A 1907 photograph was discovered as having the same features of the view, which famous painter Van Gogh featured in his last painting “Tree Roots (1890).” The vintage photograph gives a better perspective on how Vincent Van Gogh spent his last moments before he shot himself in July 29, 1890, two days after completing the painting.
The glass plate negative of the photo shows a man in a position almost hidden in the trees during the summer of 1907. The negative is one of the glass plate collections of a Brussels lawyer named Edouard Van Halteren, known to be a yachtsman who collected glass plates of his voyages in the River Oise. Other photographs included in Van Halteren’s collections showed Auvers-sur-Oise, a commune in Paris, France where Van Gogh temporarily lodged during the spring of 1890.
How the Photograph was Discovered
The research started when Louis van Tilborgh, a senior researcher at Van Gogh’s Museum, noted in 2012 that “Tree Roots” is Van Gogh’s last artwork as was cited by an 1893 newspaper article. While other art specialists claimed that the “Tree Roots” view was a figment of Van Gogh’s imagination, Van Tilborgh believed that the painting referenced a real grove of trees.
In 2020, Institut Van Gogh’s scientific director Wouter van der Veen came across a postcard titled “Auvers-sur-Oise – Rue Daubigny” circa 1910. The image used in the postcard shows a scenery that is identical to the view of Van Gogh’s “Tree Roots.” Further research revealed that the spot where Van Gogh had last painted was in Auvers-sur-Oise.
The photograph used in the postcard was possibly taken during the summer of 1907 by one of Van Halteren’s friend, relative, or by a professional photographer, who went along in one of the lawyer’s many cruises along River Oise. The postcard photo was later traced as having a glass-photo negative in Van Halreren’s collection.
While the glass plate negatives captured mostly images of tourist attractions, the Auvers tree roots photo was the only exception. It was also discovered that it was taken because the moustached man sitting in the tree roots spot was Van Halteren.
Institut Van Gogh’s Scientific Director Wouter van der Veen admitted that the postcard is not really conclusive. Yet the 1907 photograph helped confirm the certainty that Van Gogh’s “Tree Roots” depicted a view of a real location. Moreover, the painting and the vintage photograph have been determined as having the same viewpoint; albeit done a few meters away from each other.