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Postcard “Rue Daubigny, Auvers-sur-Oise” superimposed with parts of the painting “Tree Roots” (1890) by Vincent van Gogh (©arthénon)

In one of the most captivating artistic discoveries made amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a researcher has pinpointed the likely location of Vincent van Gogh’s final painting, “Tree Roots” (1890).

Wouter van der Veen, the scientific director of the Institut van Gogh, noticed the oil painting’s clear resemblance to a portion of a postcard from the French town of Auvers-sur-Oise, where the Dutch painter took his life in 1890. Dated between 1900-1910, the postcard shows mangled tree roots growing out of the hillside; when superimposed onto the photograph, the painting seems to be a perfect match. When France lifted its COVID-19 lockdown this May, Van der Veen was able to visit the spot and found the large trunk still looked as it had over a century ago.

Van Gogh, “Tree Roots” (1890) (Collection: Van Gogh Museum, Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

Van der Veen submitted his findings to two senior researchers at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Louis van Tilborgh and Teio Meedendorp. The pair believes there is a “high plausibility” that the the hillside in the town where van Gogh spent the last 70 days of his life, was the same as the motif in “Tree Trunks,” which belongs to the museum’s collection. Their research was consulted by dendrologist Bert Maes.

Postcard “Rue Daubigny, Auvers-sur-Oise” in which the painting “Tree Roots” (1890) by Van Gogh was recognized, in grayscale, 1900-1910 (©arthénon)

Meedendorp calls the find a “remarkable discovery.”

“On closer observation, the overgrowth on the postcard shows very clear similarities to the shape of the roots on Van Gogh’s painting,” he said in a press release. “This area had already been documented by Van Gogh in other paintings. He must often have passed by the location when going to the fields stretching out behind the castle of Auvers, where he painted several times during the last week of his life and where he would take his own life.”

The hillside in Auvers-sur-Oise on May 30, 2020 (©arthénon)

The site is also consistent with Van Gogh’s habit of painting motifs from his immediate surroundings,” said van Der Veen. He adds that the “sunlight painted by Van Gogh indicates that the last brush strokes were painted towards the end of the afternoon,” contributing further information about van Gogh’s last hours.

The Institut van Gogh has since worked with local authorities to build a protective wooden structure around the site.

The hillside in Auvers-sur-Oise in June of 2020 (©arthénon)

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Jasmine Weber

Jasmine Weber is Hyperallergic's news editor. She is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn, particularly interested in Black art histories and visual culture....

One reply on “Researchers Used a Century-old Postcard to Determine Where van Gogh Made His Last Painting”

  1. I’m becoming very tired, and annoyed too, by the constant replication of the myth that Vincent “took his own life”. There is a considerable amount of circumstantial evidence that he was the unfortunate victim of an accidental / careless gun discharge. The angle, the targeted area (neither being normal for a suiciding person) and additionally his emotional disposition on that very day. There is no evidence that he was in a suicidal phase. No explanation as to how he got a gun, or for how long he had it, or where it went thereafter.
    It was a wound he could have survived if he had actually been given correct medical treatment. The notion that his death from an otherwise non-fatal gunshot was suicide – was generated in the minds of the entire village – initiated by just few gossipers with some nasty attitude problems towards his eccentricities.
    That myth has stuck through endless repeated repetitions by thousands of otherwise-reputable news outlets, books, and online art magazines.
    Can we PLEASE stop mindlessly replicating this likely falsehood, and at the very least report some other viewpoints. “His alleged suicide” would be better than nothing.
    If we can take enough care to remove racist and ableist labels, then we can take enough care to set this record straight on Vincent Van Gogh as well.
    Be a leader. Make the change. Thank you.

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