Van Gogh grave in Auvers
Leaving the Auberge, we make our way first to the church and then the cemetery. The road is right next to the Auberge and as soon as we turn into it, we’re in another Van Gogh painting. This has never been a favorite of mine. It seems a messy, awkward composition, but obviously I’m not seeing it as he did. It’s an uphill walk, past old houses close by the road and around a corner we saw the church steeple.
It’s a grand church for a small village, and according to the posted story, one that only got built because the local priest had some pull in Paris. It’s formally know as the église Notre-Dame d’Auvers, and is loosely modeled after the Notre Dame de Paris. It started out as a small chapel around the end of the 11th century. with the apse and belltower added in 1170, and the church body was built between 1190 and 1220. There was a caretaker there and when we spoke to her, she quickly acknowledged the importance of Van Gogh’s painting to the church and indeed the whole town. It was dark and cool inside, very sparse. They were doing some restoration on the inside, so it wasn’t an inviting place to stay.
Van Gogh wrote to his sister Wilhelmina describing the painting,
“I have a larger picture of the village church — an effect in which the building appears to be violet-hued against a sky of simple deep blue colour, pure cobalt; the stained-glass windows appear as ultramarine blotches, the roof is violet and partly orange. In the foreground some green plants in bloom, and sand with the pink flow of sunshine in it.”
From the church, the road led through green fields of grain to the cemetery. Along the way was another sign commemorating a painting Van Gogh had done of the fields and distant houses.
Finally after another 10 minutes or so, we were at the small cemetery. A simple sign at the entrance pointing the way to the graves. But even without the sign, it would have been easy to spot – they were the graves with people standing around them.
Once you get there, you’re confronted with the reality of what you’ve seen in so many pictures. Here, is where Vincent was buried just a day after he died. Although Theo died just 6 months later, he didn’t join his brother for over 30 years. He was originally buried in Holland and his widow Johanna had his body moved. Why she waited all those years is a mystery.
Both of the graves are covered in ivy, apparently from plants brought in by Dr. Gachet’s son Paul.
It was sunny with a nice breeze. We thought of all that Van Gogh had accomplished in just 6 years of serious painting. And ending it all here at just 37 years of age. I wondered what he might have done had he lived far into old age like Monet or Pissarro. Imagine, born in 1853, if he had lived to 80 which would end it in 1937. All the changes the world went through.
Ah well. In fact, when you look around the cemetery, not much has changed in 100 years. The fields are much the same. The houses are still there. The 800 year old church…. it keeps watch over the village.
Next stop in Auvers, the house of that crazy Dr. Gachet. Homeopathic water, anyone?