The masterworks of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh are recognizable instantly — and many know the story of his short life. His paintings of sunflowers, the stars at night and his suicide are all part of art history.
“Van Gogh Alive,” at Biltmore through March 5, makes his work truly come alive. The much-heralded, multi-sensory exhibit is presented at Biltmore’s Amherst building at Deerpark on the estate’s grounds.
The 40-minute presentation projects more than 3,000 images of his works on oversized walls and on the floor, surrounding visitors with images, no matter where they stand. It is a feast for the senses.
A synchronized classical music score punctuates the changing images.
The exhibit takes viewers on a journey through the stages and changing mental states of Van Gogh’s short life from the Netherlands to the South of France.
It’s fitting for Biltmore to host the exhibit. George and Edith Vanderbilt were both patrons of the arts and avid art collectors.
“Van Gogh Alive” is not just a slide show or static display of his work — it’s totally immersive.
Attendees go on the journey with Van Gogh himself as panels display writings in his own words, giving insight into his thinking about his work and his moods. The writing is often deep, but always artistic.
“Love is something eternal; the aspect may change, but not the essence,” Van Gogh wrote.
His inspirations included a strong tie and love of nature and people — and attention to dreams.
“I dream of painting and then I paint my dream,” wrote Van Gogh.
Visitors will get to know his early works, see his most famous masterpieces, including the sunflower series and the iconic “Starry Night,” painted while he was in an asylum.
“I don’t know anything with certainly, but seeing the stars makes me dream,” Van Gogh wrote.
“It’s amazing to see Van Gogh’s handwriting and quotes during the show — and how it all comes together with his paintings and drawings,” said LeeAnn Donnelly, Biltmore senior public relations manager.
Presented by Grande Experiences, the exhibit system uses multi-channel motion graphics, cinema-quality surround sound and 40 high-definition projectors. Guests can wander the large room and take in the ever-changing views from various perspectives.
Before entering the multi-sensory room, visit the gallery detailing the depth of Van Gogh’s work and see the life-size re-creation of his bedroom in Arles, which he used as the subject of some of his most famous work.
Be sure to go into the Sunflower Room at the end of the exhibit, a remarkable space filled with sunflowers and mirrors reflecting the intense yellow-gold color.
“How lovely yellow is,” Van Gogh wrote. “It stands for the sun.”
A Primer on Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh was born in 1853 in the Netherlands to his father, a country minister, and mother, who was an artist. It is said that his mother’s love of nature, drawing and watercolors — and moodiness — were all passed down to him.
He was the second son born with the name of Vincent; the first baby was stillborn. Van Gogh was reportedly “melancholy” at a young age. Seeing the name Vincent Van Gogh on the headstone of his stillborn brother’s grave may have contributed to this.
The eldest of six other offspring, at age 15, he worked at an art dealership in The Hague. Van Gogh spent time working in the dealership’s London gallery, and reportedly suffered a breakdown when a young woman rejected his marriage intentions. He left the art world for a while.
After a short career teaching in a Methodist boys’ school and preaching, he decided to become an artist, eventually moving to Paris in 1886. There he became inspired by Impressionist art, with its vivid colors and attention to light. Remarkably, his artistic ability was self-taught.
In 1888, Van Gogh moved to the south of France into the “yellow house,” where he painted a famous version of his bedroom. While living in Arles, he created his remarkable series of sunflowers.
“The sunflower is mine, in a way,” he wrote.
Reportedly, Van Gogh spent his money on painting supplies rather than food, with a diet of coffee, bread and absinthe. His physical decline and mental instability worsened after a petition was filed by people in Arles, saying he was “dangerous.” It was during this time he cut off his own ear, offering it to a prostitute.
In 1889, Van Gogh committed himself to an asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where he painted some of his most famous works, including “Irises” and “Starry Night.”
In July 1890, he shot himself in the chest with a pistol and died two days later at the age of 37.
It is a sad fact that few of Van Gogh’s estimated 2,100 works of art sold during his lifetime.
“I can’t change the fact that my paintings don’t sell,” he wrote. “But the time will come when people will recognize that they are worth more than the value of the paints used in the picture.”
It wasn’t until and exhibition of his work in 1901 that Van Gogh’s fame began to grow and his ranking as an artist eventually put him into the legends category.
We wonder what Van Gogh would think of the thousands of people flocking to the exhibits of his work today.
“Van Gogh Alive” runs through March 5, 2022. After that Biltmore will present two more experiential exhibits in the Legends of Art & Innovation series: “Monet & Friends – Life, Light & Color,” March 9, — July 10, 2022; and “Leonard Da Vinci – 500 Years of Genius,” July 14, 2022 — Jan. 8, 2023.
For Van Gogh tickets, visit www.biltmore.com/things-to-do/events/van-gogh-alive/.