By Debi Lander
Unless you are a devoted fan of Vincent Van Gogh, you probably haven’t heard of Auvers-Sur-Oise. The village, located in Normandy, France, near Vernon, rests about an hour’s train ride from Paris. The picturesque spot inspired many Impressionist Masters: Van Gogh, Camille Pissarro, and Paul Cézanne. They all variously lived and worked in Auvers-Sur-Oise.
My Viking Seine River and Normandy Cruise included an excursion to the small town. Being curious, I signed on. Now, I am so thankful I took the opportunity to visit this town and learn about its history.
Auvers is where Vincent Van Gogh lived the last two months of his life in 1890. The area gave him such a source of creativity that he completed 80 paintings in 70 days.
When my group arrived, I spotted City Hall, called Hotel in Ville in France. The building looked like someone decorated it for Bastille Day with red, white, and blue French flags. As I gazed around, the entire village seemed frozen in time, a 19th-century time capsule.
A guide met my group and began to lead us along. Before strolling down residential cobblestone streets, we passed a few cutesy shops and restaurants. Then, we came upon shuttered homes with lace curtains hanging in the windows and flower boxes in bloom outside.
We traveled along a discreetly marked Van Gogh Trail and stopped at the Eglise Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption, the church Van Gogh famously painted. The interior seemed somewhat drab, but it held a copy of the well-known painting. I loved comparing the Gothic, 13th-century building to the artwork. In a letter to his sister, Van Gogh described the church saying, “the building appears to be violet-hued against a sky of simple deep blue color, pure cobalt; the stained-glass windows appear as ultramarine blotches, the roof is violet and partly orange. In the foreground, some green plants in bloom, and sand with the pink flow of sunshine in it.”
The Viking tour group continued up a hill to the town cemetery, where we found the ivy-covered graves of Vincent and his brother Theo. Mystery surrounds Vincent’s death, but the prevailing thought is suicide since he suffered from mental problems. He was supposed to be under a doctor’s care. History says he shot himself in the fields and made it back to his room in the auberge (a French inn that provides meals). His brother was called and came from Paris. Vincent died soon afterward. Theo wanted to organize a funeral in the church at Auvers, but the priest refused as Vincent was protestant and committed suicide.
As the tour left the graveyard, we noted the fields that inspired another Van Gogh masterpiece: The Wheatfield and Crows.
We proceeded on to Auberge Ravoux, the artist’s final home. Only two or three people at a time could enter his tiny, dingy, rented attic bedroom. It was barely large enough to fit a small cot and seemed filled with an aura of sadness. Hard to think of such a colorful artist living in cramped and drab quarters.
The tour at Auberge Ravoux also included an excellent video/slideshow of his art from the region. After seeing the area, I found it easy to imagine the scenes through the artist’s eyes.
The way Vincent died doesn’t truly matter; what matters is that the world lost the creative genius who gave us “Starry Night” and “Sunflowers.” Vincent was only 37 years old. RIP.
Visit www.bylandersea.com to read more of local travel writer Debi Lander’s stories and travel tips.
Photo courtesy Debi Lander
Beautiful village of Auvers.