Illustrated companion

A view at Auvers-sur-Oise, the small town just north of Paris where Van Gogh spent the last few months of his life from mid-May 1890, when he left the asylum at St Remy, to his death on 29 July. At the beginning of June, Van Gogh wrote to his sister: 'there are some roofs of mossy thatch here which are superb and of which I shall certainly make something'. This picture was probably painted soon after.

Painted direct from the motif, it shows how, through the process of painting, Van Gogh transformed what he saw into something intensely personal, expressing in visual form his responses to what he saw about him. The outline of the roofs of the farm buildings and of the hills, the trunks of the trees and the outline of their foliage, are all given a dynamic bounding quality that expresses great vitality. So too does the brushwork, slashes, commas and hooks of paint. that fills the outlines.

This scene appears untroubled, but a few weeks later on, 9 July 1890, Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo describing some more recent paintings: 'they are vast stretches of corn under troubled skies and I did not need to go out of my way to try to express sadness and the extreme of loneliness'. On 27 July he wrote again: '... in my own work I am risking my life and half of my reason has already been lost in it'. This letter was never finished or posted. That day Van Gogh took his equipment and went out into the fields to paint as usual. He also took with him a revolver with which he shot himself. The wound was not immediately fatal; he managed to crawl home and died two days later. He had sold only one painting in his lifetime, to a fellow artist a few months before his death.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.111