The old town of Auvers and the adjacent communities of Chaponval and Valhermeil form an elongated maze of narrow streets, lanes and footpaths and to get a good impression of the place inevitabley means a lot of walking, some of which is up-hill and down-dale. The local tourist organisation has thoughtfully erected a series of display panels around the town featuring the works of Cézanne, Van Gogh and others and these panels will be used to punctuate the walks around the town. They are indicated by numberd symbols on the map and in the text. However, at almost every turn, the visitor will be confronted with views that may well have been the inspiration for the hundreds of paintings produced by a progression of artists over the years.
Walk 1 – The Church and the Old Town
It is assumed that most visitors to the town will arrive at the railway station and so that is the starting point for this first walk. Outside the station, cross the main road (Rue Charles de Gaulle) and turn left. Almost immediately there is a panel  on the wall of a house with an attractive garden and this was the subject of a canvas by Van Gogh called Le Jardin de Daubigny. In fact the house was owned by Daubigny but he never lived in it. The buildings have changed a little over the years but the view is still easily recogniseable.
Walk down the road towards the centre of town and on the right-hand side there is a small formal garden with a statue of Van Gogh – not the most elegant memorial to this giant in the history of nineteenth century painting. A little further along is the town hall square on the left side and here there is another display panel  featuring Van Gogh’s painting of the building decked out with flags and bunting for the 14th of July celebrations in 1890 (La Mairie d’Auvers). The cobbles have been replaced by tarmac and the inevitable car park but it is only the intrusion of vehicles and street furniture that gives away the passage of time.
Walk 2 – Towards Chaponval and Valhermeil
This walk extends westwards from the old town towards Chaponval and Valhermeil and by its nature it is a long stroll through the town in one direction but with plenty to divert and entertain on the way including more display panels and a couple of museums. The reader then has a choice of returning on foot or by train.
Starting outside the tourist information office turn left into Rue Daubigny walking uphill and then turn left into Rue de Léry. Proceed along this road, passing the Musée de l’Absinthe on the left, and then under a stone archway until a major junction is reached with the Château d’Auvers on the right. This impressive building houses a multi-media experience devoted to the lives and works of the Impressionists. There are no original works of art on display but if a general and entertaining evocation of the belle epoch, with not too much foot-slogging, sounds appealing then this may be worth a diversion. There are magnificent views from the grounds across the rooftops of the town towards the river Oise. There is also a themed café and souvenir shop.
A few steps further along the road meets the Rue Rémy and on the left corner there is a panel  showing Rue de Village à Auvers by Camille Corot. It is a bit difficult to decide exactly where the artist stood for this painting as the appearance of houses and street have changed considerably but a few details seem to match when looking back up the Rue Docteur Gachet. It is also at this spot, where several roads converge, that Cézanne painted Carrefour de la rue Rémy à Auvers in 1873 and the content of this picture is much easier to identify.
here turn left and then almost immediately right into Rue François
Coppée and follow this road passing the footpath Sente des Clos on the
right. Just before the junction with Rue René Blanc on the left (a
street named after another notable artist who lived and worked in
Auvers), there is a display panel  showing Cézanne’s painting Route de Village à Auvers.
Here the road layout gives the clue as to where the artist positioned
himself. Cottages on the left are still identifiable as is the white
house in the centre of the picture but other buildings on the right have
Directly across the road is the Auberge Ravoux which is still a restaurant and above which Van Gogh occupied a tiny, spartan room for the time he was in Auvers and in which he finally died. The upper floor of the building has been sensitively converted into a small museum with the artist’s bedroom as its focal point – “not much to see, but everything to feel”. Turn right up the side of the Auberge and here is the entrance to the museum and also a panel  showing Van Gogh’s portrait of the landlord’s daughter (Portrait d’Adeline Ravoux).
Continue up this lane and a stepped pathway will be seen which connects with the Rue Daubigny and this was the subject of a painting by Van Gogh called L’éscalier d’Auvers (avec cinq personnes). There is a display panel  on a wall to the left and the scene is largely unchanged and little imagine is required to step back more than a century, although people walking through the view are more likely to be tourists and parked vehicles do tend to compromise the illusion. The tourist information office is housed in an impressive building on the left and this is also the home of the Musée Daubigny which is well worth a visit.
From the entrance gates of the château cross over the main road and turn right into Rue Victor Hugo. This winds its way through a charming area of the town with very little traffic and with opportunities for photographs or paintings at almost every turn – much the same as it was for Cézanne and Van Gogh. The lane becomes the Rue Boucher and then the Rue Docteur Gachet and eventually the doctor’s house will be reached on the right. On the wall outside there is a display panel  showing Van Gogh’s portrait of Doctor Gachet. The house and garden, like the Atelier Daubigny, were at the heart of artistic endeavours in the town and provided the setting for several works by Cézanne including La maison de Dr. Gachet, Auvers, and Van Gogh painted members of the family both indoors and out including Madamoiselle Gachet dans son jardin à Auvers-sur-Oise and Marguerite Gachet at the Piano.
If there is still an appetite for more walking then return along Rue de Chaponval to the junction with Rue des Ruelles and turn left. Pass the display panel previously described and where the road forks, bear left down the Rue Simone le Danois. Along this stretch there are the ruins of the thirteenth century chapel of St. Nicolas on the right with the wooded hillside behind. The road now turns into the Rue des Roches and continue in the same direction until the junction with Rue du Valhermeil is reached.
Here is it possible to make a short detour to the left along the busy main road towards Pontoise where there is a panel  showing Pissarro’s Paysage à Chaponval. Continuing down this road would eventually lead to Pontoise passing several other display panels on route which are described in the Pontoise chapter.
Returning in the direction of Auvers, turn left into Rue du Valhermeil and continue along this road until the display panel  showing Rue à Auvers by Camille Pissarro is reached. A little further along the Rue du Valhermeil bears to the right and close by is a further panel  showing Van Gogh’s La ferme en été. This is the last of the panels erected by the tourist organisation but many more pictures were painted in this district by Pissarro, Cézanne and Van Gogh, amongst others.
is at this point that the decision has to be made as to how to end the
walk. If the feet have had enough the best option is to retrace steps to
the station at Chaponval. If, however, stamina and enthusiasm for more
walking are still available then the following route back to Auvers is
The Sente des Jardins joins the Rue du Valhermeil on the right and turn down here for a very short distance until a lane called Chemin du Gobelin branches off to the left. This delightful country lane passes through fields, farms and woodland running parallel to the main road downhill to the right. Carry on past the junctions with Chemin des Justices and Chemin des Houx Valhermeil on the left and the Sente du Clos Parent on the right. The name of the lane now changes to Chemin des Glaises and continue along here passing the junction with Chemin des Voies on the left and then turn right onto Chemin des Meulières. Bear to the right down this pathway and this eventually joins the Rue des Meulières. This has now joined the route previously described but going in the other direction and it is suggested that this is followed back to the centre of Auvers.
Above: Le jardin de Daubigny, 1890, Van Gogh (courtesy of Kunstmuseum Basel/ www.kunstmuseumbasel.ch)
Right: La Marie d’Auvers, 1890, Van Gogh
Bear to the right up the incline or climb the steps to join the Rue Daubigny and continue right along this quiet road until the church of Notre-Dame is reached. Walk around the outside of the church, passing the statue of Charles-François Daubigny with palette and brush in hand, and turn left into the Rue Ferdinand Mesny. This brings the next display panel  into view which shows Van Gogh’s L’église d’Auvers-sur-Oise. It is remarkable how the prospect of the ancient church has remained almost unchanged, with minor differences probably explained by artistic licence on the part of the Van Gogh. Being away from the main road, traffic noise is at a minimum and birdsong predominates. This is a truely peaceful place which is in sharp contrast to the artist’s painting where his turbulent mental state is clearly evident on the canvas.
Carry on up the hill and bear right into Rue Emile Bernard, a road which leads out of town towards open fields and the cemetery. When the boundary of the graveyard is reached there is a display panel  showing La pluie or Paysage à Auvers sous la pluie by Van Gogh and to a large extent the view remains recogniseable. The cottage roofs jutting up above the brow of the ploughed field are still there, as is the line of trees. The main difference is in the far distance where the open hillsides are now heavily wooded with new housing developments emerging from the trees.
Portrait d’Adeline Ravoux, 1890,
Van Gogh (Private collection)
L’éscalier d’Auvers (avec cinq personnes), 1890, Van Gogh
(courtesy of Saint Louis Art Museum/www.slam.org)
The cemetery is not only the last resting place for Vincent and Theo Van Gogh, but also for several other artists of note including Norbert Goeneutte, Emilio Boggio and Eugène Murer and there is also a memorial tablet for Otto Freundlich who was deported and died in a concentration camp in the Second World War. The simple gravestones of the Van Gogh brothers, side-by-side, are moving memorials to a man of genius and his brother who loved and cared for him and made it possible for that genius to flourish.
Left: L’église d’Auvers-sur-Oise, 1890, Van Gogh
(courtesy of Musée d’Orsay, Paris/www.musee-orsay.fr)
Above: La pluie or Paysage à Auvers sous la pluie, 1890,
Van Gogh (courtesy of National Museum of Wales, Cardiff/ www.museumwales.ac.uk)
Leave the cemetery and take the farm road to the left (Chemin des Vallées à Butry) and another display panel  will be visible in the distance. This shows Van Gogh’s painting Le champ de blé aux corbeaux and during harvest-time when the fields are full of ripening wheat the scene will be very much the same. It is a tranquil landscape not reflected in the artists tormented picture which is a graphic illustration of his state of mind. It was shortly after completing this painting that Vincent attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chest, probably close to this spot, and died a few days later.
Le champ de blé aux corbeaux, 1890, Van Gogh
(courtesy of Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam/ www.vangoghmuseum.nl)
Continue along this farm track with the church and town downhill on the left and open fields on the right and then descend through the woods to join Rue Daubigny and turn left here. Almost immediately opposite is the Atelier Daubigny, the artist’s home and studio which is open to the public from March until the end of October but it is wise to check times before planning a visit. The studio provides a fascinating insight into the working life of an artist in the nineteenth century and the whole house is decorated with murals done by Daubigny, his family and his friends, including Corot and Daumier. The garden is delightful and it doesn’t take much imagination to picture a gathering of the artistic community discussing their endeavours and putting the world to rights.
This is probably a good place to end the first part of the exploration of the town, perhaps taking advantage of one of the many cafés or restaurants on the Rue Charles de Gaulle.
Dr Paul Gachet, 1890, Van Gogh (courtesy of Musée d’Orsay, Paris/ www.musee-orsay.fr)
A little further along on the left side of the road where there is a junction with Rue de Four there is a panel  set in front of an untidy hedge. This shows Van Gogh’s Maisons à Auvers but the bushes slightly obscure the view from this elevated position. However it is possible to identify the range of cottage roofs in the centre of the picture but the thatched dwelling on the left has been rebuilt as a two storey house with a tiled roof.
Only a few paces more and the place where Cézanne painted his famous picture La Maison du Pendu (The House of the Hanged Man) is reached and this is marked by another display panel . In most respects the scene today is much the same as when the artist painted it. The house has been renovated and the roofline may be a little different but Cézanne would still recognise the view. This is a very significant painting in the artist’s career and was included in the first Impressionist exhibition and it is also the first one he sold to a collector. It was often exhibited during his lifetime and for someone who was very reluctant to expose his work to public scutiny, it indicates that he was at least satisfied with this work.
Rue de Village à Auvers, 1852–53, Corot (Private collection)
Route de Village à Auvers, 1872-73, Cézanne (courtesy of Musée d’Orsay, Paris/www.musee-orsay.fr)
Maisons à Auvers, 1890, Van Gogh
(courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston/ www.mfa.org)
At the fork in the road bear left down Rue des Meulières and then turn left into Rue du Gré on the left side. Almost immediately a narrow lane joins the road on the right and at the corner there is a panel  showing Van Gogh’s Maisons à Auvers. Although the buildings have changed a little, the end wall with its shuttered window and chimney stack is recogniseable. The low range of out-houses on the right has gone and the thatched cottages on the left have been remodelled and the roofs are now tiled.
A couple of steps further down the lane there is a display panel  showing Les Chaumes du Gré à Chaponval by Van Gogh. It is possible to pick out the building on the extreme left as number 7 and the stone building on the right, but the low thatched cottages in-between have been rebuilt or demolished. However, this little lane really does evoke the atmosphere of over a century ago.
La Maison du Pendu, 1873, Cézanne (courtesy of Musée d’Orsay, Paris/www.musee-orsay.fr)
Maisons à Auvers, 1890, Van Gogh (courtesy of Toledo Museum of Art/www.toledomuseum.org)
Return to Rue des Meulières and turn left and continue along the road until the junction with Rue de Chaponval is reached on the left. It is at this point that a decision should be made as to how much more walking is possible. If the feet are screaming ‘enough’ the railway station of Chaponval is only a short distance away and from here it is possible to return to Auvers or on to either Valmondois for the train connection to Gare du Nord or to Pontoise in the other direction for the connections to Paris by overground railway or the RER line. Having raised the prospect of immediate pedal relief it should be noted that there are a further two display panels within easy reach before taking the train.
Les Chaumes du Gré à Chaponval, 1890, Van Gogh
(courtesy of Kunsthaus, Zurich/www.kunsthaus.ch)
The first of these is a short distance up Rue des Ruelles which is the road that carries straight on at the junction with Rue de Chaponval. A display panel  is set into a wall on the right and shows Daubigny’s Un chemin à Auvers-sur-Oise which he painted in 1872. Looking back down the lane it is possible to identify one or two of the buildings but the real similarity between the picture and present-day reality is the timeless atmosphere of peace and tranquility.
If the train now beckons, return down the lane and turn right into Rue de Chaponval. The railway station is just across the main road on the right side. However, this road continues down to the riverbank and it was here that Henri Rousseau (Le Douanier) made one of the rare excursions from his Paris studio to paint ‘en plein air’. There is a display panel  showing Bords d’Oise à Chaponval but sadly, at the time of writing, this had been badly vandalised and it is very difficult to make out the details of the picture and, combined with Rousseau’s naive style, it is almost impossible to see what the artist saw.
Un chemin à Auvers-sur-Oise, 1872, Daubigny
Bords d’Oise à Chaponval, 1905, Rousseau (courtesy of Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Mass./ www.smith.edu)
Paysage à Chaponval, 1880, Pissarro (courtesy of Musée d’Orsay, Paris/www.musee-orsay.fr)
Rue à Auvers, 1880, Pissarro (Private collection/ courtesy of www.camille-pissarro.org)
La ferme en été, 1890, Van Gogh (courtesy of Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam/www.vangoghmuseum.nl)