In Brief

Researchers Used a Century-old Postcard to Determine Where van Gogh Made His Last Painting

Wouter van der Veen, scientific director of the Institut van Gogh, noticed a striking resemblance between van Gogh’s “Tree Roots” (1890) and a postcard from Auvers-sur-Oise, where the painter took his life.

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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