The painting “The Church at Auvers” is dramatic in its form. The land in front of the church is lit up by the light of day. The rays of the sun reach the ground here, and lush green vegetation thrives as a result. However, as we move closer to the church, the rays of the sun disappear as the church seems to rest in its own shadow. No light reaches or is reflected from this dismal building. The angles of the church building also seem warped, as if by an unholy hand. The roof beams are not strait and neither are the tiles and this warped exterior gives the church a somewhat menacing look. A threatening sky can also be seen rising behind the church, further illustrating this feeling of impending doom.
The deep brush strokes of Van Gogh are visible throughout the painting, both on the sunlit road, on the wavy growth in front of the church and on the roof of the church itself. The brush strokes depicting the sky are also visible and help create a movement in the sky above the church which helps to create the menacing impression. It is the sort of church one would mostly expect to find in a nightmare, and it cannot be ruled out that Van Gogh, at this stage in his life and with his sanity in question, could have indeed felt as if he was living in exactly such a nightmare.
But the painting can also somewhat refer to Van Gogh’s own religious career. After having been dismissed from the evangelical career he had earlier envisioned, he wrote his brother Theo how the church seemed to emphasize “empty and unenlightened preaching”. This is also the sort of preaching one could probably find in this particular warped Church.
Another feature of “The Church at Auvers” is how two paths are diverging in front of the church. One peasant in the painting has already chosen the left of these paths. The presence of diverging paths is also found in “Wheatfield with Crows” by Van Gogh. We see these crossroads in Van Gogh’s art at a time when the artist himself must be said to have been at a crossroad, deciding whether to fight for his sanity or give in to the impulses of his insanity. It is a recurring theme for Van Gogh as both sides battle for his soul in the last year of his life.
It should also be noted that the interpretive look of the church, as it was probably not quite as warped in reality, is based on the expression Van Gogh wanted to create. As such, the painting helps illustrate why Van Gogh was so important in the movement towards expressionism and why modern art still owes him a debt of gratitude.
The ominous look of “The Church at Auvers” has inspired the paintings use in popular culture. In the British TV drama “Doctor Who”, the good doctor e.g. spots an evil creature in the window of the painting and decided to go back in time to the time when The Church at Auvers was painted.
For those without time machines, the painting can today be seen at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, France.