A visit to Auvers-sur-Oise makes a pleasant daytrip from Paris; one centered more on mood and imagination than on historic sites. Just 17 miles northwest of Paris, Auvers is a charming little commune on the banks of the Oise River, a ville that attracted Vincent van Gogh and several other famous Impressionist artists.
You will no doubt enjoy a journey through time to retrace the steps of Van Gogh, to see the sights he painted in a whirl of artistic expression in the last two months of his life. The dominant “season” runs from the beginning of April through October, when direct trains run from Paris Gare du Nord to Auvers. Just a 30-minute trip, you can leave Paris at 10 a.m. and return on the 6:18 train, with ample time to reflect on your excursion over a glass of wine by the Seine. Eight hours allows plenty of time to explore the artist sights and local museums and to enjoy a lazy, memorable lunch at Van Gogh’s Auberge Ravoux.
Vincent van Gogh – what better place to begin than with the tortured and talented artist. Van Gogh moved to Auvers to be treated by Dr. Paul Gachet, though he felt the good doctor in a worse condition than his own. Nonetheless, they were friends and, in an ironic twist of fate, Van Gogh’s “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” brought nearly the highest auction price of all of his paintings. The artist was prolific in Auvers, where he produced many of his best-known works – The Church at Auvers, Thatched Cottages by a Hill, Wheat Field with Crows and more.
In 1890, he ultimately died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, his brother by his side in the attic room he rented in the Auberge Ravoux. Now a popular restaurant, the little inn on main street draws many who trace the artist’s life and visit the modest room (from mid-December to mid-March).
While Van Gogh was perhaps the most infamous resident artist, throughout the 19th century Auvers was home and workshop to Cezanne, Pissarro, Corot and Daubigny. Daubigny’s house is one of the village sites, a museum with paintings by the artist and his friends, such as Honor Daumier.
At the entrance to the village, you’ll find the handsome Chateau d’Auvers, modest by French chateau standards. Originally built for an Italian banker in 1635, the castle and gardens fell into disrepair over time. The Oise Val General Council purchased and restored the chateau to pay homage to the painters of the Impressionist period. Rooms mimic traditional places of the era with cinema projections and complex special effects.
The Absinthe Museum is another interesting site, a very authentic “storyboard” with original bottles, glasses, slotted spoons and large graphic paintings and posters that evoke the mystique of the green liquid. Reported to enhance creativity, the infamous, anise-flavored spirit was Van Gogh’s favorite drink and was thought so potent, it was banned throughout much of the world in the early 1900’s. To this day, rumors swirl about the so-called mind-altering spirit nicknamed “The Green Fairy.”
In Auvers, it is less the attractions and more the idea of strolling by the river and through the village to see and feel the scenes that inspired the Impressionist paintings. Wander past the church to the famed wheat field and hillside cemetery where Theo and Vincent Van Gogh are buried.
Even your visit to Van Gogh’s tiny attic is an understated experience, more in keeping with the bare solitude of an artist than an orchestrated emphasis on historic significance. Be sure to enjoy the hospitality of The Auberge Ravoux, where the chef partners with local farmers and muses of yesteryear to create the traditional French cuisine of Van Gogh’s era. In the middle of a wayside tavern atmosphere, you’ll experience one more facet of the life and spirit of the Impressionist colony.