Auvers-sur-Oise is a town of ghosts. Among the summer tourists and art-loving pilgrims who visit Auvers from all over the world drift long-dead artists with folding easels and boxes of paints, who a century ago would disembark every week at the small railway station. Some are admiringly remembered: Cézanne, Corot, Pissarro. Others, such as Charles-François Daubigny, in his day the most celebrated artist of all, are now little more than a footnote in the history of art and a bronze bust in the town center.
Down the winding streets or on the river bank, by the towering church or in the sober graveyard, visitors can sense these anxious ghosts in oil-smeared smocks trying to draw their attention to a field, a tree, a house that once captured the painterly eye and, in spite of two World Wars and countless real-estate developers, still stands seemingly immutable. Above all, however, the presence most strongly felt is that of an anguished and impoverished visionary who came to Auvers in the spring of 1890 and died 10 weeks later from a self-inflicted gun wound: Vincent van Gogh.
Van Gogh arrived in Auvers looking for a place to work and to free himself from the nightmares of the asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence to which, suffering from hallucinatory fits, he had chosen to commit himself a year earlier. Theo, his beloved brother, had suggested Auvers not only because it was a well-known artists' colony but because (as Pissarro had told him) here lodged the art-loving Dr. Paul Ferdinand Gachet, an amateur painter and homeopathic physician, who could look after him and follow his convalescence. Van Gogh found cheap lodgings at the Café de la Mairie (today renamed Auberge Ravoux after its then owner), where for three francs fifty a day he had a small room under the rafters and three meals a day. The only cure for his hallucinations, the doctor assured him, was to paint.