Travels with Van Gogh
As the world's largest collection of the celebrated artist's works reopens in Amsterdam, Mary Novakovich paints a picture of the European locations that inspired him
Wednesday 01 May 2013
What's the attraction?
Vincent Van Gogh is coming home – or, rather, the world's largest collection of his works returns to its rightful place. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (00 31 20 570 5200; vangoghmuseum.nl) reopens today after a year of renovations and the collection that had been temporarily housed in the city's Hermitage is back in Museumplein in this 160th anniversary year of the artist's birth. In Van Gogh's 37 years, he created more than 2,000 works of art chronicling his restless wanderings in the Netherlands, Belgium and, most notably, France. It joins the newly reopened Rijksmuseum (00 31 20 6621 440; rijks museum.nl) to restore Amsterdam as the cultural cornerstone of the Netherlands.
The small cemetery in this attractive town 32km north of Paris is marked by two simple white graves: those of Vincent Van Gogh and his younger brother Theo. Vincent spent the last months of his life in this riverside town in a frenzy of painting before he shot himself in 1890 at the Auberge Ravoux (00 33 1 30 36 60 60; maisondevangogh.fr), where his attic room has been preserved. Art-lovers can explore the trail followed not only by Van Gogh but also by Cézanne, Pissarro, Monet, Daubigny and Corot, taking in the splendid Gothic Notre-Dame church, town hall and Chateau d'Auvers (00 33 1 34 48 48 48; chateau-auvers.fr).
Van Gogh trails
Nearly two dozen of Van Gogh's paintings are on display at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (001 212 535 7710; met museum.org) and the Museum of Modern Art (001 212 708 9400; moma.org), home of The Starry Night.
Sherpa Expeditions (0800 008 7741; sherpa-walking-holidays.co.uk) runs a seven-day, self-guided walk in Van Gogh's footsteps in Provence from £830 per person, including six nights' B&B and some meals; flights extra.
UTracks (0845 241 7599; utracks.com) offers a guided, eight-day cycle tour from Brussels to Amsterdam, exploring Van Gogh's early life, from £675pp. The price includes seven nights' accommodation starting on 25 May, meals and cycle hire; flights excluded.
Martin Randall Travel (020-8742 3355; martinrandall.com) hosts a four-day tour from 26-29 September to visit the Van Gogh, Cézanne and Dufy exhibitions in Marseille and Aix-en-Provence. The £1,350pp price includes flights, hotel, most meals and the services of a lecturer.
Learn to paint in Provence with Arts in Provence (01903 883980; www.artsin provence.com), which runs week-long courses from €695. This includes full-board accommodation but no flights.
Paris had got over the shock of Impressionism by the time Van Gogh pitched up in the capital in 1886 to kick-start the next art movement. He and his brother Theo shared a flat at 54 rue Lepic in Montmartre, enthusiastically joining in the hedonistic lifestyle with neighbours Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec. As with all the giants of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, Van Gogh's work ended up in that captivating temple to late 19th-century and early 20th-century art, Musée d'Orsay (00 33 1 40 49 48 14; musee-orsay.fr). Le Relais Montmartre (00 33 1 70 64 25 25; hotel-relais-montmartre.com) is a charming little three-star near Van Gogh's old haunts, where doubles start at €199 room only.
Van Gogh's Dutch home town, Zundert close to the Belgian border, pays tribute to its most famous son with a museum on the spot where his birthplace – long since torn down – had stood. Vincent Van Gogh Huis (00 31 765 978 590; www.vangoghhuis.com) has interactive exhibitions devoted to Van Gogh's life as well as other artists he inspired. The Dutch Reformed church where Van Gogh's father used to preach is still standing and its graveyard often jolts visitors when they spot a stone inscribed with another Vincent Van Gogh – the artist's stillborn elder brother, dated a year before the artist's own birth.
St Rémy-de-Provence, France
After his bruising time with Gauguin in Arles, Van Gogh arrived in this exquisite market town in the Alpilles mountains in a terrible state and minus part of his ear. He found sanctuary in the 12th-century monastery of St-Paul-de-Mausole (00 33 4 90 92 77 00; saintpauldemausole.fr), whose tranquillity inspired him to paint The Starry Night and many others. You can see his sources of inspiration as you wander through the beautiful cloisters and gardens past replicas of his paintings. The cell where he was treated for a year is a particularly poignant sight. The Hotel de l'Image (00 33 4 90 92 51 50; hotel delimage.com) has doubles with views of the Alpilles from €195, excluding breakfast.
Seduced by the light of the south, Van Gogh moved to this ancient Roman town in western Provence in 1888. With dreams of setting up a "utopian" artists' colony, he persuaded his friend Paul Gauguin to join him. It didn't take long for the two artists to fall out, but not before Van Gogh painted some of his best-known works. Pick up a map from the tourist office (arlestourisme.com) and follow the trail of his paintings including Café Terrace on the Place du Forum. Opposite the café is the handsome four-star Grand Hotel Nord-Pinus (00 33 4 90 93 44 44; nord-pinus.com), which has doubles from €160 excluding breakfast.
The period from 1873-74 when Van Gogh lived in Lambeth, south London, was described by his sister-in-law as the best year of his life. All was going well in his job with an art dealer until he fell in love with his landlady's daughter at 87 Hackford Road – and then she turned him down. Nearby Isabel Street was recently renamed Van Gogh Walk (vangoghwalk.org), from where "Follow Vincent's Walk to Work" will take place on 19 May at 2pm. This 5.6km stroll to Van Gogh's former workplace in Covent Garden will also take in a visit to the National Gallery (020-7747 2885; national gallery.org), home to several of his paintings.
Who said that?
"Oh yes! He loved yellow, did good Vincent, the painter from Holland, gleams of sunlight warming his soul, which detested fog." Paul Gauguin
"I dream of painting and then I paint my dream." Vincent Van Gogh
"It was Van Gogh's madness that prevented him from working; the paintings themselves are ineffably sane." Robert Hughes, art critic
"The reopening is great news for art lovers and Van Gogh enthusiasts, who will see the many masterpieces of the museum combined with loans from international collections. The exhibition is based on new research into the paintings and drawings and focuses on the working methods of the artist, the materials he used, and the artists with whom he collaborated." Nienke Bakker, curator, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
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