Van Gogh's Table

Last Updated: 16 October 2014
Created: 08 March 2009

 

Van Gogh’s Table At The Auberge Ravoux is a skillfully presented cookery book and more; much, much more. It is a book of journeys: Van Gogh’s journey to the Auberge and his final days there, the progression of the Auberge to what it is today, and the personal voyage of those who have come to know this place.

 

 

By virtue of unyielding dedication by Dominique-Charles Janssens, President of the Institute Van Gogh, the past and the present worlds of Vincent Van Gogh and the Auberge Ravoux, (taking its name from Arthur Gustave Ravoux, the leaseholder from 1889 - 1892) flow easily into each other, so much so that it is almost possible to imagine Van Gogh once again assuming the ‘artist’s table’ for an absinthe aperitif or glass of rough local wine with dinner.

 

The book is divided into 3 sections, namely about Van Gogh and the café society, the life of the Auberge and finally recipes taken from the Auberge’s menu.

 



For an appetiser, to set the scene, the book begins with “A private Life in Public Places” written by Dr. Fred Leeman, the former chief curator of the Van Gough Museum in Amsterdam. Dr Leeman paints the sad opening scene with vivid descriptions of events directly after the death of this troubled artist who took his own life with a shotgun, one bullet lodging in his chest. Death arrived slowly, arriving at its own pace, lingering in dark shadows until Van Gogh’s final breath was taken in the early hours of July 29th 1890. His hastily constructed coffin was carried from his attic bedroom in the Auberge Ravoux to the ‘artists’ room’, the room behind the dining room on the ground floor where he often finished and stacked his 70 canvases, painted during his short stay here. This room was converted to a simple chapel of rest, yellow flowers swathing the coffin and these same canvases nailed to the surrounding walls – in his lifetime, Van Gogh only ever selling one.

 

 

Throughout this section of Van Gogh’s Table, bounteous sketches and paintings illustrate this meticulous tribute, an entrance into the personal world of Van Gogh and how the colourful café society influenced his bohemian life and work. These images form a framework in which to follow the paths and roads he travelled, the places he visited and people he met and observed along the way – café owners and those who frequented them “now look out at us from the walls of venerable art institutions. Unknowingly they became part of a project in which no one believed, apart from the painter who wrote:”

 

 

“What impassions me the most … is the portrait, the modern portrait. I seek it in colour, and surely I am not the only one to seek it in this direction. I should like – mind you, far from me to say that I shall be able to do it, although this is what I am aiming at – I should like to paint portraits which would appear after a century to the people living then as apparitions. By which I mean that I do not endeavor to achieve this by photographic resemblance, but by means of our impassioned expressions.”

For the next section, Dr Julia Galosy traces the various owners and the central story of the Auberge Ravoux, from its conception as a newly built home to family Auguste Crosnier, a mid-nineteenth century Master Mason, constructed in the heart of the village. Well placed it was on the main Pointoise to Auvers road and opposite the Mairie (which later became famous through Van Gogh’s painting on Bastille Day 1890) which housed the school master, primary school and post office.

 

 

 
Red-Wine Poached Pears with Cinnamon and Vanilla

Auvers, with less than two thousand inhabitants in the late 1800’s had numerous cafés, cabarets and even boasted a riverside casino. Having close proximity to Paris and a picturesque setting along the steep banks of the river Oise, this was a popular destination for visitors wishing to escape the dirt and noise of the city. Here, the Parisian elite mingled with artists following in the footsteps the accomplished Impressionist masters such as Daubigny and Corot, who enjoyed painting under the soft light of the rural Pontoise Valley and unsurprisingly transforming into an Impressionist’s colony. Van Gogh was not alone; the area is associated with other great names such as Camille Pissarro, Honoré Daumier, Paul Cézanne and Claude Monet whilst the rooms of the Auberge Ravoux were bursting with a mélange of Dutch, American and Cuban painters.

 

 

After the early death of Vincent Van Gogh, life continued as usual at the Auberge, with ownership passing through several hands and eventually (after much legal wrangling) to the current owner Dominque-Charles Janssens who has dedicated his life (and finances) to a truly authentic renovation program of the building. Every detail carefully studied and researched, this is not a romantic notion but true toil of passion, re-creating the late 1890’s to encapsulate the days of Vincent Van Gogh, and a determination to eventually fulfill the artist’s dream of his (Van Gogh’s) own café exhibition by bringing a painting back to the tiny attic bedroom in Auvers.

 

 

 

For the final part of the book, be delighted, tantilised and tempted by dishes taken directly from the menu of the Auberge Ravoux and Van Gogh’s table today.


“Whether it is the aged-polished, century-old oak tables around which they gather, or the custom made absinthe glasses used to serve wine, seltzer water, or the house apéritifs’, patrons at the Auberge Ravoux quickly realise that the meal they are about to enjoy will be far from the ordinary. Dining in the very room where Van Gogh took his meals in 1890 […] Ravoux’s kitchen evokes the flavours and cooking style of Van Gogh’s time by revisiting classic French dishes such as gigot de sept heures, blanquette de veau, boeuf bourguignon […] mousse au chocolat, clafouti and the Tatin sisters’ eponymous inverted apple tart.”

 

 

 
 

Drawing on Van Gogh’s letters, his artwork and local records, food historian Alexandra Leaf presents detailed accounts of the regional foods, dishes and customs of Auvers in the late 1800’s. Guided by her, we are swathed in the ambiance of those not too far away days. Visualise the fresh produce from market gardens, learn about local wines & beverages, the staple foods of the period, trips to Les Halles in Paris; smell the aroma of simmering casseroles, and simply follow the footsteps of Vincent himself as he appreciated the importance of good food to his troublesome state of health and his times at the table of Dr Gachet.

 

 

Reflecting the fastidious renovation of the building, no dish or recipe has found its way here by chance. These dishes are devised by Chef Christophe Bony, who rigidly adheres to French tradition in only using seasonal fresh produce which must be locally sourced where possible. As with any artist, he has faced challenges as he set about enhancing and updating ancient recipes to satisfy contemporary standards – for instance the gigot de sept heures (leg of lamb cooked for 7 hours) now has a cooking time of just 3. This may still sound incredible but the results speak for itself with melt-in-the-mouth lamb tender enough to eat with a spoon.

 

The recipes are divided into three styles of cooking - cuisine populaire, or traditional home-cooking with many slow-cooked classic dishes from Van Gogh’s era; cuisine du terroir, or regional cooking from the bounty of the Ille de France; and cuisine bourgeoise or more elaborate cooking, including accurate menu suggestions as those which may have been served to Van Gogh by Dr Gachet’s housekeeper and cook, Mme. Chevalier.

Dishes are pared to the necessary ingredients and methods, successfully transgressing to the home kitchen and cook. They offer delights such as country soups, casseroles and dishes like Braised Chicken with Mustard-Cream Sauce, Navarin of Lamb with White Wine and Provencal Olives and a thick, rich and dark Chocolate Mousse Sabayon.


With an enormous thanks to Dominique-Charles Janssens and Artisan Publishing, you too are able to step into this world and sample the delicious recipes for Medley of Exotic Mushrooms with Hazelnuts (cuisine du terrior) and Red-Wine Poached Pears with Cinnamon and Vanilla (cuisine populaire).

 

 

 

Excerpted from VAN GOGH'S TABLE: AT THE AUBERGE RAVOUX by Alexandra
Leaf and Fred Leeman (Artisan Books).
 
Copyright 2001. Frédéric Lebain photographer.
 

 

 

 

 

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