Chapter 1 Guide

Welcome to the Chapter by Chapter Guide of Sacré Bleu. Here you’ll find some photographs, a little background on the geography, history, and art featured in the book, as well as observations and musing I had while researching and writing the book that just wouldn’t fit in the story, but I hope will give some perspective on it. I’ll add to this guide as time goes on, and not necessarily in order, so check back.

Chapter 1 Guide – Wheat Field with Crows

The Village of Auvers Sur Oise lay about ten minutes (by train) north of Paris, over the River Oise. Vincent lived here for several months after he left the sanitarium in Arles, after his famous breakdown in 1889.

The Inn where Vincent Van Gogh lived i in Auvers

This is the Inn in Auvers where Vincent lived. This picture taken in 2009.

“And what will I get for my hat. Will you tell my future?”
Vincent Van Gogh – Self-Portrait, 1887 (Original Painting in the Detroit Art Institute)
“She was thirteen, and blond, and though she would be a beauty one day, now she was gloriously, heartbreakingly plain.” Portrait of Adeline Ravoux, the innkeeper’s daughter, 1889

“Vincent paused at the base of the steps that had been built into the hillside.”

The stairs behind the Ravoux Inn at Auvers. Vincent – 1890

“He painted a final crow, just four brushstrokes to imply wings, then stepped back.” Wheatfield with Crows – Vincent, 1890 – Now at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Today, there is a sign at the junction of the three roads through the wheat and corn fields where Vincent painted his last painting.
“The church,” Vincent said. “There’s a painting of the church in my room at the inn. You can see, the church is not blue in life, but I painted it blue. I wanted to commune with God.” The Church at Auvers – 2009. Clearly not blue yet…
“You lie! I have been to the inn and seen your church. She is not in that painting.”Vincent’s painting of the Church at Auvers. 1890 (Now in the Musee D’Orsay in Paris)
“Vincent left the painting and the easel, picked a single, crushed tube of paint from his paint box and put it in his pocket, then, holding his chest, he trudged down the road that ran along the ridge above town a mile to Dr. Gachet’s house.” The road through the woods, along the ridge above Auvers. I took this in 2009. It was a hot August day, and the forest floor near the corn field was covered with brown leaves that smelled toasted in the heat. You could stop and hear them crackle in the heat. The corn stalks were starting to dry out, and in the slight breeze it sounded like faint applause when they rubbed together.
“He fell as he opened the iron gate at the foot of the stone steps that led through the terraced garden, then crawled to his feet and climbed, pausing at each step, leaning on the cool limestone, trying to catch his breath before taking the next.” The stairs at Dr. Gachet’s house today.
Theo Van Gogh – 1889
Theo lived on Montmartre, in Paris at the time of Vincent’s death. Dr. Gachet sent for him and he was at Vincent’s bedside the next day. Vincent lingered for three days before he died in Theo’s arms.
Vincent and Theo lay buried side by side, not two-hundred meters from the spot
where Wheatfield with Crows was painted.

Chapter 2 – Guide

Chapter 2 – The Women They Come and Go

“he made his way across the square to the edge of the Montmartre, where he looked out over Paris, shining in the noon day sun”

View of Paris from Montmartre looking south-west over St. Denis. Today, of course, there are no more factories streaming smoke, but in Lucien’s day, there would have been dozens of smoke stacks, and you see that in a lot of Impressionist paintings.


Stairs today leading down the back side of Montmartre to Rue Caulincourt, where Henri and Lucien kept their studio.

“Lucien set off down the two-hundred and forty-two steps to that very same boulevard into the neighborhood around Place Pigalle”

The stairs from Montmartre to Place Pigalle today. Lucien would have been coming from even higher on the butte than this picture shows.

“In the salon of the brothel on Rue d’Aboise, a girl in a red negligee who had been dozing on a velvet divan when he came in…”

Two Friends – Henri Toulouse-Lautrec

Place Pigalle, which was alive with cafés, brothels, cabarets, and on some mornings, the “parade of models” around the fountain in the square.


Place Pigalle – Felix Buhot – 1878

You can see the fought on the right.


“I will vouch for that,” said Mireille, who scampered away, puffing

like a tiny marshmallow locomotive. “He loves that fucking hat.”

Drawing by Elias D’Elia

Eli drew this cartoon for me, but he came up with a much more 21st Century cute Mireille than the real one, as you’ll see below…

“Lucien was anxious waiting among the whores.

Parlor of a Brothel – Henri Toulouse-Lautrec

“I know you,” said the round blond. “You’re Monsieur Lessard, the baker.”

In Le Rat Mort – Henri Toulouse-Lautrec

This painting was actually of a patron of the restaurant Dead Rat, described in the scene where Henri and Lucien go to breakfast, but I found the image after I had already written the brothel scene and it was uncanny how close the woman was to the whore I described, so it went into the book. I realized later when I went through my photos, that I’d seen this painting in the Courtauld Gallery in London, so maybe it had stuck in my mind.

Mirielle and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, with a collection of his brothel paintings. As you can see, Mireille, was, indeed, as tiny as Henri, and she was reputed to be his favorite.Photo by Henri’s friend, Maurice Guilbert, who we’ll see more from later.

“They had both attended Corman’s studio with Vincent, painted along side of him, drank, laughed, and argued color theory with him in the cafes of Montmartre.”

Vincent Van Gogh – by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec – 1886 or 87 when they were all studying at Corman’s Studio.