Van Gogh seems to pop up in many of my journeys. I saw him down in Provence last spring. Then we met up in Amsterdam so he could show me some of his work. He even stays in Chicago at the Art Institute. This time I acted like an Impressionist myself by taking the train out to visit him in the countryside.
Auvers-Sur-Oise is a little over a half an hour train ride from the city on weekends (it takes longer during the week because there is no direct route). There is one train that goes in, and one train that comes back directly. Although I felt 10:08 was a bit late to start the day, I later appreciated the extra time since my metro line was down. With about seven hours to explore the countryside, I was ready with my map and camera.
I would be tempted to visit this village even if there were no famous sights thanks to Van Gogh, Cezanne, Renoir, or Daubigny. After stepping down from the train, I felt that we had arrived in a different time period. I expected to see steam rising from the tracks and hear a horn bellowing as it left, but I guess we didn’t actually travel back in time. There were gobs of people going to see the sights. My plan was to go in the opposite direction they were going. When you get off the train, you basically have two options. Go east, or go west. They went east, so I went west.
-Auberge Ravoux (Maison de Van Gogh): This hotel/restaurant contains the room that Van Gogh stayed in and ended his life. On the 27th of July, Van Gogh shot himself, but he died two days later in the petite attic room with a cloudy skylight.
-Chateau: This chateau appears typical on the outside, but on the inside is a high tech journey through the age of impressionism, can-can, and trains. This is an audio guide tour that takes about an hour, but really provides the context for time time period. You don’t even push any buttons, the device picks up a signal based on the room you are in.
-Park Van Gogh: A nice place to wait for the train if you arrive a little early. Gaze at the sculpture of Van Gogh who looks a bit like a vagabond.
-Colombieres Manor (Tourist Office): I stopped here first to equip myself with a map. I appreciated this a few times during my stay.
-Doctor Gachet’s House: Dr. Gachet was like a brother to Van Gogh and watched over his health while he was in Auvers Sur Oise. This is probably my favorite sight other than the trails. Van Gogh painted a few scenes from his home, and it is understandable why. The compact space is filled with lush landscaping and vibrant colors. Roses seem to be quite popular in this town.
-Trails: Walking the trails is like walking with Van Gogh by your side. He painted many canvases during his seventy-day stay in the town. The trails guide you past some of the same places he set up to paint his impression. My favorite locations were the wheat fields and his tombstone. In one of my pictures below you can see the cemetery gate opened a little. I like to think they leave it open at night so Van Gogh can escape to paint a starry scene. I’ve really developed an empathy for Van Gogh, and look forward to following his trail on future adventures.
Places you can visit, but I did not:
Being Van Gogh
Imagine you are 37 years old, and the world is too much to control. You’ve tried escaping the noise of Paris, but your mind is just too powerful. You don’t want another episode like what happened with the earlobe removal, but there are so many stresses in life. Money is tight, Theo is not doing well at his job, your godson’s health is deteriorating. Just keep working to stay busy. You step out into the wheat fields and feel isolation take over. The black crows fly over ominously and life seems hopeless.
It is heavy to think that someone so skilled could be so vulnerable, but I suppose it happens often. Some say he didn’t actually cut off his earlobe, but Gauguin did in a fencing match. There are also others that say he didn’t shoot himself, but a couple young men did on accident with a faulty gun. It is hard to say what the truth is, but reading his letters seems to indicate an uneasy mind.