Painters in Auvers-sur-Oise

The significance of Auvers as a centre for artistic endeavour pre-dates the Impressionist movement principally because of the work of Camille Corot, Honoré Daumier and Charles-Francois Daubigny, who visited and painted in the area from the 1850s. Daubigny finally settled in the town in 1860 and from that time on he became an important mentor for many young artists. The new school of painters including Pissarro, from nearby Pontoise, Cézanne and others took inspiration from the landscape tradition which Daubigny and his friends represented, and then developed their philosophy and painting techniques to reflect a world undergoing dynamic change. There must have been endless discussions and passionate exchanges of views under the roofs of both Daubigny and Dr Gachet who was also a central character in the artistic life of the area. Whilst often looking back to a rural past epitomised by the work of the older generation, painters like Cézanne, Van Gogh and Gaugin were constantly seeking new ways of expressing their feelings and interpreting the world around them. The area continued to provide a fertile ground for experimentation through Post-Impressionism, Fauvism and other twentieth-century movements and is still home to many artists and galleries today.



Daubigny moved to Auvers in 1860 and spent the rest of his life in the town. Over the next eighteen years he produced numerous pictures of the River Oise, often painted from the Botin, a boat converted to a floating studio. Just as importantly, he became the mentor of many aspiring artists who went on to become leading figures in the Impressionist movement and when he was elected a member of the Salon jury in 1865 his influence was vital in getting works by Pissarro, Monet, Sisley and Degas accepted for exhibition.

Cézanne
Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) was a frequent visitor to the Pissarro household in nearby Pontoise and often he and his friend would walk the road to Auvers and set up their easels side-by-side. Together with his partner, Hortense Fiquet, and their young son Paul, Cézanne took up residence in the town in 1873 and stayed there until the following year. This was an important period in his artistic development, painting beside the older artist, studying his working methods and attempting to capture transient natural effects as well as his own passing emotional states. According to Dr Gachet, Cézanne went twice daily to his chosen subjects, “one for the morning and one for the afternoon; one for grey weather, one for sunshine; it happened frequently that he struggled desperately with a canvas, working on it from one season to the next, from one year to the following, to the extent that a spring picture of 1873 finally became a snow effect in 1874”. 

     At the time, Cézanne’s work met with little commercial success and came in for harsh criticism from the art establishment. Although he exhibited with other Impressionist painters in 1874 and 1877 he drifted away from many of the ‘Paris set’ and spent more time in his home town of Aix-en-Provence and it was here that his art developed in new and radical directions.

He became increasingly self-absorbed, losing contact with many friends and colleagues and was very reluctant to exhibit his work. He had a bitter disagreement with Emile Zola, his friend and supporter since childhood, and never spoke to him again. Relations with Hortense became increasingly strained and they spent much of the time living apart. However, his friend Pissarro did not forget him and together with Monet and Renoir, persuaded the dealer Ambroise Vollard to show some of his paintings from the 1890s and thereafter public appreciation of his work began to grow.

Van Gogh
Vincent Willem Van Gogh (1853–1890) spent only a few months at the end of his life in Auvers but during that short time he produced some of his most memorable paintings. Originally from Holland where his father was a pastor, Van Gogh was a highly emotional character plagued by insecurity and periods of deep depression. This unstable temperament resulted in a rather chaotic early career starting as a picture dealer for his uncle at galleries in The Hague, London and then Paris. By 1876 he had become disillusioned with the business and turned his hand to teaching in Ramsgate, England for a short period. He then saw himself as a lay preacher evangelizing to the poor and enrolled at a religious school in Belgium. He was considered an unsuitable student and was asked to leave, whereupon he pursued his mission to bring the word of God to the poor mining town of Borinage close to the French border. He was considered overzealous by his employers and was dismissed but he continued his work unpayed. He shared the lifestyle of desperate poverty with the mining community and ever afterwards identified with the plight of the working classes.

This experience took its toll on him mentally and he subsided into a period of severe depression. All the while he was making drawings of the grindingly poor world into which he had immersed himself. His younger brother Theo, who by now was working for the Goupil gallery in Paris, began to support Vincent financially and encouraged him to develop his interest in art. In 1880 he went to the Academy of Art in Brussells where he studied anatomy and perspective and later to The Hague where his cousin, the artist Mauvre Van Gogh, took him under his wing. It was now that he started to experiment with oil painting and produced a series of landscapes and pictures inspired by his experiences in the mining community, all rendered in dark sombre tones. The Potato Eaters epitomises this period in the artists development.

     His father died in 1885 and this was a devastating blow for Van Gogh. After a brief period studying at an academy in Antwerp he moved to Paris to live with his brother and it was here that his palettte of colours changed to brighter more vibrant hues influenced by the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists to whom he was introduced by Theo. For the next two years he committed himself wholeheartedly to the painters life in Paris and produced over 200 canvases. He became friends with Gaugin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Emile Bernard and together they became known as the “Peintres du Petit Boulevard” in contrast to artists such as Pissarro, Monet and Sisley who were known as the “Peintres du Grand Boulevard”.

In May 1890 Van Gogh visited his brother in Paris who, in collaboration with Dr Gachet, had arranged for Vincent to move to Auvers. Van Gogh was captivated by the place and under the watchful eye of the good doctor he proceeded to paint at a prolific rate, producing over 70 canvases in only three months. For a while he was completely absorbed by his work but he was never free of psychological torment and eventually was led to attempt suicide by shooting himself in the chest. He managed to drag himself back to his room at the Auberge Ravoux but the wound proved to be fatal and he died two days later in the arms of his brother Theo. Van Gogh is buried in the town cemetery next to his brother who died only a short time later. A truly tragic end to the life and career of a genius. However, his legacy is a collection of images that encapsulate in paint his struggle to comprehend the spiritual essence of man and nature.

Docteur Gachet
Paul Gachet (1828–1909) practiced medicine in Paris from 1858 but chose to live in Auvers. Since childhood he had been enthusiastic about drawing and painting and continued to pursue these interests in his spare time. However, it is more as a friend and patron to other artists that he is better known and that has assured him a respected place in the history of the Impressionist movement. Together with Daubigny, he was at the heart of the artistic community and gave hospitality and encouragement to many painters. He bought their pictures, was involved in arranging and financing exhibitions, found them lodgings, occasionally cared for their medical ailments and was generally a dependable and reassuring figure in the sometimes chaotic lives of his protégés.



Other significant artists

Daubigny was for Auvers what Pissarro was for Pontoise and his presence together with that of Dr. Gachet was more than enough reason to put the town on the artistic map. The area was visited and painted by many of the leading figures of nineteenth century art. It was not long after Van Gogh’s tragic death that his genius began to be recognised and ever since the town has become a place of pilgrimage for successive generations of artists and it remains so today.



Norbert Goeneutte (1854–1894)

After a brief period of study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, he moved to the suburb of Montmarte where he became friends with Renoir. Although he mixed with members of the Impressionist group he never exhibited with them and chose to show at the official Salon from 1876 until his untimely death. He considered etching and engraving to be as important as painting and he created images for many publications including Emile Zola’s novel, La Terre. Although he travelled throughout Europe, most of his work is concerned with life in and around Paris.  
     He contracted tuberculosis and this prompted him to move out of the city to Auvers in 1891. There he placed himself under the care of his friend, Dr. Gachet, who also had a keen interest in etching and had previously encouraged Cézanne to experiment with the medium.

Le docteur Paul Gachet, 1891, Goeneutte (courtesy of Musée d’Orsay/www.musee-orsay.fr)

Daubigny
Charles-Francois Daubigny (1817–1878) was born in Paris but spent much of his childhood at Valmondois, not far from Auvers. His father was an artist, as were several other members of his family, and by the time he was seventeen he had a studio of his own. Shortly afterwards he travelled to Italy where he studied and painted for two years and then returned to Paris.
   

     In 1852 he met Camille Corot and they travelled together to Switzerland, thus starting a lifelong friendship. Recognition and success came quickly for Daubigny and in 1855 the state purchased one of his pictures, Lock at Optevoz, which now hangs in the Louvre. He was created a knight of the Legion of Honour in 1859, the ultimate accolade awarded by the Establishment. His paintings not only achieved success in France but he was also enthusiastically received in England and was exhibited at the Royal Academy.

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Self-portrait with palette, c.1890
(courtesy of Foundation E.G. Bührle Collection/ www.buehrle.ch)

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By 1888 Van Gogh felt the need to broaden his horizons and so moved south to Arles in Provence, where he rented a tiny room above a restaurant which has a sad resonance with his final days in Auvers. The room was so small that he spent most of his time painting out-of-doors and his pictures exploded with the vibrant colours of the Provençal landscape. There seemed to be no separation between the turbulent workings of his mind and the impassioned brushstrokes that appeared on the canvas.

     He moved into the “Yellow House” and it was then that he persuaded Gaugin to join him in what he hoped would be a highly creative artistic partnership. Although they spent some time painting together, the mixture of these two emotionally fragile characters in close confinement was doomed to end in tragedy, and so it did. Violent arguments and disagreements led Gaugin to the conclusion that his friend was losing his sanity and he must leave. There followed the incident in which Van Gogh cut off the lower part of his left ear with a razor that he had been brandishing at his friend. Van Gogh was eventually taken to hospital and Gaugin left Arles, never to see Vincent again.  

     Theo came to Arles immediately to look after his brother who was released from hospital after two weeks. However, his mental health was such that he was persuaded to return to hospital where he stayed as both patient and prisoner in the care of a doctor and a priest. Eventually he admitted himself into the mental hospital at St-Rémy-de-Provençe in May 1889. Here he occupied two rooms one of which he used as a studio and all the while he was producing pictures which are now regarded as masterpieces.

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Self-portrait as a painter, 1888
(courtesy of Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam/ www.vangoghmuseum.nl)

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Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1828–1909)

He was born into a wealthy middle-class family in Paris and, unlike many of the other artists considered here, he never struggled financially and, after initial resistance, received a comfortable allowance from his father to pursue his artistic career. However, it was not until he was 26 that he seriously took up painting having become disenchanted with the world of commerce. Landscape painting became his passion, as did travelling, which he did throughout France and the rest of Europe. He first met Daubigny in 1852 and they travelled together to Switzerland and this was the foundation of a long-lasting friendship. After Daubigny settled in Auvers in 1860 Corot was a frequent visitor and in 1872 he bought a house in the town as a gift for Daumier, who by then was almost blind, without resources and homeless. Corot’s long career as a landscape painter saw him progress from an academic style rooted in the neo-classicism of Claude Lorraine and Nicolas Poussin to a freer, more realistic approach characterised by painting out-of-doors or en plein air. He became a leading figure in the Barbizon school, the ideals of which anticipated the work of the Impressionists.

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Honoré Daumier (1808–1879)

Originally from Marseille, he moved to Paris with his family in 1816. Resistance to his youthful ambitions to become an artist were eventually overcome and after studying at the Académie Suisse he pursued a career as a painter, sculptor, printmaker and political caricaturist. He was a friend of Corot from the 1840s and at his suggestion he began spending summer vacations in Valmondois, close to Auvers, from 1863 and he moved there permanently in 1865. They both became good friends with Daubigny and together they formed the nucleus of the artistic community in the area which subsequently fostered a new generation of artists.

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Self-portrait in the artist’s library (courtesy of Matthiesen Gallery & Stair Sainty Mattheisen)