TREE ROOTS, THE STRUGGLE TO IDENTIFY THE SUBJECT MATTER

An enigmatic last work

The incredible story of the discovery of the site where Van Gogh painted his last work starts in January 2020. While working on an update of the audio-visual guide to the Auberge Ravoux, Wouter van der Veen, the scientific director of the Institut Van Gogh, was looking through a collection of old post cards kindly lent to him by Jeanine Demuriez. He was struck by one post card featuring an unfamiliar perspective of Rue Daubigny.

View dating back to
1900-1910

This unusual perspective shows a young man standing next to his bicycle, which has a flat tyre. To the cyclist’s left, Rue Daubigny winds down to a plot of land planted with young trees. To his right is an impressive collection of trunks and roots spread over a limestone slope - a perfectly common sight in Auvers-sur-Oise.

Racines, Auvers-sur-Oise, carte postale 1900-1910

For almost seven kilometers, in fact, 1he village stretches between the river for which it was named and the French Vexin plateau. For centuries, these often-eroded rocky outcrops have been planted with coppiced trees, mainly elms and acacias, serving the dual purpose of providing a steady supply of wood and preserving the stability of the terrain.

Racines, détails

Tree Roots, a typical scene

The last painting by Van Gogh, Tree Roots, features such a typical collection of roots and coppiced trunks against a limestone background. The painting has always been difficult to explain and Van der Veen was pleased to find an example of what Van Gogh could have been depicting in this important but mysterious work. He had no idea of the revelation that would follow.
The post card of Rue Daubigny and its unfortunate cyclist was scanned for possible future use, then put aside and forgotten.