For some time Theo had been looking around for a suitable place - near Paris and yet in the country - where Vincent could live under the care of a physician who would at the same time be a friend to him. On Pissarro's recommendation he finally found this at Auvers sur Oise, an hour by train from Paris; Dr. Gachet, who in his youth had been a friend of Cézanne, Pissarro and the other impres-sionists, lived there.
Vincent returned from the South on May 17, 1890. First he was going to spend a few days with us in Paris. A telegram from Tarascon informed us that he was going to travel that night and would arrive at ten in the morning. That night Theo could not sleep for anxiety lest something happen to Vincent on the way; he had only just recovered from a long and serious attack, and had refused to be accompanied by anyone. How thankful we were when it was at last time for Theo to go to the station!
From the Cité Pigalle to the Gare de Lyon was a long distance; it seemed an eternity before they came back. I was beginning to be afraid that something had happened when at last I saw an open fiacre enter the Cité; two merry faces nodded to me, two hands waved - a moment later Vincent stood before me.
I had expected a sick man, but here was a sturdy, broad-shouldered man, with a healthy colour, a smile on his face, and a very resolute appearance; of all the self-portraits, the one before the easel is most like him at that period. Appar-ently there had again come the sudden puzzling change in his condition that the Reverend Mr. Salles had already observed to his great surprise at Arles.
“He seems perfectly well; he looks much stronger than Theo,” was my first thought.
Then Theo drew him into the room where our little boy's cradle was; he had been named after Vincent. Silently the two brothers looked at the quietly sleeping baby - both had tears in their eyes. Then Vincent turned smilingly to me and said, pointing to the simple crocheted cover on the cradle, “Do not cover him too much with lace, little sister.”
He stayed with us three days, and was cheerful and lively all the time. St. Rémy was not mentioned. He went out by himself to buy olives, which he used to eat every day and which he insisted on our eating too. The first morning he was up very early and was standing in his shirt sleeves looking at his pictures, of which our apartment was full. The walls were covered with them - in the bedroom, the “Orchards in Bloom”; in the dining room over the mantelpiece, the &ldPotato Eaters”; in the sitting room (salon was too solemn a name for that cosy little room), the great &ldLandscape from Arles” and the “Night View on the Rhône.” Besides, to the great despair of our femme de ménage, there were under the bed, under the sofa, under the cupboards in the little spare room, huge piles of un-framed canvases; they were now spread out on the ground and studied with great attention.
We also had many visitors, but Vincent soon perceived that the bustle of Paris did him no good, and he longed to set to work again. So he started on May 21 for Auvers, with an introduction to Dr. Gachet, whose faithful friendship was to become his greatest support during the short time he spent at Auvers. We promised to come and see him soon, and he also wanted to come back to us in a few weeks to paint our portraits. In Auvers he lodged at an inn and went to work immediately.
The hilly landscape with the sloping fields and thatched roofs of the village pleased him, but what he enjoyed most was having models and again painting figures. One of the first portraits he painted was of Dr. Gachet, who immediately felt great sympathy for Vincent. They spent most of their time together and became great friends - a friendship not ended by death, for Dr. Cachet and his children continued to honour Vincent's memory with rare piety, which became a form of worship, touching in its simplicity and sincerity.
“The more I think of it, the more I think Vincent was a giant. Not a day passes that I do not look at his pictures. I always find there a new idea, something different each day...I think again of the painter and I find him a colossus. Besides, he was a philosopher...” Gachet wrote to Theo shortly after Vincent's death. Speaking of the latter's love for art, he said, “Love of art is not exact; one must call it faith - a faith that maketh martyrs!” None of his contemporaries had understood him better.
It was curious to note that Dr. Cachet himself somewhat resembled Vincent physically (he was much older), and his son Paul - then a boy of fifteen years - looked somewhat like Theo.
The Gachet house, built on a hill, was full of pictures and antiques, which received but scanty daylight through the small windows; in front of the house there was a splendid terraced flower garden, at the back a large yard where all kinds of ducks, hens, turkeys and peacocks walked about in the company of four or five cats. It was the home of an original, but an original of great taste. The doctor no longer practiced in Auvers, but had an office in Paris where he held consulta-tions several days a week; the rest of the time he painted and etched in his room, which looked like the workshop of an alchemist of the Middle Ages.
Soon after, on June 10, we received an invitation from him to spend a whole day in Auvers and bring the baby. Vincent came to meet us at the train, and he brought a bird's nest as a plaything for his little nephew and namesake. He insisted upon carrying the baby himself and had no rest until he had shown him all the animals in the yard. A too-loudly crowing cock made the baby red in the face with fear and made him cry; Vincent cried laughingly, “The cock crows cocorico,” and was very proud that he had introduced his little namesake to the animal world. We lunched in the open air, and afterward took a long walk; the day was so peacefully quiet, so happy, that nobody would have suspected how tragically our happiness was to be destroyed a few weeks later. Early in July, Vincent visited us once more in Paris. We were exhausted by a serious illness of the baby; Theo was again considering the old plan of leaving Goupil and setting up in business for himself; Vincent was not satisfied with the place where the pictures were kept, and our removal to a larger apartment was talked of - so those were days of much worry and anxiety. Many friends came to visit Vincent - among others Aurier, who had recently written his famous article about Vincent 8 and now came again to look at the pictures with the painter himself. Toulouse Lautrec stayed for lunch and made many jokes with Vincent about an undertaker's man they had met on the stairs. Guillaumin was also expected, but it became too much for Vincent, so he did not wait for this visit but hurried back to Auvers - overtired and excited, as his last letters and pictures show, in which the threaten-ing catastrophe seems approaching like the ominous black birds that dart through the storm over the wheat fields.
“I hope he is not getting melancholy or that a new attack is threatening again, everything has gone so well lately,” Theo wrote to me on July 20, after he had taken the baby and me to Holland and had returned to Paris for a short time, until he also could take a vacation. On July 25 he wrote to me, “I have a letter from Vincent which seems quite incomprehensible; when will there come a happy time for him? He is so thoroughly good.” That happy time was never to come for Vincent; fear of an impending attack or the attack itself drove him to death.
On the evening of July 27 he shot himself with a revolver. Dr. Gachet wrote that same evening to Theo: “With the greatest regret I must disturb your repose. Yet I think it my duty to write to you immediately. At nine o'clock in the evening of today, Sunday, I was sent for by your brother Vincent, who wanted to see me at once. I went there and found him very ill. He has wounded himself...as I did not know your address and he refused to give it to me, this note will reach you through Goupil.” Consequently, the letter did not reach Theo until the next morning; he immediately started for Auvers. From there he wrote to me the same day, July 28, &ldThis morning a Dutch painter 9 who also lives in Auvers brought me a letter from Dr. Gachet that contained bad news about Vincent and asked me to come. Leaving everything, I went and found him somewhat better than I expected. I will not write the particulars, they are too sad, but you must know, dearest, that his life may be in danger...
“He was glad that I came and we are together all the time...poor fellow, very little happiness fell to his share, and no illusions are left him. The burden grows too heavy at times, he feels so alone. He often asks after you and the baby, and said that you could not imagine there was so much sorrow in life. Oh! if we could only give him some new courage to live. Don't get too anxious; his condi-tion has been just as hopeless before, but his strong constitution deceived the doctors.” This hope proved idle. Early in the morning of July 29 Vincent passed away.
Theo wrote to me, “One of his last words was, `I wish I could pass away like this,' and his wish was fulfilled. A few moments and all was over. He had found the rest he could not find on earth...The next morning there came from Paris and elsewhere eight friends who decked the room where the coffin stood with his pictures, which came out wonderfully. There were many flowers and wreaths. Dr. Gachet was the first to bring a large bunch of sunflowers, because Vincent was so fond of them...
“He rests in a sunny spot amid the wheat fields...”
From a letter of Theo's to his mother: “One cannot write how grieved one is nor find any comfort. It is a grief that will last and which I certainly shall never forget as long as I live; the only thing one might say is that he himself has the rest he was longing for…Life was such a burden to him; but now, as often happens, everybody is full of praise for his talents...Oh Mother! he was so my own, own brother.”
Theo's frail health was broken. Six months later, on January 25, 1891, he followed his brother.
They rest side by side in the little cemetery amid the wheat fields of Auvers.
J. VAN GOGH-BONGER
- First line of a well-known Dutch poem.
- Famous Dutch painter, living in London.
- Amsterdam weekly, popularly called “De Groene” [The Green One.]
- Norwegian painter, then in Paris.
- “Paul Gauguin” by Chas. Morice, Mercure de France, 1903.
- Émile Bernard, Paris, 1901, Letters of V. van Gogh.
- “Les Isolés,” Mercure de France, 1890.
- Anton Hirschig.