If you were keeping an eye on my Facebook Page lately, you’ve probably seen I have been following the footsteps of Vincent van Gogh and visiting places related to his life and work in the Netherlands, Belgium and France, during the last two weeks.
It was a dream come true trip for me and something I wanted to do for such a long time. I was all excited about visiting locations I knew so well from his paintings. But, actually being there, and learning about him from local experts was something that has overcame my expectations.
Following the Footsteps of Vincent van Gogh
I’ve already wrote about how I got an idea to go on this trip (you can read more about in this blog post). I have organised it in collaboration with Van Gogh Route. It’s a partnering project founded by museums, tourism boards and other organisations that are somehow linked to life and work of Van Gogh. They are still trying to keep a memory of him alive and showcase his life in those destinations.
His story is quite unique, and it’s really amazing how well you could feel him in any of those locations. It is quite easy to visit all of them, and hopefully, with the help of this guide, you can organise your visit, as well.
How to travel to all of those locations
I’ve visited places related to Van Gogh’s life in the Netherlands, Belgium and France. I haven’t went to England, but you can read about those locations on a link here. I wanted to travel as Vincent did in the 19th Century, so I travelled with a train.
After doing some research, I’ve realised the best thing would be to get myself an Interrail Pass that was valid for 15 days. I could easily catch whichever train I wanted and travel without having to deal with tickets. I also downloaded Interrail App and could check train departures and other info very easily that way.
*TIP: I had to make some reservations, though. However, when checking your trains, you can see for which ones you need a reservation. And you can make it on the Interrail website, so it’s really easy to do that. I only had to make a reservation for four train rides, out of some twenty I’ve taken in total.
How much time do you need to travel to all of those places
My trip lasted for thirteen days, and I would say that was just enough time to visit all of those places. I visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and Kröller-Müller in Otterlo in a week before my trip. So, if you would like to include them, too (and you definitely should), I would add two extra days for that. So, in total, fifteen days would be perfect to see all the places related to Van Gogh’s life and work.
Here is the schedule I followed:
- Day x – Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum / the Netherlands
- Day x – Otterlo: Kröller-Müller Museum / the Netherlands
- Day 1 – Brabant: Zundert and Etten-Leur / the Netherlands
- Day 2 – Brabant: ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Het Noordbrabants Museum) and Nuenen / the Netherlands
- Day 3 – Antwerp / Belgium
- Day 4 – Mons and Borinage/ Belgium
- Day 5 – Mons and Borinage / Belgium
- Day 6 – Auvers-sur-Oise / France
- Day 7 – Auvers-sur-Oise / France
- Day 8 – Paris / France
- Day 9 – Arles / France
- Day 10 – Arles / France
- Day 11 – Saint-Remy-de-Provence / France
- Day 12 – Saint-Remy-de-Provence / France
- Day 13 – Arles – Amsterdam (trip back home)
You can read all of the posts from my Van Gogh trip below:
# – Some general info about my Van Gogh trip
# – Visiting Kröller-Müller Museum
# – Vincent Van Gogh in the Netherlands
# – Vincent Van Gogh in Belgium
# – Vincent van Gogh in Paris
# – Vincent Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise
# – Vincent Van Gogh in Arles
# – Vincent Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
Locations related to van Gogh’s life
Van Gogh was a true traveller and an expat of his time. He was travelling in 1870s and 1880s when the trains just started to be used as transportation means in Europe. He was quite well educated and was fluent in Dutch, French and English. During my trip, it was really interesting for me to learn more about the way he travelled and the way Europe looked back at his time.
Van Gogh in the Netherlands and Belgium
Van Gogh was born in Zundert and has spent his childhood at the very south of the Netherlands, in the region of Brabant. When he was 16 years old, he started to work as an art dealer, first in Den Haag, but later on in London and Paris, too. This is where he was first introduced to the world of fine art.
After a few years, he decided he wanted to change his career, so he moved back to London. He started to work as an assistant teacher there. When that didn’t work either, he decided to study religion in Amsterdam and become a pastor like his father. After failing the entry exam at the Amsterdam University, he went to Belgium, to the Borinage region to be a preacher among the coal miners there.
Although he already created some drawings while in Borinage, Van Gogh started his career as a painter in 1880. He was 27 years old, and he painted during the next ten years until he died in 1890. During that time he created around 1,800 works of art. He travelled a lot as a painter, and his style changed tremendously during that time, as well.
Between 1880 and 1885 he lived in the Netherlands, and his paintings were quite dark, with peasants as his main subject. His ‘ The Potato Eaters’ is probably the most famous painting from that time.
After painting for five years, he realised that to improve his art he needs some art education. That’s why at the end of 1885 he went to Antwerp. He spent two months at the Art Academy there. And that was the only formal art education he has ever had.
Van Gogh in France
However, since they were learning in a very academic way, he didn’t found that is suitable for him. So, in spring of 1886, he left for Paris. Next two years are going to be his real art school. His brother Theo was an art dealer there, and he introduced Vincent to many artists living in Paris during that time. He was learning from Impressionists and Post-Impressionist, and two years later he’s leaving Paris as a modern painter.
He loved and collected Japanese prints he was buying in Paris at Pere Tanguy’s shop. So, in early spring of 1888 he left to the south of France, to Arles, in search for ‘his Japan’. He was utterly amazed by the colours and motives he has found there. And his art is definitely coming to its peak in Arles. Some of the most famous paintings like ‘The Sunflowers’, ‘The Yellow House’ or ‘Starry Night over the Rhone’ were all painted during that time.
However, this is also where some of the first signs of his mental illness started to appear. And that’s why in May 1889 he’s admitted at the Saint-Paul hospital at a near-by Saint-Remy-de-Provence. He was painting a lot there, too. Especially in a garden of the hospital or in the nature of a near-by Alpilles Mountains.
After a year he spent there, he went to the north once again, to Auvers-sur-Oise. That’s a village located some 30 kilometres north of Paris. He spent the last two months of his life there. And that’s a place where he died and is buried today.
Why to follow the footsteps of Vincent van Gogh
All of those places, people he met there, but also the scenery he saw in them, influenced his art strongly. I could see so well colours, light, even the brush strokes in nature while there. Anyone who loves his art and would like to understand it better should definitely visit some of the places where he painted some of his very famous paintings.
There are also many museums, research centres and institutions at those places, that are still researching his work and where you can learn more about him, as well. There are guided visits organised, tours around those places, and even the painting workshops during which you can learn more about Vincent’s art.
Following the footsteps of van Gogh was one of the most inspiring experiences and trips I’ve ever done. I learned much more about Vincent and his way of seeing the world around him. It was so amazing to stand at the very spot where he painted some of his famous paintings. Or to be in places where he lived and worked.
He had such an interesting life, and there are so many aspects of it that could be focused on during this trip: Vincent as a painter, a poet, his search for spirituality or him as one of the forerunners of modern travellers.
During the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting about different parts of my trip, so you can get a better idea about those locations and things you can see there.
*This trip was organised in collaboration with Route van Gogh and their partners. Many thanks to all of them, lovely guides, hotel owners and other people I’ve met during my trip, who helped me organise it.