Memoirs of Vincent Van Gogh's stay in Auvers-sur-Oise.
By Adeline Ravoux (aged 76)
Vincent Van Gogh arrived at our place at the end May 1890; I
cannot be more specific on the date from memory. It is claimed
that before this he stayed briefly at the hotel Saint Aubin
when he arrived in Auvers, but I never heard him speak of it.
You have been able to see the small bedroom that he lived in
with us, on the second floor, the room whose door faces
the staircase. Having gone to Auvers on 7th May
last, I rectified errors that the current manager made on this
subject, with respect to the bedroom on the first floor that he
had never occupied. The room in the lobby where he painted (the
“artists room” as we had called it) still exists,
although reduced by a corridor. I have given an account of my
trip to Auvers, which was published in Les Nouvelles
Littéraires of 12 August 1954.
He was a man of good build, one shoulder slightly leaning on
the side of his wounded ear, a very penetrating glance, gentle
and calm, but not a very communicative character. When one
spoke to him, he always replied with an agreeable smile. He
spoke French very correctly, hunting a bit for his words. He
never drank alcohol. I insist on this point. The day of his
suicide, he was not in the least intoxicated, as some claim.
When I later learnt that he had been interned in an asylum for
lunatics in the Midi, I was very surprised, as he always
appeared calm and gentle in Auvers. He was well respected at
our place. We called him familiarly “Monsieur
Vincent”. He never mixed with the clients of the
He took his meals with our two other boarders, who were
Tommy Hirschig (we called him Tom familiarly) and Martinez de
Valdivielse. Tommy Hirschig was a Dutch painter, to me he
seemed twenty-three or twenty-four years old; he arrived at
ours a bit after Van Gogh. He knew very little French and
continued to speak it badly for a long time, with vocabulary
mistakes that provoked foolish laughter. He was a bright lad,
not much of a worker, more preoccupied with beautiful girls
than painting. His relationship with Vincent seemed to have
been superficial. It was difficult to follow their
conversation, because they spoke in Dutch. Vincent did not seem
to take him very seriously. Hirschig left our house in Auvers a
short while after the death of Van Gogh. I think, for my part,
that it was our low rent (3,50 Francs per day) that attracted
Van Gogh to us. In any case, it certainly was not Dr. Gachet
who bought him. We had no relationship with this physician,
who I had never seen at our place before the death of
Martinez de Valdivielse was a Spanish etcher exiled from his
homeland for his Carlist opinions. He received large subsidies
from his family. Martinez had a house in Auvers and only took
his meals with us. He was a big handsome man with a long
grizzled brown beard, with a profile as on a medal. Very
vibrant and nervous, he strode the house from one end to the
other. He expressed himself very well in French and was happy
to speak to Father, whom he well respected. The first time that
he saw a canvas of Van Gogh, with his usual fire he cried:
“What pig made that?” Vincent, standing behind his
easel replied with his usual calm: “It is me,
Monsieur.” This is how they met one another.
They hit it off quite well and had long moving
conversations, especially on art and artists that they knew,
one expressing himself with fire and enthusiasm, the other with
tranquillity. I do not think that Martinez really appreciated
the painting of Van Gogh. Vincent does not in speak of him in
his letters, at least in those that have been bought to the
public knowledge. In the Van Gogh correspondence, he does not
name Dr. Gachet among his relationships. But I believe that the
legend that suggests that Vincent went to dinner there every
Sunday and Monday is probably false, or at least strongly
exaggerated, because I have no memory of repeated absences of
M. Vincent at mealtimes which he regularly took with us. In
fact, I am convinced that there were no intimate relationships
between the doctor and the artist. That is a problem on which
scholars will have to work.
He was not
a difficult boarder. The question of religion was never raised
in our house. We never saw Vincent Van Gogh either in church or
at the priest's house. I never knew any Protestants in Auvers.
Vincent did not visit anybody in the village, to the best of my
knowledge. He had few conversations with us. Father, who had
been established in Auvers only a few months before the arrival
of Vincent, was then forty-two years old. He did not hold a
conversation on art and did not discuss with him any material
On the other hand, Vincent had attached himself to my little
sister Germaine (today Mrs. Guilloux, who lives with me). She
was then a baby; two years old. Every evening, following the
meal, he took her on his knees, and drew The Sandman for
her on a slate: a horse harnessed to a cart, in which the
sandman stood upright, throwing sand by the handful. Following
this the little girl kissed everyone and went to bed.
Vincent had not spoken to me before he did my portrait,
other than for some polite words. One day, he asked me:
“Would it please you if I did your portrait?” He
appeared to really want to. I accepted and he asked my parents'
permission. I was then thirteen years, but to some I appeared
sixteen. He did my portrait in an afternoon, in one sitting.
During the sitting Vincent did not say a word to me; he smoked
his pipe non-stop.
He found me very well behaved and complimented me for not
having moved. I was not tired, but it amused me to see him
paint and I was very proud to pose for my portrait. Dressed in
blue, I was sitting on a chair. A blue ribbon held my hair. I
have blue eyes. He used blue for the background of the
portrait: it was therefore a Symphony in Blue. M.
Vincent also made a copy in a square format that he sent to his
brother, as he indicates in one of his letters. I did not see
him do this copy. There is also a third portrait of me. I don't
know this last.
What I wish to emphasize is that I only posed for one
portrait. I confess that I was only poorly satisfied with my
portrait, that I was even disappointed: I did not see a
resemblance. Nevertheless, last year, someone who came to see
me to talk about Van Gogh: the first time that they met me they
recognized me from this portrait that Vincent had done and
added: “This is not the youthful girl that you were that
Vincent saw, but the woman that you would become.”
Neither of my parents really appreciated this painting, nor did
anyone else that saw it then. At this time very few people
understood the paintings of Van Gogh. We kept this picture
until 1905, I believe, as well as that representing the Town
Hall of Auvers that Vincent had offered to Father. Again I saw
Vincent paint this last canvas, on our sidewalk in front of the
cafe: it was 14th. July; the town hall was decked
out and there was a garland of lanterns around the trees.
After fifteen years, the paint on these canvases started
flaking. We were then in Meulan. Across from our
café was the Hotel Pinchon, where some artists
were lodging; there were two Americans, Harry Harronson who
also lived in Paris, rue du Marché au Beurre, no.
2, I believe, and, in Meulan, the other was nicknamed “Le
petit pére Sam” [little father Sam]; there
was also a German and a Dutchman who claimed to be of the Van
Gogh family. They knew that Father possessed two works by Van
They asked to see them, and then later insisted that Father
give them these canvases, because, they said “The paint
is damaged and it is necessary to give them special
care.” Faced by the threat of seeing these paintings
deteriorating, Father told them: “Huh! Well, give me ten
Francs each.” Thus it is that these paintings of Vincent
Van Gogh were given up for forty francs: The Woman in
Blue and The Town Hall of Auvers on 14 July.
Van Gogh filled his days in an almost uniform way: He took
his breakfast, then at nine he left for the countryside with
his easel and his artist's box, always with his pipe in his
mouth: he was going to paint. He returned punctually at noon
for lunch. In the afternoon, he often worked on a painting in
progress, in “the painters room.” Sometimes he
worked there until dinner, sometimes he went out for four hours
until the evening meal. After dinner he played with my little
sister, drawing her the Sandman, then he immediately
went up to his bedroom. I never saw him write in the cafe: I
think that he wrote in the evening in his bedroom.
Here is what I know on his death.
That Sunday he went out immediately after breakfast, which
was unusual. At dusk he had not returned, which surprised us
very much, for he was extremely correct in his relationship
with us, he always kept regular meal hours. We were then all
sitting out on the café terrace, for on Sunday the
hustle was more tiring than on weekdays. When we saw Vincent
arrive night had fallen, it must have been about nine o'clock.
Vincent walked bent, holding his stomach, Mother
asked him: “M. Vincent, we were anxious, we are happy to
see you to return; have you had a problem?”
He replied in a suffering voice: “No, but I
have…” he did not finish, crossed the hall, took
the staircase and climbed to his bedroom. I was witness to this
scene. Vincent made such a strange impression on us that Father
got up and went to the staircase to see if he could hear
He thought he could hear groans, went up quickly and found
Vincent on his bed, laid down in a crooked position, knees up
to the chin, moaning loudly: “What's the matter,”
said Father, “are you ill?” Vincent then lifted his
shirt and showed him a small wound in the region of the heart.
Father cried: “Malheureaux, [unhappy man] what have you
“I have tried to kill myself,” replied Van
These words are precise, our father retold them many times
to my sister and I, because for our family the tragic death of
Vincent Van Gogh has remained one of the most prominent events
of our life. In his old age, Father became blind and gladly
aired his memories, and the suicide of Vincent was the one that
he told the most often and with great precision.
In parenthesis here, I want to clear up any doubt about the
fidelity of Father's memory, which was prodigious. He sometimes
told clients of our cafe his memories of the war of 1870. This
was bought to the knowledge of a chronicler of the Petit
Parisien, a specialist in historical questions - he was
called M. Saint -Yves, I believe - and the former verified
Father's accounts; all the details that he gave were confirmed:
he was never caught out with an error from his lips.
The value of Father's testimony being thus well established,
I continue the account of his memories on the death of the
great painter. I must confess that the manner in which some
biographers have spoken to me of Father has shocked me. Father
was not a vulgar man. His reputation of honesty was proverbial:
he was not called “Father Ravoux” for nothing. He
I continue therefore the account of the confidences that
Vincent Van Gogh made to Father in the course of the night of
Sunday to Monday that he spent with him.
Vincent had gone to the wheat field where he had painted
previously, it was situated behind the Auvers chateau, and then
belonged to Mr. Gosselin who resided in Paris, rue de Messine.
The chateau was more than a half-kilometer from our house. It
was reached by going up a steep hill, shaded by large trees. We
do not know how far he got from the chateau. In the course of
the afternoon, on the road that passes under the chateau wall -
so my father understood - Vincent shot himself with a revolver
and fainted. The freshness of the evening revived him. On all
fours he sought the revolver to finish himself off, but could
not find it (and it was not found the following day). Then
Vincent gave up looking and came down the hill to regain our
I never, obviously, assisted at the agony of Van Gogh, but I
was witness to most of what happened, which I am going to
After seeing his injury in the region of the heart, Father
descended rapidly from the bedroom where Vincent groaned and he
asked Tom Hirschig to go in search of a physician. In Auvers
there was a physician from Pontoise who had a pied-a-terre
where he gave consultations. This physician was absent. Father
sent then Tom to Dr.Gachet who resided in the upper part of the
town, but did not practice in Auvers.
What was Dr.Gachet's connection with Van Gogh? Father
ignored him completely, the physician had never come to the
house, and the scene in which my father assisted did not to
make him suppose any existed, in fact on the contrary.
After the physician's visit, Father told us: “Dr.
Gachet has examined Mr. Vincent and has dressed his wound with
bandages that he had himself brought” (someone had warned
him that it concerned a casualty). He judged the case hopeless
and left immediately. I am absolutely certain that he did not
return: neither that evening, nor the following day. Father
told us again: “During the examination and when he was
bandaging the wound, Dr. Gachet did not say a word to M.
After escorting the physician home, Father went up to M.
Vincent and he stayed all night. Tom Hirschig remained near
Before the arrival of the physician, Vincent had requested
his pipe and Father had lit it. He resumed smoking after the
departure of the doctor, and smoked thus a part of the night.
He appeared to suffer a lot and often moaned. He asked Father
to put his ear to his chest to see if he could hear the
gurgling of the internal hemorrhage. He remained silent almost
all the night, sometimes dozing.
In the morning of the following day, two gendarmes of the
Méry brigade, probably alerted by a public rumour,
appeared at the house. One of them, called Rigaumon, questioned
Father in an unpleasant tone: “It is here that there has
been a suicide?” Father, after begging him to soften his
manners, invited him to climb up to the bedridden man. He
preceded the gendarme into the bedroom, explaining to Vincent
that in this case that the gendarmes were here as French law
prescribed an inquiry. The gendarme then entered the room, and
Rigaumon, always in the same tone, questioned Vincent:
“Are you the one who wanted to commit suicide?”
- Yes, I believe, replies Vincent in his usual soft
- You know that you do not have the right?
Always in the same even tone Van Gogh replied:
“Gendarme, my body is mine and I am free to do what I
want with it. Do not accuse anybody, it is I that wished to
Father then asked the gendarme, a bit sharply, not to insist
Since dawn, Father had been preoccupied with how to tell
Theo, the brother of Vincent. The casualty then being lethargic
could not give precise information. (He had had a burst of
energy during the gendarme's visit that had tired him a lot.)
But, knowing that Vincent's brother was a salesman at the Art
Gallery of Boussod Valadon, boulevard Montmartre, in Paris,
Father sent a telegram to this address when the post office
opened. Theo arrived by train in the middle of the afternoon. I
remember seeing him arrive, running. The station was close
enough to us. He was a man a little smaller than Vincent, thin,
an agreeable physiognomy and he appeared very nice. But his
face was marked by sorrow. He immediately climbed up to his
brother who he kissed and spoke to him in their native
language. Father withdrew and did not help them. He did not go
back in during the night. After the emotion that he had felt on
seeing his brother, Vincent had fallen into a coma. Theo and my
father kept watch on the casualty until his death, which
occurred at one o'clock in the morning.
It was Father who, with Theo, in the morning made the
declaration of the death to the town hall.
The house was in mourning as if for the death of one of our
own. The door of the cafe remained opened but the shutters were
closed in front. In the afternoon, after the bier was set out ,
the body was bought down to “the painters
Tom had gone to pick greenery to decorate the room, and Theo
had had placed canvases that Vincent had left there all around:
The church of Auvers, Irises, The Garden of Daubigny, The
child with an orange, etc. At the foot of the coffin his
palette and brushes were laid out. Our neighbor, Mr. Levert,
the carpenter, had lent the trestles. The child of this latter,
two years old, had been painted by Van Gogh in the painting
The child with an orange.
It was also Mr. Levert who made the coffin.
Les Nouvelles littéraires has published
a photograph of our house in Auvers where one can see Father,
my sister Germaine, the Levert child and myself.
The internment took place two days later after the death, in
the afternoon. About twenty artists followed the body to the
village cemetery. Father was there as well as Tom and Martinez
and neighbors who, each day, saw M. Vincent when he went to
On the return, Theo, Tom, Dr.Gachet and the latter's son,
Paul, who may have then been sixteen, accompanied Father. They
entered “the painters room” where the coffin left
from and where the canvases were on display. Theo, wanting to
thank those that had helped his brother, offered them to take
some canvases in memory of the departed artist. Father was
content with my portrait and the Town Hall of Auvers that M.
Vincent had given him when he was alive. When the proposal was
made to Dr.Gachet, the former chose many canvases and passed
them to his son Paul: “Roulez Coco,” [Roll `em up,
Coco] telling him to make a parcel. Then Theo took my sister
Germaine to choose a toy: this was a basket of intertwined
shavings containing a small set of iron kitchen utensils.
Finally, Theo took his brother's belongings. We never saw him
Later, we learnt that he had fallen gravely ill almost
immediately after the suicide of his brother and that he was
dead some months after. His body was returned to Auvers where
it is interred next to his brother. What were the motives for
the suicide of Vincent?
Here is what Father thought: Theo had a little boy and
Vincent adored his nephew. He feared that his married brother,
having further expenses, could no longer finance him as he had
up to then. This is the motive that Theo expressed to Father
and he told him that the last letter written by Vincent was in
this sense. It has been published as No. 652 in the series of
Letters of Vincent to Theo; has it been published in its
entirety? The motive of the suicide is not discernable in the
On this confidence on Vincent's embarrassment of money, made
by Theo to Father, one finds no trace in the letters, which
tends to make me think that there are gaps in the publication
of these letters. Does the correspondence of Vincent Van Gogh
pose problems that someone wanted to avoid?
His setbacks in love or the little success of his painting,
of his life, we knew nothing and we would have certainly
ignored his financial difficulties if Theo had spoken to Father
when they took care of Vincent, because the former paid his
I have finished my account. I would like it to be published
fully and without anyone modifying the text. I have lately been
interviewed by journalists who have recorded my words less than
accurately, or have mixed my declarations with their personal
ideas, sometimes disagreeable, even going as far as to distort
what I had told them, or have used my memoirs for purposes
that, if I had known, would have made me decline the
I am without doubt the last surviving person who personally
knew Vincent Van Gogh in Auvers, and certainly the last living
witness of his final days.
It appears to me therefore that my testimony, of which all
literary preoccupation is excluded, has an essential value for
the history of the life of Vincent Van Gogh in Auvers, and
should not to be confused with fantasies that, over the years,
have been spread, I don't know by whom, nor to what goal. I add
that my testimony can not be exploited in such a manner when
writing the history of the life of Vincent, in Auvers, it is
given under the condition that the content is fully respected.
It is possible that this true eyewitness memoir is contrary to
certain now accepted legends.
But these - (and later authors who refer to them) - who have
written the history of the life of Vincent Van Gogh must admit
that it is only in 1953, on the occasion of the centenary of
the birth of the great artist, of whom the press is
preoccupied, have they discovered the woman who was called The
Lady in Blue. Thus, for sixty-three years, no retelling, by a
witness of his life, of her memories of the life of Vincent at
Auvers-sur-Oise had been researched. They have therefore built,
on disputable foundations, a legend of the life of Van Gogh in
In conscience, I have told what I have seen, then told what
I have heard from my father who, alone near Vincent, spent the
tragic night of 27 July 1890. I would like to remain persuaded
that my account is a document that is useful to preserve, and
which will serve as a reference when someone wants to write the
truthful history of the stay of Vincent Van Gogh in
At this time, Vincent was 103 year old
Adeline Ravoux. Letter to n/a. Written 1956 in Auvers-sur-Oise. Translated by Robert Harrison, edited by Robert Harrison, number htm.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.