasions on my own.

The road to the cemetery (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The road to the cemetery (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The road – it is potholed – is narrow and straight, and it runs through Van Gogh’s wheat fields. No, he was not the owner of the wheat fields: I call them his wheat fields because of his paintings of them. On my last visit on July 30, alas there was no wheat as you will see on the photo below.

Van Gogh's wheat fields - but where were they. (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Van Gogh’s wheat fields – but where were they. (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The cemetery is small and as you may know (or perhaps not) Theo van Gogh who had died just six months after Vincent, lies buried with his brother. There is uncertainty about the date of Theo’s death. It is given as January 25, 1891, but the asylum in Holland where he had died had recorded the removal of his body by undertakers already the day before. Yes: Asylum. Theo van Gogh had gone start raving mad. One month after Vincent’s death he was hospitalized in a Paris mental asylum and after a month there his wife arranged for him to enter an asylum in Holland.

Auvers-sur-Oise cemetery (cc Marilyn Z Tomlins)

Auvers-sur-Oise cemetery (cc Marilyn Z Tomlins)

There lies a story in Vincent and Theo’s grave.

After the town hall of Auvers-sur-Oise had at first refused to grant Theo permission to bury Vincent in the Auvers-sur-Oise cemetery, it had agreed for the body to be buried in a new cemetery which was still being laid out on a hill outside the town.

Neither would the local priest allow Vincent a funeral service in the church: the church Vincent had painted and had made famous because of his paintings.

The town hall’s initial refusal was because the cemetery was for Catholic and Vincent was a Protestant, the son of a Protestant preacher.

The priest’s refusal was for the same reason. Added to this was the fact that Van Gogh had committed suicide.

 

auvers sur oise July 2015 grave 3

Vincent van Gogh tombstone (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Vincent van Gogh tombstone (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

 

There was no religious service at the graveside and there is no religious artifact or mention of God on the tombstone. The coffin covered in yellow flowers was carried from the little attic room in the inn to the cemetery. At the graveside were Theo, Dr Gachet, the Ravoux couple and a couple of locals who had seen Vincent around and had spoken to him. Theo and Dr Gachet were in tears. Dutch artist Hirschig did not attend the funeral.

The two brothers side by side (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The two brothers side by side (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

After the cemetery do visit Dr Gachet’s house: signs will direct you to it.

The house itself is not great, but the garden, as you will see from the photos below, is a delight. There is no entrance fee. At the moment the garden houses an exhibition of insects and spiders and flowers made from empty bottles and cans by Pierre Esteve. Piped music and lights add that extra touch to the garden.

 

Dr Gachet's garden (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Dr Gachet’s garden (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Dr Gachet's garden (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Dr Gachet’s garden (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The house is closed to visitors on Monday and Tuesday. So too is the Van Gogh House.

There is a €14.25 (expensive!) entrance fee to the Auvers-sur-Oise Château which dates from the 17th century. It is open every day of the week but Monday from 10h30 to 6 pm. The chateau is at the moment housing a Journey in the Time of Impressionists – Voyage au Temps des Impressionnistes-  exhibition. The exhibition consists of the showing videos of life during the Impressionist years and pop-up screens with images of Impressionist paintings.

Auvers-sur-Oise townhall also painted by Van Gogh (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins

Auvers-sur-Oise townhall also painted by Van Gogh (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins

This is how you get to Auvers-sur-Oise and believe me I’ve done it and this is the best way.

Take a train from Paris’s Gare du Nord station to either the towns of Persan Beaumont or Pontoise.

If you are familiar with Gare du Nord station know that the train will leave from the main section where the Eurostar booking-in section is also.

Look on the blue boards for a train that will call in at either the one or the other. You then descend at that station and there you take a train to Auvers-sur-Oise.

Auvers-sur-Oise station and see the church bell-tower? (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Auvers-sur-Oise station and see the church bell-tower? (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

All in all, the train journey will take you just over an hour, the longest part of it from Paris to either Persan Beaumont or Pontoise. The last part from either one of those to Auvers-sur-Oise will take about 10 minutes.

Seeing that Auvers-sur-Oise is in Greater Paris (Ile de France) you buy a Mobilis day ticket. You will need a 5-zone ticket and it will cost you €16.60. Buy the ticket at your starting point in Paris so that your trip to Gare du Nord is included.

 

 

The Oise River cutting through the town (cc Marilytn Z Tomlins)

The Oise River cutting through the town (cc Marilytn Z Tomlins)

And something else. Going for a stroll after all the emotion of seeing Van Gogh’s little room and his grave, you can always go for a stroll along the Oise River. I did and it was wonderful.

Also, as you will see on the photos below, the walls of a tunnel at the station has been covered in frescoes.

Frescoes on the walls of a passage at the station (cc Marilyn Z Tomlins)

Frescoes on the walls of a passage at the station (cc Marilyn Z Tomlins)

Another one (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Another one (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

And another (cc Marilyn Z Tomlins)

And another (cc Marilyn Z Tomlins)

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

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