See Now at the Musée d’Orsay: Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise

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See Now at the Musée d’Orsay: Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise
Despite the timed tickets, there was a sizeable line at the Musée d’Orsay winding its way toward the exhibition Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise: The Final Months. A life-sized photo reproduction of 19th-century Auvers-sur-Oise introduced the gallery; fitting, for this town is where museum-goers will be for the length of their ticket.   The Musée d’Orsay has mounted an exhibition focusing on the last months of Vincent Van Gogh’s life. On May 20th, 1890, Van Gogh moved to Auvers-sur-Oise, a village about 30k north of Paris. Living in the south of France, Van Gogh had been suffering from presumed bouts of insanity.  On his return to Paris, Vincent’s brother, Theo, quickly arranged to have Vincent move to Auvers-sur-Oise under the care of Dr. Paul Gachet, a doctor specializing in depression. Gachet knew depression first-hand and took Vincent under his wing.   The exhibition is subtitled The Final Months because Van Gogh would take his own life in Auvers-sur-Oise, succumbing to a gunshot wound on July 29, 1890 in his rented room at the Auberge Ravoux. Vacillating between confidence and despair in the 70 days he spent in Auvers-sur-Oise, Van Gogh would produce 74 paintings and 33 drawings. The exhibit brings together a majority of these works, all created in Auvers, except one.    The exception is the remarkable painting created during Van Gogh’s hospital stay in Saint-Remy; his second-to-last and most famous self-portrait. It’s a powerful image strong enough to stare down the thousands that stand in the same footsteps as the artist at his easel. Vincent bundled up the painting and took it to Auvers-sur-Oise to show Dr Gachet as an example of his work.  Vincent Van Gogh, Self Portrait, 1889. Exhibit photo: Hazel Smith “I’ve found in Dr Gachet a ready-made friend  and something like a new brother would be – so much do we resemble each other, physically and morally too.” – June 5th, 1890.   Idle hands find devil’s work, and Dr. Gachet knew that Vincent would have to throw himself fully into his work to stave off depression. In a room of melancholy blue, we get to know the doctor. Gachet wrote his medical thesis on melancholia – who better to entrust with Vincent’s mental health? However, Vincent thought Gachet was suffering as badly from nervous trouble as he was. In Gachet, Vincent saw his doppelganger.   In this image of Doctor Gachet, painted in early June of 1890, we can see the resigned posture of depression that the doctor shared with his patient.   Portrait of Dr. Gachet, 1890. Vincent Van Gogh. Exhibit photo: Hazel Smith At Gachet’s, Van Gogh had the opportunity to create his one and only etching, included in the exhibition. They printed the engraving on Gachet’s own press. Some of Gachet’s own works are included as well.   An absolute “shiver up the back of the neck” is the letter that Vincent wrote to Theo, dated June 3rd, 1890, about his new friend, complete with a tiny cartoon of the painting of Gachet he had just completed. The Van Gogh letters are available in facsimile form online and in print, but to see a letter from Vincent’s own pen was very moving.  

Lead photo credit : Field with Poppies, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890. Photo by Hazel Smith

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A freelance writer and amateur historian, Hazel knew she wanted to focus on the lives of French artists and femme fatales after an epiphany at the Musée d'Orsay. A life-long learner, she is a recent graduate of Art History from the University of Toronto. Now she is searching for a real-life art history mystery to solve.


  • Beth Gersh-Nesic
    2024-01-25 06:38:34
    Beth Gersh-Nesic
    Dear Hazel, A stellar review for a stellar exhibition. Thank you so much for vivid description of the experience. What an extraordinary artist! Cheers, Beth