Van Gogh, or as the Parisian’s pronounce his name, “Van Gawhogg,” is perhaps my favorite 19th-century artist. I only hesitate because I have yet to see this season’s Caillebotte exhibition at the Musée Jacquemart-André. I love the energy that is clear in Vincent’s brushstrokes and his dynamic color palette that makes his work almost dance before your eyes. Naturally, I find it completely thrilling that seeing where Van Gogh created his last 70 masterpieces is an easy day trip from Paris.
I’ve been thinking of him a lot lately, thanks to a fairly recent piece in The New Yorker magazine that reveals the possibility that Van Gogh didn’t cut his ear off in a fit of insanity, but rather had it sliced off by the sword of his dear friend Gaugin after a passionate fight in Arles. It does not change the fact that this man was a tortured soul, but it is a comforting thought, nonetheless.
On weekends, it is a direct train ride from the Gare du Nord to Auvers sur Oise, the small village Van Gogh briefly called home. As you get off the train, you are standing on the same platform where Vincent himself arrived to be put in the care of his sponsor, Dr. Paul Gachet. Leaving the station, and walking through town, you will soon notice large, enamel signs that feature Vincent’s work. Each sign is placed directly in front of one of the last 70 scenes that seemed to explode from his brushes the last 70 days of his life. You’ll recognize the local church, the mairie, the iris plants in bloom and quaint street scenes. Little has changed.
While living in Auvers sur Oise, Van Gogh stayed a few steps down from the mairie, at L’Auberge Ravoux, now known as La Maison Van Gogh. His room, No. 5, became the “suicide room” after his death and guests refused to stay there, so it has remained intact, perfect for visitors today. After visiting his room, there is an informative video about the artist and his life.
You can also stop at the auberge for a traditional lunch before heading back through the town, beyond the wheatfields with the menacing crows that Van Gogh made famous, and into the small cemetery where this tortured genius rests beside his beloved brother, Theo. At peace, a short day trip from Paris.