The Church at Auvers

640px-Vincent_van_Gogh_-_The_Church_in_Auvers-sur-Oise,_View_from_the_Chevet_-_Google_Art_Project

Artist Vincent van Gogh
Year 1890
Catalogue F789, CH2006
Type Oil on canvas
Dimensions 74 cm × 94 cm (37 in × 29.1 in)
Location Musée d’Orsay, Paris
URL musee-orsay.fr/en/

The Church at Auvers is an oil painting created by Dutch post-impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh in June 1890 which now hangs in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France. The actual church is in Place de l’Eglise, Auvers-sur-Oise, France, 27km northwest of Paris.

After staying in the south of France, in Arles, and then at the psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy de Provence, Vincent Van Gogh settled in Auvers-sur-Oise, a village in the outskirts of Paris. His brother Théo, concerned with his health, incited him to see the Doctor Gachet, himself a painter and a friend of numerous artists, who accepted to treat him. During the two months separating his arrival, on May 21, 1890 and his death on July 29, the artist made about seventy paintings, over one per day, not to mention a large number of drawings. This is the only painting representing in full the church in Auvers that may sometimes be distinguished in the background of views of the whole village. This church, built in the 13th century in the early Gothic style, flanked by two Romanesque chapels, became under the painter’s brush a flamboyant monument on the verge of dislocating itself from the ground and from the two paths that seem to be clasping it like torrents of lava or mud. If one compares this painting with Claude Monet’s paintings of the cathedral in Rouen, painted shortly afterwards, one can measure how different Van Gogh’s approach was from that of the impressionists. Unlike Monet, he did not try to render the impression of the play of light on the monument. Even though the church remains recognisable, the painting does not so much offer the spectator a faithful image of reality than a form of “expression” of a church. The artistic means used by Van Gogh anticipate the work of the fauvists and expressionist painters.

The Church at Auvers — along with other canvases such as The Town Hall at Auvers and several paintings of small houses with thatched roofs — is reminiscent of scenes from the northern landscapes of his childhood and youth. A certain nostalgia for the north had already been apparent in his last weeks at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence: in a letter written a couple of weeks before his departure, he wrote “While I was ill I nevertheless did some little canvases from memory which you will see later, memories of the North”

He specifically refers to similar work done back at Nuenen when he describes this painting in a letter to his sister Wilhelmina on 5 June 1890:

I have a larger picture of the village church — an effect in which the building appears to be violet-hued against a sky of simple deep blue colour, pure cobalt; the stained-glass windows appear as ultramarine blotches, the roof is violet and partly orange. In the foreground some green plants in bloom, and sand with the pink flow of sunshine in it. And once again it is nearly the same thing as the studies I did in Nuenen of the old tower and the cemetery, only it is probably that now the colour is more expressive, more sumptuous.

The “simple deep blue” was also used in Portrait of Adeline Ravoux, painted in the same short period in Auvers-sur-Oise.

The foreground of The Church at Auvers is brightly lit by the sun, but the church itself sits in its own shadow, and “neither reflects nor emanates any light of its own.” After Van Gogh had been dismissed from the evangelical career he had hoped to continue in the Borinage, Belgium, he wrote to his brother Theo from Cuesmes in July 1880, and quoted Shakespeare’s image from Henry IV, Part 1 of the dark emptiness inside a church to symbolize “empty and unenlightened preaching” “Their God is like the God of Shakespeare’s drunken Falstaff, ‘the inside of a church'”

The motif of diverging paths also appears in his painting Wheat Field with Crows.

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