|On 29 July 1890 at 1.30am, 116 years ago on Saturday, Vincent van Gogh died, aged 37, in the arms of his brother Theo in a small gloomy attic room in the village of Auvers-sur-Oise, just north of Paris.
Vincent’s doctor, Paul Gachet, who Vincent believed to be as mentally unstable as he was, made this drawing of him on his deathbed.
|The church at Auvers which Vincent had only recently painted, refused to host Vincent’s funeral and burial because Vincent had committed suicide so the service took place in the next village, MÃ©ry on 30 July. Vincent’s friend, the young painter Emile Bernard, wrote about the funeral:
The coffin was already closed. I arrived too late to see the man again who had left me four years ago so full of expectations of all kinds…
On the walls of the room where his body was laid out all his last canvases were hung making a sort of halo for him and the brilliance of the genius that radiated from them made this death even more painful for us artists who were there.
The coffin was covered with a simple white cloth and surrounded with masses of flowers, the sunflowers that he loved so much, yellow dahlias, yellow flowers everywhere. It was his favourite colour, the symbol of the light that he dreamed of being in people’s hearts as well as in works of art. Many people arrived, mainly artists, among whom I recognised Lucien Pissarro … also some local people who had known him a little, seen him once or twice and who liked him because he was so good-hearted, so human…
At three o’clock his body was moved, friends of his carrying it to the hearse, a number of people in the company were in tears. …his brother, who had always supported him in his struggle to support himself from his art was sobbing pitifully the whole time…
The sun was terribly hot outside. We climbed the hill outside Auvers [towards the cemetery] talking about him, about the daring impulse he had given to art, of the great projects he was always thinking about, and about the good he had done to all of us. We reached the … small new cemetery … on the little hill above the fields that were ripe for harvest under the wide blue sky that he would have still have loved … perhaps. Then he was lowered into the grave.
Doctor Gachet (who is a great art lover and possesses on of the best collections of impressionist painting at the present day) wanted to say a few words about Vincent and his life, but he too was weeping so much that he could only stammer a very confused farewell… He said how great an admiration he felt for him. He was, Gachet said, an honest man and a great artist, he had only two aims, humanity and art. It was art that he prized above everything and which will make his name live.
Every year on 29 July I remember Vincent lying in his brother’s arms as death finally healed him. But the legend had only just begun.
The graves of Vincent and Theo van Gogh. I have visited Vincent’s grave a number of times now and it has never failed to move me.
Without Vincent, I would not be an artist. He has been my teacher and inspiration since I first clapped eyes on ‘The Sunflowers’ at the National Gallery, London in summer 1979.