Getting to Auvers-sur-Oise from Paris usually involves changing trains, but on summer weekends and holidays (5 April-2 November in 2014) SNCF runs a direct line, leaving Gare du Nord at 09h38 (arr. 10h19) and leaving A-s-O at 18h25 (arr. Paris 18h57). We and our friend Ivana took advantage of that and the dezonage on our Navigo monthly transit passes to visit the village where Vincent van Gogh spent the last weeks of his life. Eight hours seems like a long time to spend in a sleepy village, but you have to be organized to see everything. We were not and did not.
>> Sites of interest begin at la gare. Its underpass was decorated by François Laval in 2008 with lively murals, and a small structure beside the station is decorated with drawings inspired by Vincent’s paintings.
I had been to the Ravoux Inn, now a small museum, where the artist lived and died, so while Gordon and Ivana visited it, I chatted with the helpful young man at the nearby tourist office (our franglish got us by) and then went for a short walk.
>> Just wandering around is rewarding. The steps lead from the inn and tourist office to the row houses and beyond in both directions.
After going to le Musée Daubigny (above the tourist office) to see its current exposition of art, we set off to see l’Église de Notre-Dame de l’Assomption and le cimetière where Vincent and his brother, Théo, are buried. Corneille (1922-2010), a local artist of wide renown, is also buried there. The cemetery is a short walk outside the village and is surrounded by fields.
>> Composition inachevée, c.1940, by Otto Freundlich (1878-1943), another victim of the Nazis, who considered his paintings and stained glass pieces to be decadent.
>> [Untitled, no date], by Françoise Bizette (1914-1996); monotype with gouache and collage.
>> L’Église de Notre-Dame de l’Assomption from the side and the ubiquitous memorial to war dead inside. Vincent’s most famous view of the church is from the other end.
>> Théo, whose support and encouragement made it possible for Vincent to paint, survived his older brother by less than a year. We found the simplicity of the graves touching and appropriate; the ivy is always green. A view over the wall; no crows.
Lunch was calling to us, but unfortunately we chose the wrong road and missed our best options.* Most restaurants were more expensive than we were comfortable paying for a meal that is not the highlight of the day, so we ended up at a very busy crêperie.
After lunch we went to the excellent Musée de l’Absinthe, a beverage that is making a comeback, apparently sans one of its original ingredients, although there is some controversy regarding its deleterious effects: perhaps it was angst and poverty and creativity, rather than wormwood, that made imbibers lethargic or gave them visions.
>> An anti-absinthe poster: “6 sous for absinthe and 1 sou for bread. Don’t break the bottle!!” And an ad with another viewpoint.
We walked around the grounds of le château, and I walked through its maze and also visited l’Orangerie for une exposition called De l’Impressionnisme au Street Art of works by Nowart. It included a video of the artist installing a large portrait on a wall. He begins with a huge paper cut-out of the bust, which he pastes to the wall. Then he uses brushes and spray paint to enhance the colours and tie it into the wall.
>> The boxwood garden at le Château d’Auvers-sur-Oise. A small portrait of Papy Daubigny by Nowart.
Doctor Gachet’s house and garden were a bit farther from la gare than the map seemed to indicate, but worth the walk. The house sits high above the road, so it is very private and gets a lot of light. It is modest, but well designed and maintained. A comprehensive guide in English is provided. Gachet was a homeopathic physician and art patron. He was also a painter and etcher. Théo and painter Camille Pissarro arranged for Vincent to be under the doctor’s care while living in Auvers. They developed a close relationship, and Vincent considered Gachet to be “another brother.” Among the ±75 paintings that Vincent made in as many days were several of the doctor, his children, and the house and garden. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctor_Gachet’s_Garden_in_Auvers
>> The garden faucet at Doctor Gachet’s house. A sign in the village.
We did not continue farther out of town to see the home of Art Nouveau architect and designer Hector Guimard or the remains of the 13th c. chapelle Saint-Nicolas, because we were not sure how far away they actually were and how long it would take to return to the station. Especially for anyone with mobility issues, I think it would be wise to ask if there is a bus that stops at or near le château, Doctor Gachet’s home, Guimard’s home, and the chapel. And if it makes stops at regular times, so you can spend your time in the museums, etc., and not at the bus stop. In order to see everything, I might pick up something for lunch on arrival, head directly to the tourist office for a map and advice, then go to the chapel and work my way back to the cemetery, ending with the church, since it is near the station.
* Just as you head into town from la gare, there is a supermarket with the usual take-away salads, sandwiches, etc. (open 8h-20h Mon-Sat, 9h-13h Sun). Next is une boulangerie for sandwiches, quiche, etc. (open 7h-20h Mon-Tues and Thurs-Sat, 7h-19h Sun). Just beyond la crêperie is une boucherie with many delicious-looking take-away goodies (open Tues-Sat 8h-12h45 and 15h30-19h45 [that frustrating mid-day closure!], Sun 8h-12h30). You can find a park just across the street, benches by the church, and sheltered picnic tables at the tourist office, where there are also public toilets.