I am lucky enough to live about a half hour away from Auvers, which is to the northwest of Paris, and it is exquisite painting country. There is something about the curve of the earth there, the way sky and the arcs of slightly hilly fields come together that is particularly satisfying and beautiful.
When I finally got a car after having lived my first four years in Paris as a pedestrian and metro-rider, one of my first places of pilgrimage was to Giverny. The second was to Auvers-sur-Oise. The road then was hopelessly full of potholes and the old car I was driving, a gift from a friend because it was way past its prime, was equally hopelessly lacking in shock absorbers. So it was a slow-going, jarring, but unprosaic journey into the valley of the Oise river that meandered along and got more and more beautiful with every bend in the road. Green and flowers abounded, along with beautiful 200 year-old homes flocking the hillsides. One often sees those homes in the more picturesque outskirts of Paris. They were built by the bourgeoisie to escape the heat of Paris in summer around the turn of the nineteenth century.
When I first went eight years ago, the place was surprisingly quiet. There was a small museum set up where Van Gogh had last rented a room, the same room he died in later after having shot himself in the chest on the night of 27 August 1890. The sadness of his mental illness and suicide can only be balanced out slightly by the glory of his work. Those wild, blazing canvases of searing colour and movement and feeling that affect all of us who gaze upon them - they are his gifts to us.
"Vincent's Fields" photo courtesy of Sophie O'Gorman
Anyway, I seem to be drawn a lot to Auvers these days and will write more about some recent experiences there in coming posts. The roads have been made smooth now and there is a beautifully maintained museum and restaurant at the Auberge Ravoux where Van Gogh lived out those last months of his life. The whole town is well organised for walking and seeing exactly where Van Gogh painted many of those incredible pieces. It always was, but is even more now, a pleasure to visit.
Figure drawing classes at the Louvre are on hold for the summer thus the good weather has driven me outside. We'll see what other canvases I can come up with. Compared to Van Gogh's record I've only produced one canvas in the last 70 days.
All the best, as always, to all of you.
Plein air/canvas photo courtesy of Mitchell R. Bloom