Vincent Van Gogh was born in 1853 in the Netherlands. He became a famous post-impressionist painter that I was originally introduced to in high school when I studied French for 4 years. I have been lucky enough to visit the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam not just once, but twice. When I look at his art I reach a point of complete calmness (except when viewing his earlier works which are a bit dark).
Van Gogh spent a good part of his life in France. He lived with his brother in Paris for a while in Montmontre, and I just had to track down the second apartment they lived in together one day. It is very easy to locate at 54 Rue Lepic (75018 zip code- 18th arrondissement which is Montmontre).
I spent one Christmas in Paris with my parents when I was in my 20’s. I had read about Auvers-Sur-Oise, where he spent his last days, and decided to take trip to the town by myself one day. I hopped on the train from Paris to Pontoise and continued on to Auvers-Sur-Oise. Although it was winter and quite a bit cooler than Northern California, where I was living at the time, I walked and I walked and I walked around that town taking everything in.
One of the highlights of the day was taking a tour of the Auberge Ravoux where he had arrived on May 20, 1890 and spent his last 70 days of life. Thankfully my French was quite good at the time so I had no problem understanding the tour I went on- since on that day French was the only language it was offered in. For the record he shot himself in the chest in a field located in the town, lived for an additional 2 days, and died with his brother Theo by his side. I have yet to read his book “Letters to Theo”, but writing today about dear Vincent has inspired me to make the purchase later in the year when things are less busy for me.
During his time in Auvers-sur-Oise Vincent created 80+ paintings and 60+ sketches. I find this amazing for the short period of time he spent here. For me it was like déjà vu to walk around this town seeing the inspiration for some of his most famous works. The stairs going up the hill (L’Escalier d’Auvers) and the Auvers church (Notre Dame D’Auvers) took me from his painting to reality – absolutely chilling and I would have recognized this church immediately from seeing the painting so many times over the years.
I took a few breaks along the way for hot chocolate to warm up and a bistro for lunch. It was soo cold to me! Cold, but it was well worth it to visit this town that was not overrun by tourists. My last stop was the cemetery where both Vincent and Theo are buried.
Taking the train back to Paris I felt more connected with Vincent than ever. I was also fortunate enough on that trip to visit a Vincent Van Gogh exhibit being held in the Musee D’Orsay (Orsay Museum) which showed how he was inspired to recreate paintings that were originally created by Jean-Francois Millet (including ‘Noon Rest from Work’ and ‘The Sower’).
For the record there is just one more place I hope to visit someday, the town of Arles, in the south of France, where he lived for a period during the years 1888 – 1889. Being a traveler, having a husband who enjoys visiting France, and having two children who also enjoy traveling abroad, I can definitely see this happening one day.