Clue to Van Gogh's Final Hours Was Hiding in Plain Sight

Postcard pinpoints the exact place where he painted 'Tree Roots'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 29, 2020 1:02 PM CDT
Old Postcard Holds Clue to Van Gogh's Final Hours
This image of a postcard made available by the Van Gogh Museum shows a faded picture postcard featuring a man standing next to a bicycle on a back street of the village of Auvers-sur-Oise.   (Van Gogh Museum via AP)

The exact location where Vincent van Gogh painted his last work has been pinpointed after being hidden in plain view for years among a tangle of roots next to a rural lane near Paris. Experts say the discovery sheds new light on the anguished painter's mental state on the day in 1890 that he is widely believed to have fatally shot himself. A Dutch researcher realized that the scene depicted in the troubled artist’s final work, “Tree Roots,” was visible on a faded picture postcard featuring a man standing next to a bicycle on a back street of the village of Auvers-sur-Oise. Van Gogh spent the last weeks of his life in the village and completed dozens of paintings there. Helpfully, the card even included the name of the street.

The discovery by Wouter van der Veen, scientific director of the Van Gogh Institute in France, provides a new glimpse of the artist in his final hours. "One thing that is very clear is that he spent quite a bit longer working on this painting right through the afternoon. We know that from the light fall in the work,” the museum's director, Emilie Gordenker, told the AP in a telephone interview. “He really was at work right up to to the end.” According to the museum’s version of Van Gogh’s life, after working on “Tree Roots” the artist walked into a nearby field of wheat later in the day and shot himself in the chest with a pistol. He died two days later at age 37. Van der Veen believes his discovery shows that Van Gogh had his wits about him before he pulled the trigger. "So it was a lucid decision. It was not a fit of madness.” (Read more on the discovery, including how the pandemic played a part in facilitating it, here.)

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