CARAVAN's Founding President, Paul-Gordon Chandler, is providing a series of reflections on works of art along the themes of “Inspiring, Transcendent, Contemplative, Enriching, and Imaginative.” Below he focuses on “Transcendent Art.”
Vincent van Gogh, The Church at Auvers, 1890
Oil on canvas, 74 × 94 cm
This painting now hangs in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, France.
I was first introduced to this painting when I took a pilgrimage some years ago to Vincent van Gogh’s grave in the French village of Auvers-sur-Oise, a northwestern suburb of Paris. The local church in the painting is directly across the street from the cemetery where he and his brother Theo are buried.
The Church at Auvers is one of van Gogh’s last paintings before his untimely death, and it reflects his experience of institutional religion. The way in which he contrasted darkness and light in different areas of the painting is highly emotive, creating a powerful mood. While the foreground of the painting is brightly lit by the sun, the church itself sits in its own shadow, and as he wrote, "neither reflects nor emanates any light of its own." There are also no doors shown. It looks like a closed, dark and unwelcoming place.
I can visualize van Gogh, while painting this scene, reflecting on his own life experience with established religion, and his decision to focus more on spirituality, expressed through his art. Interestingly, this painting presents diverging paths in the foreground, reminding the viewer that we all have a choice as to which life path we take…one of love and embrace, or one of exclusion.