Artists and Auvers-sur-Oise
Auvers-sur-Oise has an impressive place in the history of French art. Camille Corot and Berthe Morisot had ties here. Charles-François Daubigny was a landscape painter famous for having a floating studio on the Oise from which he painted many scenes of the riverbank. Paul Cézanne lived here from 1872-1874, and his mentor, fellow French Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro stayed in nearby Pontoise for twelve years.
But by far the most famous resident of Auvers is Vincent van Gogh, who moved here in May of 1890 and lived here until he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in July of that year. More than seventy paintings are attributed to van Gogh during the slightly more than two months he lived here, many of which are among his most famous works. While he only sold one painting during his life (for 400 francs), his Portrait of Dr. Gachet sold at auction in 1990 for $82.5 million, the highest price ever paid for a painting until Pablo Picasso's Boy With a Pipe fetched $104.1 million in May of 2004.
As peaceful and quaint as Auvers-sur-Oise is today, its ties to van Gogh are hard to ignore. Placards are located throughout the town wherever a subject van Gogh painted stands. Additional markers on street signs point to van Gogh-related points of interest. And a statue of Vincent by Ossip Zadkine stands in the Parc van Gogh on rue du Général de Gaulle.
How van Gogh came to live in Auvers-sur-Oise
After he spent a temptestuous ten weeks with Paul Gauguin at Arles in the south of France that culminated with the famous incident in which Vincent mutilated his own ear on December 23, 1888, he was taken to the Hôtel-Dieu hospital in Arles. After his release he began to recover from his breakdown, but suffered another attack in February, 1889.
By this time the Arles citizenry had had enough, and submitted a petition to the mayor demanding action. The superintendent of police ordered that van Gogh be readmitted to the hospital. This time he stayed about six weeks, but was allowed to leave during the day on supervised outings to paint and put his possessions in storage.
Vincent realized on his own that his mental state was precarious at best, and decided to check himself into the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, fifteen miles from Arles. He left Arles for good on May 8, 1889.
After his examination at the asylum, his physician was convinced that Vincent was suffering from a form of epilepsy, a diagnosis that remains the most likely scenario even today. The asylum at Saint-Rémy offered little treatment, however, and eventually Vincent began to plan his departure.
Vincent's mental and physical health had gradually improved. But on December 23, 1889, exactly a year after the ear-slashing incident, Vincent suffered another attack that lasted about a week. The attacks became more and more frequent and debilitating in the early months of 1890. His brother Theo worked in an art gallery in Paris, and the brothers agreed that it would be best if Vincent lived nearby. After some inquiries, Theo decided that the best course of action would be for Vincent to return to Paris and then enter the care of Dr. Paul Gachet (1828-1909), a homeopathic therapist living in Auvers-sur-Oise, himself an art collector and amateur artist. Vincent agreed with Theo's plans and checked himself out of the asylum in Saint-Rémy on May 16, 1890 and took an overnight train to Paris.
The beginning of the end
After arriving in Auvers-sur-Oise and meeting Dr. Gachet for the first time, Vincent wrote in his first letter to Theo from Auvers:
I have seen Dr. Gachet, who gives me the impression of being rather eccentric, but his experience as a doctor must keep him balanced enough to combat the nervous trouble from which he certainly seems to me to be suffering at least as seriously as I.
Gee, that must've sounded encouraging. Then, even more ominously in July, 1890:
I think we must not count on Dr. Gachet at all. First of all, he is sicker than I am, I think, or shall we say just as much, so that's that. Now when one blind man leads another blind man, don't they both fall into the ditch?
So it appears that the writing was on the wall....
The placard marking the site where Vincent painted Auvers Town Hall on 14 July 1890.
Although he proved to be not much of a physician, Dr. Gachet did become a treasured friend of Vincent. He encouraged van Gogh to work "boldly on," which he did with abandon. Van Gogh described Auvers-sur-Oise as "profoundly beautiful," and some of his best loved canvases, such as Thatched Cottages at Cordeville, were painted in the brief time he spent here.