Thanks to an old postcard, the exact place where Vincent van Gogh painted his last work, The Roots of Trees, was established. The painting was finished just a few hours before his suicide.
The investigation began in 2012, when Louis van Tilburg, a senior researcher at the Van Gogh Museum, and dendrologist Bert Mas found out that the artist’s last work was the painting The roots of trees, and not Wheatfield with crows, as previously thought. The main argument was a little-known unfinished article from 1893 by Andries Bonger. According to Bonger, the morning before he died, he painted underwood full of sun and life.
The story got a new turn when it was possible to establish the location of the trees depicted in the picture. This discovery was made by Wouter van der Ven, director of science at the Van Gogh Institute, associated with the Van Gogh House – the former Ravu hotel in Auvers, where the artist died on July 29, 1890.
Four months ago, as van der Ven was flipping through vintage postcards of Auvers, his attention was drawn to an image of a cyclist on the road. Suddenly he realized that this view was reminiscent of the composition of the painting Tree Roots. Comparing the picture with a postcard from the 1900s –1910s, he was convinced that they depict the same trees.
Because of the restrictions associated with the pandemic, van der Ven was able to reach Auvers only in May. Thanks to the signature “rue Daubigny” on the postcard, he easily found the very spot near 48. Surprisingly, the outlines of the hill and trees coincided with those captured in the painting and postcard.
This place is only 150 m, that is, a two-minute walk, from the hotel where van Gogh lived. Now it has been partially cleared, surrounded by a protective fence, and a commemorative plaque installed.
Van der Ven reconstructed the events of July 27, 1890, the day the artist fatally wounded himself. He believes that van Gogh began work on the painting that very morning, choosing a location conveniently located near the hotel. The painting is large (a meter wide), but van Gogh usually painted very quickly and probably completed it almost in one session. Then he went to the hotel to have lunch. Van der Ven believes that after that, the artist returned to Rue Daubigny and added a number of details and light effects of the afternoon sun to the canvas. And upon returning to his room in the attic, he made a fatal decision. That evening, he took a small revolver, left the hotel, and went to a wheat field at the edge of the village. He was not killed, as some researchers believe. He committed suicide.
Van der Ven talks about his discovery in detail in the new edition Attacked at the Very Root: an Investigation into Van Gogh’s Last Days, which can be downloaded for a small donation.