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THE AUBERGE RAVOUX ~ THE HOUSE OF VAN GOGH

The Auberge Ravoux ~ The House of Van Gogh

by VanGoghology

The absolute heroes of the Maison de Van Gogh are Roger and Micheline Tagliana, who purchased the building in 1952 and effectively saved it from further degradation.

This seemingly inconsequential inn, which once housed the greatest post-impressionist artist in history, has experienced its share of deterioration, and thank goodness for the regular folk who stepped in to save it. As they say, not all heroes wear capes.

Montee escalier chambre. Erik Hesmerg
Photo: Erik and Petra Hesmerg - © Institut Van Gogh.
A Van Gogh Cafe
"A VAN GOGH" named by the Blot family
Cle de lAuberge Ravoux. Erik Hesmerg
Photo: Erik and Petra Hesmerg - © Institut Van Gogh.

Another worthy hero is Dominique Charles Janssens, a 37-year-old marketing director for the Danone Group in 1985 who was rear-ended by a drunk driver as he sat at a red light in front of the inn.

Fate appears to have ensured the former Café de la Mairie’s survival for more than a century amidst the tragedy of events from two world wars and the neglect of preservation efforts by uninterested local authorities.

You can feel Van Gogh’s presence within the walls of what is now the Auberge Ravoux. There is nothing to see in Vincent’s room,” the current proprietor says,but there is everything to feel. Therefore, let us commence.

Truly, if there is one place on earth where you can fully sense Van Gogh’s presence, it’s Auvers-sur-Oise.

Naturally, the Cimetière d’Auvers sur Oise tops that list, where Vincent lay at peace alongside his beloved brother Theo, midst the wheatfields he so famously depicted, and also in the modest, intimate setting of his second-floor room at Auberge Ravoux.

During Van Gogh’s time, the Auberge Ravoux was a thriving restaurant/café that served as a wine merchant on one side of the building and a source of good, home-cooked food on the other. Patrons, including agricultural workers, local craftsmen, and visitors, would eat a four-square meal comprised of meat, vegetables, salad, and a dessert. Those with horses could tie up their 4-legged friends in the passageway, which lodgers would pass through to access the stairwell to their rooms.

Vincent was one of two lodgers, though the homely accommodations could accommodate seven: four rooms on the second floor and three on the third floor. Vincent occupied room number 5 at the top of the stairwell, and fellow Dutch artist Anton (Tom) Hirschig occupied room number 6 next to Vincent’s.

Adeline Ravoux

For 2.50 francs, boarders received three meals a day, and despite Vincent’s reputation for poor eating habits, he made a point of showing up for all three meals in between his painting excursions.

The rear of the building was designated as a communal area for the lodgers. The ‘painter’s room’, as it was known, is where they could paint, read books, and no doubt engage in lively conversation. This is the room where a young Adeline Ravoux would pose for Vincent in her famous blue dress, her first maiden dress. 

More dauntingly, it also temporarily served as the room where Vincent’s deceased body lay in his coffin following his tragic demise.

The 13-year-old Adeline Charlotte Ravoux sat for Vincent five or six times, as she recounted in 1953, though she was aware of only one portrait. There are three portraits of Adeline. Baby Germaine Ravoux, who was just two years old at the time, still remembered Monsieur Vincent in her old age.

There were many painters who came to the inn of whom I have no trace, but he was not at all like the others.

Before bedtime, in order to coax little Germaine off to bed, Vincent would take a piece of chalk and draw a sandman on slate, and each time, the sandman was different. 

Prior to the Ravoux family taking over the cafe and setting up their home, it had to be constructed, so let us commence the chronology in 1854.

Les Nouvelles litteraires artistiques et
Literary, Artistic and Scientific News - 1953

Timeline of the Auberge Ravoux

In 1854, Auguste Crosnier, a local stone mason, began the construction of a new home in which to settle with his young bride, Adelaide Caffin. Auvers-sur-Oise, like Paris and much of Europe, had experienced multiple outbreaks of cholera, decimating people in droves. The small rural community had also suffered severe flooding from the River Oise.

Nonetheless, the country was in the throes of industrialization, where inventive achievements and dramatic transformations were occurring simultaneously. Particularly in rural areas. The local farmers around the Paris basin were some of the first to equip themselves with the latest agricultural machinery. 

New major roads were being laid, marshes were drained, and construction of one of the first railway lines in France linking Paris to the northern city of Lille had provided a direct link between the capital passing through the Oise valley, along Saint-Ouen-l’Aumône, and Persan.

Auguste’s foresight to build where growth would ultimately emerge and prosper proved favorable, for soon after, the municipality erected its town hall directly opposite, which also served as a primary school, complete with schoolmaster accommodations, and a post office.

In 1876, Auguste’s only daughter, Valentine, and her husband, Alfred Levert, established a wine business on the ground level of the home.

As business grew over the years, Levert updated the building’s façade in 1884 by adding a glazed shop front and a beautifully painted sign. The newly established “Café de la Mairie” quickly drew in customers and positioned itself as a popular meeting spot for artists, with furnished rooms available for rent.

Café de la Mairie

During this period, aspiring artists were visiting Auvers-sur-Oise to study where the masters of Impressionism roam. Paul Cézanne. Charles-François Daubigny. Camille Corot, Norbert Goeneutte, Geoffroy-Dechaume, Eugène Oudinot, Honoré Daumier, Théodore Rousseau. Jules Dupre. Eugène Murer. Hippolyte Delpy. Léonide Bourges. Camille Pissarro. Lucien Pissarro, all lived in or close by the village of Auvers-sur-Oise.

Although notable figures such as Daubigny, Corot, Daumier, Geoffroy-Dechaume, Eugène Oudinot, and Jules Dupré often gathered at the Café de la Station in the evenings, it is arguable that they may have also graced the Café de la Mairie. In later years, Russian-born French painter Serge Poliakoff, Édouard Pignon, novelist André Malraux, and prolific artist Ossip Zadkine did in fact partake in refreshments at the Auberge Ravoux. 

Arthur Ravoux - Auberge Ravoux

Arthur Ravoux – Auberge Ravoux

In 1889 the Lavert couple, who had spent years successfully building their business, were ready to ease into the next chapter of their lives, and so initiated a search for an innkeeper to manage the establishment on their behalf.

It wasn’t too long before they reached an agreement with former laundryman, poulterer and butcher, Arthur Gustave Ravoux, who subsequently executed a lease agreement for the inn, thus resulting in the establishment now bearing his name. 

Arthur Ravoux was born in Paris to Charles Sigisbert Ravoux and Marie Victoire Laire. He exuded an air of respectability, with his round glasses, full moustache, and receding hairline. Perhaps too, because as a young man aged just 22, he had fought in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. 

Arthur was married to Louise Adèle Touillet, born in Triel-sur-Seine, Yvelines, and was seven years younger. They were married on March 21, 1877, this being Louise’s second marriage, a widower of one year.

Auvers sur oise 004

Adelaine was born nine months later on Nov 20, 1877.

In April 1879 Arthur and Lousie had a baby boy who they named after her father, Victor. The baby passed away aged 2 and a half years.

Germaine Aimée Ravoux was born May 14, 1888.


 

In July 1890, Alfred Levert sold the inn to a local landowner named Mr. Delépine. The new ownership did not affect the running of the business and Arthur continued to run the Auberge Ravoux until 1892.

In reference to this website and the extensive research conducted thus far, I have naturally contacted past and present management and/or owners of the Ravoux Inn. They have graciously granted me permission to use present day photographs and content. I feel it is appropriate to incorporate a segment of their knowledge when writing about the Auberge Ravoux. The following two italicized paragraphs are sourced from the official website of the Maison de Van Gogh/Ravoux Inn.

Ravoux’s premises were furnished differently from the Parisian brasseries of the time; there were stout wooden tables and country-style chairs with wicker seats. The main room was spacious with a tiled floor and walls painted in the deepest-red, their plainness broken only by a leaf-shaped stencil whose pattern was repeated in a toning border that circled the room. One wall was livened up by a large fresco of a country scene. Two glazed doors were set into the shop front. The narrower one on the left opened into the wine merchant’s, the wider one on the right into the restaurant. To the side of the building was a passage; iron rings had been fixed into the wall for customers to tie up their horses and carts. Beyond these was the back door. Inside, aniseed or absinth-based apéritifs were served, but they were not drunk anything like as much as wine. At the end of the 19th century, wine was considered part of the staple diet, as important as bread, and drunk from the break of dawn to well after sundown.

 

In the Ravoux Inn, just as in the guinguettes (the dancing-and-music establishments) along the banks of the Oise and the Seine so often painted by Charles Daubigny, Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet, little local wines served chilled were popular, such as those of Argenteuil or a ginglet from the slopes of the Oise. Their quality was uneven but at least they were not suspected of being trafficked, like the cheap wines to be found in Paris. Wines from Burgundy and Beaujolais were brought up by train and also drunk with pleasure. As days drew to a close, Ravoux would walk around his zinc-topped counter to light the oil lamps for customers gathering around what had pride of place at the Inn – the billiard table. In winter months a chunky iron stove would purr soothingly away in the café whilst in warmer times customers preferred the open air and would linger at iron tables in front of the Inn, under the shade of the trees that lined the street.” 

The Ravoux family left the cafe in 1892 to run a brasserie on the Rue Gambetta in Meulan, where Arthur would serve as head chef. A new daughter, baby Olga Réjanne, was born in June of that same year. Sadly, Lousie was to die six years later. Arthur Ravoux died at age 65 in 1914.

Lelue took over running the inn, followed by the Blot family, who allowed guests to visit Vincent’s room. In 1926, the auberge was renamed The House of van Gogh. As the threat of war grew, the cafe changed ownership again and gradually started to decline, despite its namesake works becoming increasingly popular.

1937 Ravoux inn colored by VanGoghology.com
Ravoux Inn 1937 © Rights Reserved - Before the plaque. - Colored by VanGoghology

In 1946, a commemorative plaque was placed on the ‘House of van Gogh’ by French politician Robert Bichet, who served as the Secretary of State for Information, and by Jacques Jaujard, the Director General of Arts and Letters. The latter would be the man responsible for saving the thousands of treasures housed in the Louvre from Hitler’s grasp during WWII. Including the priceless portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, otherwise known as the Moan Lisa. Jaujard was awarded the ‘Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur’ 

Plaque ceremony Auvers 1946 1
VvG-plaque

Both Secretary Bichet and Director-General Jaujard gave speeches at the commemorative event. Bichet’s began his speech as follows:

Dear Attaché, Dear General Councillors, Dear Director, Dear Conservative,

I am happy, on this day when we honor in person Vincent Van Gogh one of the greatest contemporary painters, to also celebrate and reaffirm the friendship and brotherhood that unite our two peoples of the Netherlands and France.

Recently, at the National Library in Paris, an exhibition devoted to the clandestine press and publishing in Holland during the occupation, brought us with the testimony of a courage that has never wavered in the course of terrible years, a new proof of the profoundly artistic spirit of a people who have given the world some of the greatest painters of whom mankind can be proud and of which Van Gogh is one of the most illustrious representatives.

But for the latter, the case is exceptional. He knew how to draw from the living sources of our two nations to nourish and bring to full development his genius as a magician of color.

A great Dutch painter, who remained a great Dutchman until his last day, Van Gogh is nevertheless rightly also considered a great French painter.

Read the speeches by clicking here

Auberge Ravoux - 1952

Revitalization begins…

After examining images and reading supporting information about the deteriorating condition of the inn, one is able to comprehend the state of the building when the Tagliana family assumed ownership.

Roger had been asked to relocate to coach the local football team. It wasn’t long until the newcomers set out to purchase a business in order to cement their new life in the beautiful commune of Val-d’Oise, when they heard about an unclaimed inn.

By this time, the aroma of freshly brewed chicory coffee and warmth of community were long gone. Still, despite a limited budget, the Taglianas were able to rehabilitate the café and infuse it with the necessary renovations, vibrancy, and, most importantly, love.

The following year, the then-76-year-old Adeline Ravoux re-visited her childhood inn and brought with her, the memories of Monsieur Vincent. By doing so, the Taglianas were able to restore Vincent’s former room similar to its original state, as Adeline had recalled it from 1890.

In 1954, actor Kirk Douglas secured the filming rights to Irving Stone’s biographical take on Vincent van Gogh, Lust for Life. Hollywood came to town when production started in Auvers, and the landmark cafe was to receive ultimate exposure when the film’s world premiere was held in Scotland in 1956. 

Lust for Life at Aberge Ravoux VanGoghology

Kirk Douglas off set at the Auberge Ravoux – with Dir. Vincente Minelli 1956

Madame Tagliana lost her husband in 1981 and continued to operate the cafe for another five years. After 35 years of dedication to the cafe and resurrecting Vincent’s memory, Madame Tagliana sought a new owner who would preserve the ‘soul’ of the cafe. She bid adieu to the ‘Maison de Van Gogh ’in October 1986, surrounded by friends and family, and placed her trust in Dominique Charles Janssens, which was almost certainly fate’s hand at play.

Like the Taglianas, Mr. Janssens had no intention of owning a cafe. He had encountered a serious car accident in front of the Auberge Ravoux in 1985 after being rear-ended by a drunk driver at a red light and was soon to discover that the humble 19th-century inn was where Vincent van Gogh spent his final days.

The collision caused spinal injuries, necessitating a protracted period of recovery. This meant that he had significant time on his hands and filled it by reading the many letters Vincent had composed, as well as those from his second-floor room at the inn.

Deeply touched by Vincent’s letters, Mr. Janssens devoted his life to purchasing and restoring the final dwelling place of the beloved post-impressionist.

In December 1984, Van Gogh’s Room, staircase, house, roof, and façade were officially designated as a Monument Historique. The building is now protected, but this also meant that acquiring the inn and implementing the updates it desperately needed was going to be a monumental challenge. One of which Dominique Janssens was up for!

In 1987, a giant blue tarp sporting Vincent’s face enveloped the building for what was about to become, a major restoration. 

Auberge Ravoux covered in tarp during construction

Auberge Ravoux covered in tarp during construction

Auberge Ravoux covered in tarp during construction

After several years of meticulous preparation, construction finally commenced in January 1992. The entire structure, encompassing all levels of the building from the basement to the uppermost points, underwent a thorough inspection.

An exhaustive review was conducted of the archives, during which layers of plaster and paint were scrupulously examined and chemically analyzed. The aim was to ascertain the exact visual characteristics of the inn as it originally was, including its color scheme. In the pursuit of reviving the essence of the House of Van Gogh, each and every element, regardless of its minuscule size, was thoroughly and thoughtfully evaluated. Concurrently, every effort was made to establish the most favorable circumstances for patrons of a new century.

The complex operation was entrusted to Bernard Schoebel, Head Architect of the Public Buildings and National Palaces of France and a recipient of the esteemed Grand Prix de Rome in 1964.

Following a construction period of one year and eight months, the Ravoux Inn commenced operations on September 17, 1993.

More than thirty years have passed since the Auberge Ravoux underwent significant restoration and reopened its doors, and in that time, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have come to visit Vincent’s empty chamber, which Mr. Janssens so aptly describes as having

nothing to see’, but everything to feel.

  • 1855

    Auguste Crosnier, and his seamstress wife, Adelaide moved into their newly constructed home on the Place de la Mairie. The building was originally constructed as a family residence, and incorporates various elements from earlier buildings, including an entire eighteenth-century wall.

  • A few years later, the Town Hall was erected on the opposite side of the road, which also served as an elementary school, where the teacher lived, and a post office.

  • 1876

    Auguste's only daughter, Valentine and her husband Alfred Levert established a wine business on the ground level of the Crosnier's home. The Levert couple go on to make alterations to the house and improve the appearance of the façade. The wine shop will become a café and restaurant called Café de la Mairie. There are now seven furnished rooms for rent.

  • 1889

    After thirteen years, the Levert's are ready to hang up their towels with regard to managing the cafe de la Mairie, and hire former butcher and poultry farmer, Arthur Gustave Ravoux and his wife to run the establishment from here on out.

  • During the 1880's the Café de la Mairie became a welcoming spot for artists and artisans. The class system began to shift significantly where agricultural workers became the new working class, mingling with the likes of Charles-François Daubigny, Daumier, Cezanne, Pissarro and in 1890 of course Van Gogh. In 1890, Vincent had already secured a steady progression into familiarity. Particularly in the artworld.

  • 1890

    Arthur Ravoux rents room number 5 to Vincent van Gogh, the quirky aspiring artist whose unique artistic techniques, distinctive brushwork, vibrant use of color, and tragic circumstances would go on to become one of the most celebrated artists in history. Undeniably.

  • 1926

    The Café de la Mairie is re-baptized the “House of Van Gogh”.

  • 1946

    A commemorative plaque Is placed on the ‘House of van Gogh’ by French politician Robert Bichet, who served as the Secretary of State for Information, and by Jacques Jaujard, the Director General of Arts and Letters.

  • 1984

    The building is officially designated a Historic Monument.

  • 1986

    Dominique-Charles Janssens negotiated the purchase of the site from the Tagliana family. His aim was to develop a concept that was commercial and at the same time cultural, and make it work smoothly. The challenge was twofold: a place imbued with historical significance had to continue as before as a café-restaurant. while also existing with a cultural purpose.

  • 1992

    Major construction began on the Auberge Ravoux thanks to its new owner Dominique Charles Janssens.

  • 1993

    Cause for celebration as the Auberge Ravoux re-opens its doors.

  • 1998

    The Auberge Ravoux receives the esteemed "Spirit of France" accolade. This acknowledgement underscores the remarkable impact that the establishment has had on French heritage and culture.

Auberge Ravoux 2017 Auvers sur Oise
Auberge Ravoux - 2017

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