Van Gogh at Auvers-sur-Oise: the swan song
About the exhibition "Vincent van Gogh at Auvers-sur-Oise. The Last Months" at the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, from 3 October 2023 to 4 February 2024.
Van Gogh is on the front page of (almost) every art magazine this autumn. But don't think you already know everything there is to know about the famous painter: the exhibition devoted to the last months of his life at the Musée d'Orsay is shaking things up so much that it will reveal Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) even to his most loyal admirers! The exhibition "Vincent Van Gogh at Auvers-sur-Oise. The Last Months" exhibition, on view until 4 February 2024, is the culmination of many years of research into this crucial phase in the artist's life, and will enable the public to appreciate him in the full light of day.
"People need to know that he was a great artist, which often goes hand in hand with being a great man. In time, people will recognise him and many will regret that he left so early", wrote Theo, a few days after the death of his brother Vincent, to their sister Lies. How prescient. It's hard to imagine that the works of art for sale by Vincent Van Gogh, which art galleries would be snapping up today, would have had such difficulty finding takers during his lifetime.
When Vincent arrived at Auvers-sur-Oise on 20 May 1890, he was tired and worn out... but driven by the desire to find a new creative impetus. However, he died there on 29 July of the same year, as a result of what is commonly known as a suicide attempt. "He was a man who preferred to go mad, in the social sense of the word, than to forfeit a certain higher idea of human honour", wrote Antonin Artaud, as Emmanuelle Lequeux reminds us in her article for the October issue of Beaux Arts Magazine. "He was 37 years old and had just left the Saint-Rémy-de-Provence asylum, where he had been confined for over a year following the violent crisis that led him to cut off his ear. It was a tragic end to the sunny interlude of his stay in Arles, where Gauguin had joined him," continued the journalist. "Paradoxically, his imprisonment was most fruitful: 150 canvases were born. A starry night".
No exhibition had yet been devoted exclusively to the final, yet crucial, stage of his career. In two months at Auvers-sur-Oise, the painter produced 74 paintings and 33 drawings, including iconic works such as Le Docteur Paul Gachet, L'église d'Auvers-sur-Oise and Champ de blé aux corbeaux. Featuring around forty paintings and twenty drawings, including many masterpieces, the exhibition highlights this period by theme: early landscapes depicting the village, portraits, still lifes and landscapes of the surrounding countryside. It also presents the series, unique in Van Gogh's oeuvre, of eleven (out of twelve) paintings he produced in an elongated double-square format. Emphasis is also placed on the cinematic dimension of the Van Gogh myth, which inspired Minnelli, Kurosawa and Pialat.
On leaving the asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Vincent Van Gogh did not want to be overwhelmed again by the chaos of the capital, where he had lived from 1886 to 1888 with his brother Theo. Theo drew on his memories of his dealings with the painters he represented as an art dealer to recommend Auvers-sur-Oise. "Cézanne found inspiration there before returning to his Sainte-Victoire, and Charles-François d'Aubigny before him: the master of the Barbizon school was one of those who taught Van Gogh to look at nature with the lights off," notes Emmanuelle Lequeux. "His shady forests inspired his first landscapes, as much as those of Corot. As some of his powdery twilights evoke, he would remain in their grip until the end. Auvers was like returning to his roots, enriched by the memory of the lights of Provence.
So Vincent settled some sixty kilometres north of Paris, in this picturesque village where there was also a doctor who seemed made for him. "A homeopath with a passion for palmistry, Dr Gachet had a reputation for treating melancholy and was a great admirer of the Impressionists," explains the Beaux Arts Magazine journalist. "His friends included Manet, Monet and Renoir. What's more, he painted himself.
As we know, opinions on this subject were much more controversial later on. Including those expressed by Van Gogh himself, shortly before his fatal suicide attempt. "I don't think we should rely on Dr Gachet at all. For a start, he's sicker than I am, as far as I can see, or just as sick, that's all. Now, when one blind man leads another blind man, won't they both fall into the ditch? Even though he never knew Van Gogh, Antonin Artaud shared such an artistic fraternity with him that he went so far as to consider Dr Gachet, "this improvised psychiatrist", to be "the direct, effective and sufficient cause of his death".
Nevertheless, on his arrival in Auvers-sur-Oise, settled in a small room in the Ravoux house, Van Gogh enjoyed the charms of the town and its surroundings, the exuberant gardens, the vineyards, the chestnut trees in flower, the banks of the Oise, the cows he sketched in the style of Jacob Jordaens... as much as the Sundays and Mondays he spent in the company of Paul Ferdinand Gachet. In him he saw "a new brother, so much do we resemble each other physically, and morally too". Their friendship even gave rise to one of the jewels in the Musée d'Orsay collections.
An immersive experience lasting around 10 minutes is not to be missed at this Paris exhibition. It consists of plunging into Van Gogh's palette as if walking through a landscape, to discover the artist's works and techniques: perspective, colours and impasto (impasto). This activity runs from 9.40am to 5.20pm (9pm on Thursdays).
Wearing a virtual reality headset, you will be immersed in the living room of Dr Gachet's house in Auvers-sur-Oise, and you will discover the portrait of Dr Gachet's daughter, Marguerite, painted by Van Gogh. On the table is a palette of paint. This is the beginning of Marguerite Gachet's story, and your plunge into the very heart of the palette, which has become an immersive landscape. Through Marguerite's memories, you'll discover four of Van Gogh's major paintings from the Auvers-sur-Oise period in an interactive, animated way.