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‘Van Gogh Alive’ in Edinburgh

“I want to touch people with my art. I want them to say, ‘He feels deeply, he feels tenderly’.” -Vincent van Gogh

Anyone who has seen Vincent van Gogh’s art in person will understand the above quote. At least, for me, his art evokes a variety of feelings and emotions. Therefore, I was excited to recently visit a popular exhibition that has travelled the world- ‘Van Gogh Alive: the experience’. In this post, I would like to share a bit of my personal experience and general information regarding the exhibition. So, join us, as we take a wee look at the art of Vincent van Gogh.

First, for those who are not aware of this exhibition, be aware that there are no original works of art by van Gogh on display. Of course, we knew this going in, but I just want to make sure that anyone reading this knows this up front. This exhibition is about ‘experiencing’ van Gogh’s art and life in a uniquely immersive way.

“The only time I feel alive is when I am painting.”- Vincent van Gogh

‘Van Gogh Alive’ is housed in a temporary building built especially for the exhibition at Festival Square on Lothian Road here in Edinburgh. When you first walk in, there are informational boards up where you can read a bit about his life and art. One unique feature lets you feel like you are walking into one of van Gogh’s most famous paintings, Vincent’s Bedroom in Arles (1889).

The main room of the ‘Van Gogh Alive’ show was huge and there were screens set up throughout that displayed varying images of his art, his words, and other relevant aspects of his life. You are taken on a visual and auditory journey from his beginnings in the Netherlands through his life and death in France. Guests can stand or sit as they take in the show which surrounds you with 360-degree images.

‘Van Gogh Alive’ demonstrates that there are fascinating stories behind the iconic art. Vincent wrote touching letters to his beloved brother, Theo, throughout his life and these were published in a book by Theo’s widow, Johanna. They are a fascinating look into the mind of van Gogh and provide a deeply personal perspective that you can’t get otherwise. Excerpts of these letters are displayed throughout the ‘Van Gogh Alive’ show and demonstrate that, like his paintings, his life was layered and colourful.

It was captivating to look at van Gogh’s work through the decades and how it evolved from dark and subtle in the beginning to vibrant and chaotic at the end. Vincent’s emotions come through with his art and this becomes even more apparent as you read about his life and the corresponding paintings created during each stage.

Seeing his paintings on such a large-scale with incredible detail really does immerse you in a way much different than looking at them in person in a museum. The sights and sounds of the show helped me to also ‘feel alive’ and experience his art more deeply. Of course, I am a strong proponent of going to museums, and I certainly recommend anyone who has the chance, to go see van Gogh’s original works in real-life. However, the ‘Van Gogh Alive’ experience added a depth that you can’t get otherwise.

“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.”- Vincent van Gogh

I love the above quote because I think it captures our own feelings as a family that loves to travel around Scotland and share the abundant nature we are blessed to have. Certainly, for van Gogh, his paintings illustrated and confirmed his feelings time and time again.

Vincent van Gogh is especially known for his love of painting sunflowers. Therefore, it only seemed fitting that the exhibition has a room set up to make you feel like (with the help of mirrors) you are walking through a field of sunflowers.

“I put my heart and soul into my work and have lost my mind in the process.”- Vincent van Gogh

Many of you readers know of van Gogh’s horrific fight with his mental health. This struggle is evident in his art that was displayed during the show. It vacillated between depictions of torment and serenity- especially during the time of his life immediately before and after his time in an asylum in Saint-Rémy (where he self-committed himself). For example, he painted a self-portrait- Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (1889)- after the infamous incident where he cut off part of his ear. The greens in the painting give off a haunting quality. However, not too long after he that, he produced one of his most famous paintings- The Starry Night (1889), whose swirling paint strokes I find particularly comforting.

The last days of Vincent van Gogh’s life were spent in Auvers-sur-Oise and when one of his last paintings, Wheatfield with Crows (1890), displayed on the screens throughout the room, I instantly felt the sadness emanating from it. Not too long after he created that painting, van Gogh wandered into a field and shot himself in the chest. He managed to get back to the house where he was staying, but he died two days later in the arms of his beloved brother, Theo.

Regarding mental health, one aspect that I was pleased to see about ‘Van Gogh Alive’ is that it was done in partnership with the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH). Therefore, some of the money raised will go towards the crucial work done by SAMH.

I personally enjoyed the ‘Van Gogh Alive’ exhibition, but I also recognise that it is a bit pricey. Therefore, if you have the financial capability to go, I believe it is a nice way to see van Gogh’s art in a different, more immersive way. ‘Van Gogh Alive’ is showing until 17 July 2022. You can visit their website for more information.

However, there are also numerous ways to enjoy his art for free through various museums and websites online. The Scottish National Gallery here in Edinburgh has one of his paintings on display that you can go see for free (although we recommend that you provide a donation if you are able to do so to help support them).

Hopefully this brief post has provided you with a bit of an escape through the iconic art of Vincent van Gogh. His story may have a sad ending, but I hope that you have enjoyed joining me as we experienced some of his timeless masterpieces.

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Until next time- Explore & Discover!


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