Planning the trip to Auvers-sur-Oise
Earlier this week Brenda and I made a day trip to Auvers-sur-Oise, the burial site of Vincent Van Gogh. It was our first trip on a train outside of Paris in a couple years, and in the interim, the French national train network SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français) had changed its web site from Oui.sncf to sncf-connect.com. Their new web site provides an easy way to enter your starting address and your destination in France or even elsewhere in Europe, after which it spits out an itinerary for your trip, with all possible alternatives from your starting time running forward. What I could not figure out from sncf-connect.com was how to buy my ticket to Auvers-sur-Oise.
After much more hunting around, I figured out that the train serving Auvers-sur-Oise, a type called Transilien, is part of the Paris Transport Authority RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens), along with the Paris Metro, RER, Tram system, and Bus. All I had to do was buy a Metro ticket specifically for my destination, and I could go there via any of the possible routes shown on the schedule on sncf-connect.com.
Making the Trip
Last Monday we went to our nearest metro station and purchased from the counter agent a 10€ round trip ticket from our metro station to Auvers-sur-Oise. Actually, we received two separate metro tickets, one for going and one for coming back. By feeding the ticket repeatedly into the access turnstyles, one could board any combination of bus, metro, RER, Tram, or Transilien train to get to the destination. Only Brenda needed a ticket since I still have a Pass Navigo, the RATP all-access annual pass covering all these same modes for all five zones of Ile de France.
Transilien trains depart from the train station just like other SNCF trains, except they are in a section of Voies (train platforms) that one can only access using an RATP pass or ticket. We took the metro to Paris Gare du Nord and boarded our Transilien train. It took just over an hour with numerous stops before we arrived at Auvers-sur-Oise.
Van Gogh comes to Auvers-sur-Oise
Vincent Van Gogh arrived at Auvers-sur-Oise on May 29, 1890. He rented a room in the Auberge Ravoux, across the street from City Hall. The night of July 28th, he died in his room after having suffered a gunshot wound on July 27th. His death was determined to have been a suicide. Van Gogh was only 37 and still mostly unknown. In just 4 short years, he had created a large body of incredible work, yet legend has it that he only sold one painting in his lifetime.
Van Gogh before Auvers-sur-Oise
Van Gogh was from the Netherlands. Though he liked to draw when he was young, he worked (and mostly failed to succeed) at other jobs, including art dealer, supply teacher, minister’s assistant, and bookshop employee. For a couple years he immersed himself in religion, translating the bible. He had several unsuccessful love affairs.
In 1882 he studied art with a successful artist cousin, Anton Mauve. Mauve introduced him to water colors and later to oil paint, which Van Gogh enjoyed. Later they fell out, and Van Gogh returned to live with his parents.
He was painting with a dark palette, and his subjects often included common people living and working. His first significant painting, The Potato Eaters, was judged in 1885 by his brother Theo as being too dark for the Paris Impressionist market.
Van Gogh moved to Antwerp to paint. He enrolled in classes in 1886 at the Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts. He did not do well in completing the work there, often clashing with his instructors. At the end of the year they asked him to repeat his year of training. Instead Van Gogh left for Paris.
Van Gogh in Paris
There, he became a member of the thriving artistic community. He lived with his brother Theo, who was an art dealer, in an apartment at 54 rue Lepic in Montmartre. Vincent frequented and displayed his art at Le Tambourin, 62 Boulevard de Clichy, not far from today’s Moulin Rouge. Along with fellow students Émile Bernard, Louis Anquetin, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, he would go to Julien “Père” Tanguy’s paint shop to see Paul Cézanne’s paintings. He studied the neo-impressionist works of Camille Pissarro, Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. In Paris he broadened his palette, learned to use contrasting colors, and developed the unique style for which he would be come famous.
He left Paris in 1888 because he had burned out and was in poor health, drinking and smoking excessively while working long hours. He had completed over 200 paintings.
The Move to Arles
Van Gogh moved to a yellow house in Arles, in the south of France. Here, he would create much of the art that would one day make him famous, completing another 200 paintings as well as many watercolors and drawings. He hoped to attract Paul Gauguin from Paris to form a kind of artist collective, but their brief encounter in Arles was fractious, culminating in the incident where Van Gogh supposedly cut off his own ear. Afterwards, Van Gogh did not recall the incident and seemed to have lost his bearings. After some months in rehab, he tried to return to his yellow house, but the neighbors protested, and he was forced to move on.
In Asylum at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
In 1889 he spent a year in an asylum at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Despite having limited subjects to paint, he continued to be productive, including painting his swirling version of The Starry Night and scenes from within the asylum. In early 1890 he had a relapse of mental illness. It was at this point that his work started to receive some critical acclaim. Van Gogh was inspired by the good reviews and decided to move to a location back in the north of France. Thus he chose Auvers-sur-Oise.
Between his May 29th arrival and his death about 70 days later, Van Gogh completed some 80 paintings, including some of his best known works.
The Funeral and Van Gogh’s Legacy
The community held a funeral ceremony at Auberge Ravoux. Van Gogh was protestant, so the Catholic priest refused to allow the funeral at the local church, Notre Dame d’Auvers-sur-Oise. Ironically, Van Gogh’s paintings of that church have made it world-famous and attracted thousands of visitors over the years.
Van Gogh was interred in the cemetery at Auvers-sur-Oise on July 30, 1890. His brother Theo was present, as were his doctor and friend Dr. Paul Gachet and other friends and mourners from the town. Theo died and was buried later that same year in the Netherlands. In 1914, Theo’s wife arranged to have his remains moved to Auvers-sur-Oise to unite the brothers in death.
Theo’s wife and later his son collected and stored the artworks left behind. The family loaned works for some years to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. After they established the state-sponsored Vincent Van Gogh Foundation, the family moved the collection in 1973 to the Van Gogh Museum. Relatively few of Van Gogh’s works are in private hands. The Van Gogh Museum has by far the largest collection and is well-worth visiting.
Make the trip to Auvers-sur-Oise!
Our day trip to Auvers-sur-Oise was a success, though some of the attractions were closed because it was a Monday. We would have liked to visit Auberge Ravoux, where one can have lunch and see the still-empty room where Van Gogh died. There are a number of informative signboards near the Auberge that provide background about Van Gogh’s life. There is a path leading to the cemetery from the Auberge. It winds up the hill past the church and continues after the cemetery past some of the other important landmarks. Along the route are several sign boards at sites where Van Gogh painted, showing a copy of the painting set beside the actual landscape.
A well known Cubist sculptor, Ossip Zadkine, created a sculpture of Van Gogh that mimics the thick wavy strokes typical of Van Gogh’s paintings.
We paused our tour for a well-deserved lunch before heading back to Paris filled with new information and ideas.
Here is a link to a slideshow with photos and more information about our trip to Auvers-sur-Oise.
WOW! What a great adventure!
Hugh Nelson says
Maureen Meyer says
Funny I have been thinking of you 2 the last few weeks! So good to hear of travels again! We’ve not been on a plane or train for 2 years! As always, it’s great to get your tips – I have traveled in and out of Paris by train and happy to know of the new website. Good to see you both doing well! Hugs to you both !
Hugh Nelson says
Merci Maureen! It’s good to hear from you. Brenda and I hop you are doing well.
Ed Forman says
Thanks so much for the travelogue, art history lesson, and window into your French life. Merci!
Hugh Nelson says
You’re welcome Ed. It’s good to hear from you! I was just at the Poulsbo Rotary meeting (via Zoom).
Chuck O'Dell says
Still looking great my friend, as well as that beautiful woman with you!
Hugh Nelson says
Merci beaucoup Chuck! I’ll pass along your compliment to Brenda.
Nella Lee says
I have been there, along with other sites in the south, the St. Remy asylum is worth a visit, as the olive tree landscape he painted is immediately recognizable. As for his death, there’s an empty field at the top of the hill on the way to the cemetary which is where he was shot.
Hugh Nelson says
Thanks for the info, Nella. We were in Saint Rémy some years ago but didn’t know enough to seek out the asylum. There is a picture in the slideshow of that wheat field on the way to the cemetery. There is much speculation about where and how he was shot. Some say he was shot by a teenager who was taunting him, but that Van Gogh didn’t want the boy to be blamed. Some say the shot was heard much closer to the Auberge, which fits better with him being able to make it back to his room after being shot. Some say his ear was cut off in a fit of rage by Gauguin, who was an accomplished fencer. Nothing is definitive, so I stuck with the conventional wisdom, so to speak.