Giverny to Auvers-sur-Oise, or Claude Monet to Vincent van Gogh

In just over a 100 kilometres of cruising and only three locks, we’d chugged up the Seine and then the Oise Rivers, we had travelled from one famous artist’s world to another.

Towns along the rivers Seine and Oise much loved by the Impressionists.

Towns along the rivers Seine and Oise much-loved by the Impressionists.

From tourist-jammed Giverny with all its wonderful flower gardens and lily ponds so central to the paintings of Claude Monet, to quiet, quaint little Auvers.

We were able to tie up on a floating pontoon at a mooring on the edge of town.

Accessible Auvers, but quite a steep ramp as you can see.

Accessible Auvers, but quite a steep ramp as you can see.

We soon set off on shore and what unforgettable experience it was for us to explore and retrace Vincent van Gogh’s time there.

The very useful walking guide to Auvers.

The very useful walking guide to Auvers.

It was the rustic shape of its buildings; the houses, town hall and church, together with the people of the time, and the countryside and the wheat-fields which had inspired him. In an explosion of creative energy Vincent produced no less than 77 unforgettable works of art created in just 70 days (listed here) followed by his tragic, self-inflicted death.

Despite van Gogh’s stature up near the very pinnacle of artists, Auvers (thankfully) lacked the crazy swarm of tourists of nearby Giverny. Small groups and couples like us followed numbered maps stopping at fifteen or twenty large signs displaying copies of the paintings created at these spots around the town and its outskirts.

Like so many others, we love his paintings. Over the last few years here in Europe we’ve had the opportunity to see many of them at the d’Orsay in Paris, the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and at several other exhibitions too.

As well as being a brilliant artist, he wrote the most wonderful and evocative letters, over 670 of them largely to his brother Theo.  The story of his life they tell is the centre of the book The Letters of Vincent van Gogh which I’d read along with others, adding further depth to our visit.

Some of the highlights:

1.    The Oise

Vincent Van Gogh - L'Oise. The Tate Gallery, London (but our photo of the sign!)

Vincent Van Gogh – L’Oise. The Tate Gallery, London (but our photo of the sign!)

We were moored right in the middle of this painting. The trees have of course all grown, but little else seemed to have changed.  In the book, Vincent van Gogh; Portrait of an Artist it tells of his first feelings of the place.  “Vincent described Auvers as “very beautiful, having among other things a lot of old thatched roofs.… It is real country, characteristic and picturesque.” The first day he set off down the long slope dotted with cottages to the Oise River to draw. The sky was filled with crows circling the wheat fields, and the pink-and-white almond trees were in bloom”.

2.    The Auberge Ravoux.

Our photo of a postcard of the Commerce de Vins restauraunt, 1890.

Our photo of a postcard of the Commerce de Vins restaurant, 1890.

Stewart outside the restaurant which is part of the Auberge Ravoux.

Stewart outside the restaurant which is part of the Auberge Ravoux.

Van Gogh apparently came to Auvers at the suggestion of Pissaro who lived nearby in Pontoise.  Vincent would have known that fellow artists Gauguin, Cézanne and Daubigny had enjoyed working there.  It was also home of course for Dr Gachet, who had a special interest in treating melancholia.  Vincent rented a room up on the top floor in the little inn where he died three months later.

Visitors can access the room from the back of the building.  Around at the front it’s still very much a traditional restaurant aimed at the broad market. Groups of what seemed to be locals as well as visitors. All arrived around 12:00 as we did.  The decor looked as if little had changed since the 1920s. The menu was good, but what could be called “unadventurous”.  Our host took the orders from us all without much banter and two young assistants then took over.  About an hour and a half later the patrons as one all started calling for the “l’addition s’il vous plait” and suddenly departed.  Still little dialogue from our host who had brought our bill along with a postcard with a photo of the Ravoux family.  Vincent had got on well with them had painted 3 portraits of their 13 year old daughter Adeline.

3.    The Town Hall.

The Town Hall at Auvers today.

The Town Hall at Auvers today.

Looking across the street behind the photographer and his camera, the family would have been looking straight at the hotel de ville, which then looked very much as now. So well captured on canvas. Though since Vincent’s time, the chain on the little fence in the foreground seems to have been stolen.

4.    The Church.

At the Auvers church painted by Van Gogh - one of the paintings we saw at d'Orsay in Paris.

At the Auvers church painted by Van Gogh – one of the paintings we saw at d’Orsay in Paris.

The Notre Dame Auvers is not far away.  What surprised us, comparing the painting on the sign with the actual building in front of us, was how Vincent had captured its colours, textures and dimensions so accurately while at the same time been able to make the church almost come alive on the canvas.

5.    Wheatfield with Crows.

Vincent Van Gogh's 'Wheat-Field-with-Crows', the original is at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.

Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Wheat Field with Crows’, the original is at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.

Few of van Gough’s paintings have created more comment or discussion than this, one of his great masterpieces. He painted many of wheat fields but this is generally agreed to be the best.  123 years later, there we stood in exactly the same field.  It had probably been created in a single day, a month or so earlier in the season.

The harvest had now been completed and the crows must have moved on.  But the green weeds along a rutted red dirt track still disappeared over the ridge. Some have mistakenly suggested this was his last painting, but it’s certainly one of his greatest.

Brilliant historian and TV presenter Simon Schama devotes a whole one hour documentary to it in his series “The Power of Art”.  He says – as only he can; “So what are we looking at with this painting? There’s suffocation, but elation too. The crows might be coming at us, but equally they might be flying away, demons gone as we immerse ourselves in the power of nature. It’s a massive wall of writhing brilliant paint, in which the colour itself seems to tremble and pulse and sway.” There is an extract from the film to download here.  We have the series on DVD and thoroughly recommend it.

6.    Auvers Cemetery

Vincent beside his younger brother Theo at the Auvers Cemetery.

Vincent beside his younger brother Theo at the Auvers Cemetery.

Vincent died up in his room in the Auberge Ravoux only a couple of weeks later.  What we hadn’t realized til our tour was how compacted the various locations there all were.  Vincent’s and his brother Theo’s graves are poignantly side by side in the Auvers’ graveyard.  It’s less than 100 metres from where he’d positioned his easel that day.  The book The Letters of Vincent van Gogh, tells the story;

Vincent was buried in Auvers, in the little cemetery behind a stately Gothic church he had painted. Artists, family, and friends gathered for the funeral. In his eulogy on the hill of the cemetery, with the blue sky and the wheat fields beyond, Dr. Gachet said through his tears, “He was an honest man and a great artist. He had only two goals, humanity and art.”

We also had a great side-trip whilst in Auvers. But rather than Vincent, the presentation in the Chateau Auvers concentrates mostly on telling the story of the other Impressionist artists using videos, photos, models and sound effects.

As a wheelchair user I could see it too and even scored a dedicated guide who took us around its three floors, through secret doors along dark passages and up and down lifts.

We’d learnt up ‘til their time picture painting was all done in doors in studios.  So as we’d spent so much time this year on the sections of the Seine and the Oise Rivers which had inspired those artists back then, it was the perfect way to end this part of our journey

About Lesley and Stewart

Loving great waterways of the world.
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7 Responses to Giverny to Auvers-sur-Oise, or Claude Monet to Vincent van Gogh

  1. Graeme Jack says:

    Dear Lesley and Stewart,

    Your experience of Auvers and its famous artist sounds so good! Thanks for sharing it particularly, although I must say all your lovely e-mails have been interesting and good reading. Just it is fascinating to see van Gogh’s painting of the river and then read that your boat “is moored right in the middle of it”! I just love it. And of course the restaurant, which has not changed at all from outside. And the rest of your report – I am absolutely blown away. I so love it! I have the book of Gogh’s letters to Theo as well, and I used to read it while waiting at the doctor’s surgery when expecting Rebecca. And do you know what I discovered once when I was reading an art book with Gogh’s paintings. I am very short sighted and was getting my glasses. The book was on table some distance away and when I looked at a picture of one of his paintings from afar without glasses, all those wavy colours blended into absolutely brilliant one shade, so beautiful and surprising that I looked at the rest of the pictures also from the same distance and without glasses. It left me wonder if anybody ever had experienced the same with the Gogh’s paintings, and that was he, too, actually short sighted who played with his sight like that in his paintings. Just wanted to share that with you.

    Now I do not know if you ever receive news from the river, so please forgive me if I end up repeating something you already know.

    The main piece of news is that David Smart passed on last month as result of leukaemia that he’d had for about a year. He and Pat had come and signed and then left the fire meeting saying that David is not very well to stay. That night he got worse and on Monday an ambulance came to take him to the hospital on stretchers. By then he was very sick. He’d had inside bleeding in parts of his body and died Monday night. Needless to say it was very sad. He and Pat had booked flights to South Africa and Europe, so Pat had to go with her grand daughter instead, I believe it was David’s wish if something happened to him.

    We have enjoyed a lovely, warm weather this week, so the bush garden of ours has been finally been looked after in the form of weeding and pruning etc. All is not finished yet, though, so I hope it will not rain for a few more days. I think your house has people staying in it at the moment, but you must be well aware of it. It is nice when the lights are on at night. Not too many houses have occupants so they are quite dark.

    Our family will have Father’s Day lunch here on Saturday so the place will be fully alive for the day. We heard it will be a lamb rack on BBQ. NIce.

    With this short note, I hope both of you may keep your beautiful adventures spirits up for us to share!! I especially pray for the health for both of you, so that you are able to enjoy your privileged experiences as long as possible! Thank you once again for the arm chair travels for us that you so regularly provide!

    Lots of love from Leena (and Graeme, too.) Sent from my iPad

    • Lesley says:

      Dear Leena, we are “blown away” by your email, knowing your experience with van Gogh. We will write separately to you as well. We have news from the River and we’re so sorry to learn about our friend Dave. Our love to you and Graeme and will send another email very soon. L&S

    • Stewart says:

      Dear Leena and Graeme
      Thanks SO much for your wonderful posting on our Blog.
      As Lesley said, we too were “blown away” to receive it.
      When I was at school we had an art teacher Mrs Parker, who loved and passed o to me and not sure how many others in our class, her love of Vincent and of other Impressionists. The secret she said of being able to fully experience their brilliance was to look at their work through slightly closed eyes, thus blurring your sight, and they would come alive. Exactly what your lessened eyesight without glasses must have done for you too eh? So often we see images over here as we travel trees, churches, fields, gardens etc, the like of which they may painted and we say to each other “wow, that looks just like the work of say Monet or Vincent”. Then we think about some more and realise their paintings are actually more real and actual than we’d first thought. The Impressionist technique adds energy and movement, but when you see for real the church he painted in Auvers it looks so much more like it does in the painting than we had imagined, as does Monet’s lily ponds or the leaves on trees, etc, etc. It’s all fascinating and we are delighted to know that you know and have experienced the same thing we have.
      So thanks again

  2. Janie says:

    Made me smile remembering my trip here from Conflans!!! See you very very soon xxxx Janie

  3. dave morley says:

    such a great trip! Hope you are both doing well. all the best. dm

  4. Sophie Lymbery says:

    Wow this sounds like such a fantastic part of your trip, reading your blog put me right on set! Love to you. Xxx S from Melbourne

    • Lesley says:

      Hi Dear Sophie .. so great to have your message and know you are there – we send our love. Stewart says, when are you going to join us on board for a holiday? L&S

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