In 2005, I took an art history course in Angers, France and realized every girl’s romantic fantasy: falling in love, in a foreign city, with an older man. He captivated me. I could not stop thinking about him. I wondered what he thought, what his hopes and dreams were. Though, I knew in my heart, he was not thinking of me, did not know I existed and had absolutely no interest in me. He was dead.
Vincent Van Gogh has always intrigued me. When I went back to France in 2011 with my husband, I dragged him with me to Auvers Sur Oise on a personal pilgrimage to see where Vincent spent the last ten weeks of his life.
He was a tortured man. He was lonely. He had some mental problems. It is speculated that he was in love with Paul Gauguin. He had a tremendous love for his younger brother, Theo and the feelings were mutual. So strong in fact, six months after Vincent shot himself, Theo died (in my opinion) of a broken heart.
Despite his shortcomings, Vincent was a genius. He was one of the first artists to use colors opposite the color wheel together – notably red and green. And maybe I making something out of nothing, but I swear every flower in this town was red resting on a bed of green ground cover. I was (read: am) obsessed.
After a horrific experience at the train station, Matt, my husband and I were on our way to follow in the footsteps of Vincent Van Gogh. After about an hour, we disembarked and I had butterflies in my stomach. I had printed out a walking tour and we began our journey with a picnic lunch in Parc Van Gogh, where there was an incredible statue that looked like it was created in the style of his final period.
We continued on our walking tour to the Maison Van Gogh – now a small museum slash tribute to the artist. Vincent spent ten weeks in Auvers Sur Oise and created over seventy works of art.
The town itself was in no way a touristy town, it was quiet, reserved, and paid tribute to the man who put them on the map but in a modest way; the way Vincent would have liked it. There were copies of his paintings throughout the town next to what he painted, so we saw what he saw and then saw how he saw it. The church which he painted, so dramatically, stands towering over the village right at its center and beside the church is a copy of his painting and it makes you wonder was he creative or did he really see it like that? Either way, it was beautiful.
The last stop on our tour was the fields on the outskirts of the town. He shot himself in one of these fields where he frequently painted – so artistically poetic and so Van Gogh. He died two days later in small house where he rented a very modest room. His brother was able to come in from Paris to say his final goodbye. When Theo died, just a short time later, he was buried in Paris….and then a few years after that, his grave was moved to its rightful resting place next to his beloved brother. Nothing special about their graves. If you didn’t know where to look, you’d miss them. We almost did. (But then again, on a pilgrimage like we were…well, like I was, we looked for them for quite some time).
At the sight of the grave it’s hard to explain what I felt. Buried here was this incredible man with an incredible talent who struggled from the beginning. He was the second born to his parents after their first child, also named Vincent, died at birth, exactly one year before my Vincent. He never lived up to his parents expectations and was doomed to a destiny of failure in some ways. But look at what he accomplished.
The journey for me was incredibly meaningful. The atmosphere of this tiny village was so tranquil, it was almost difficult to imagine the events that transpired but then again, it wasn’t.