• gerard van weyenbergh

Revelations on Van Gogh's final painting

The scientific director of the Van Gogh Institute, Wouter van der Veen located the place where Vincent van Gogh painted his final painting. He shares his discovery with Le Journal des Arts before its official revelation in Auvers-Sur-Oise and in a work to be published: Attaqué à la Racine ( attacked at the roots) published by Arthénon.

You located the place where Van Gogh painted his final painting, how did you make this discovery?

In January, I digitized a series of old postcards representing Auvers-Sur-Oise to redo the audiovisual presentation of Auberge Ravoux. I had put aside some files that I sorted during containment. I came across a map from the Belle Epoque, which depicts a man on rue Daubigny next to an impressive set of roots on a roadside. Looking at this image for a long time, it clicked: I had a piece of Van Gogh's latest painting in front of me. I compared with Racines, painted the day he died, and it stuck. I tried to refute this theory, but it stood up to scrutiny. I know Auvers well so I quickly located the place, which is about 150 meters from the Auberge Ravoux.

As I was confined to my home in Alsace I could not travel to verify, so I searched the internet for a current view of this portion of the street. We guessed that there was still something in place even though it was overgrown with ivy. I asked Dominique-Charles Janssens, the president of the Van Gogh Institute, who was in Auvers if he could go there. He took pictures and made a film. It was incredible because everything stuck: the postcard, the painting, and the current state of the site. Even if the stump has transformed a bit, the main piece of the painting is still in place; it is a large stump that holds the hill and looks like an elephant.

Have you submitted this discovery to other specialists?

Yes, I submitted my theory to researchers at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. At first, they reacted with a certain reserve. They studied it and then passed it on to their official dendrologist Bert Maes, a specialist in historic trees who had previously worked on this painting. It was his opinion a few weeks later that tipped the hypothesis into virtual certainty.

So the question arose of the protection of the place?

Yes, this place, which yesterday was only a piece of wood at a private home, becomes from July 28 an essential piece of cultural heritage since it is the last natural vestige painted by Van Gogh that is still visible. The owner allowed us to quickly set up a wooden structure to protect it before installing a metal grid to preserve this piece of heritage from vandalism. It is now a new station on the route of pilgrims who love Van Gogh and who come to pay homage to him. They will be able to stand exactly where he painted his very last painting on the day of his death.

Racines has long been misunderstood, analyzed as an abstract work, how does this discovery modify its interpretation?

In 2012, the Van Gogh Museum already published an article that questions this dimension of abstraction. The discovery of the site strengthens the figurative character of the work because even if the shapes are exaggerated and the colors arbitrary, all the elements of the painting can be explained by the motif. In reality, Van Gogh is doing here what he has always done: he paints what he has in front of his eyes.

Does this discovery also provide information on the last day of the artist?

Until now, we did not know what he had done in the afternoon. But the location of the roots, right next to the Auberge Ravoux, and the lighting of the painting, which is that of a fairly low westerly light at the end of the afternoon, reveal to us that he worked all the day on this board. For me, this chronology definitively invalidates the already hazardous and far-fetched thesis of the murder of Van Gogh following a chance meeting in the afternoon. The more that this painting by its subject, on which Van Gogh has already written in the past that it is a metaphor of the struggle for life, and its incompleteness is totally akin to a pictorial farewell letter.

Article from the Le Journal des arts