Almond Blossoms to A Bedroom in Arles

An alluring insight into an enigmatic life, on vast white drapes.


Portrait of Père Tanguy

Vedashree Vijapure

You may have come across the beautiful strokes of bright blues, chrome yellows, and slate greys of ‘The Starry Night’ on photocards, phone cases, tapestries, tattoos, and even mousepads. But one would be surprised to know that it was made in a psychiatry hospital, in the last two years of a painter’s life.

Art has the wonderful ability to transcend time and space. It helps the viewer interpret and resonate with the emotions of the artist. Its incredible subjectivity is what helps humans enjoy it, as much as they do. In recent years, technology has also opened up new avenues for experiencing art and one remarkable example of this would be the Van Gogh 360.

The Van Gogh 360, which is a traveling museum currently touring India, is an immersive experience into the life of the much-celebrated painter. It takes the audience through the artistic career of Vincent Van Gogh to the tumultuous experiences faced and finally to his unfortunate death.

The main focus of the exhibition is the subject of mental health and how it affected Van Gogh.

Behind The Starry Night

Known for his fearless brush strokes, impeccable sense of colours, and understanding of light and exposure, it is interesting to know that this was not always Van Gogh’s original style. He studied and tried different art styles and thought that sketching was an important way to understand figures and objects better. Van Gogh was tortured by psychiatric illness for most of his life. Many tumultuous incidents made him withdraw from the world. He used art as a form of disassociation from the world around him and this slowly helped him regain his confidence. He met artists like Paul Gauguin, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec who influenced a newer perspective and palette on. After the infamous ear-cutting incident in Arles, Van Gogh admitted himself to the psychiatry hospital at Saint Remy. It is fascinating to know that he produced more than 860 paintings here, in the span of just two years. These were the most productive yet, unfortunately, the last years of his life.

Back into the Museum

After entering a massive room of haphazardly arranged bean bags and ottomans, successfully camouflaged within the wide drapes of white, bright violin notes hit the ears in the hurry to tell the story of an artist who knew the realities of life all too well. Fields of tulips, with a collage of his self-portraits roll in to show his initial work as a struggling artist. Suddenly, with a cascading effect, comes a series of flowers, painted in fearless yet controlled strokes of reds, whites, and yellows.

The violin notes then brighten into a rendition of ‘Sakura Sakura’, a traditional Japanese song and beautiful Japanese-inspired paintings surround it. A giant and mildly creepy, ‘Portrait of Père Tanguy’, blinks back at you as the vibrant greens and reds transport the viewer into the tranquil gardens of Japan.

The notes then dull and blue washes over the massive drapes. Beautiful twirling Almond Blossoms make their way beneath the feet. For a man who painted flowers because he couldn’t afford to paint models, Van Gogh’s floral still life paintings are some of his most famous, loved, and valued ones today. While undergoing treatment at St. Remy’s, he painted the flora that surrounded the facility, as he was not allowed to stray far from it.

The next blackout already has the people on the beanbags and floor excited as they know they are about to experience the most famous and stunning painting of the artist. A single, lone crescent moon rises on the left and follows the bright neon stars, racing to get to their designated spot. Running through the room and over the floor, they finally settle as the tree makes an appearance. Everyone makes low noises of awe as the background creates swirls of cobalt blue and wispy-lined clouds. The Starry Night aligns itself in its mirrored form and people smile in recognition. Van Gogh reportedly made this in his last two years at Saint Remy’s. While many artists might have painted stars as simple, plain white dots of light, Van Gogh saw them as mystical orbs that rival the moon.

Van Gogh for whom, “The night was more alive and richly coloured than the day” once said, “There is no blue without yellow and orange”. During his time at Saint Remy, He was administered ‘digitalis’, a drug derived from dried leaves of the common foxglove plant. What is ever so interesting, is that people who are administered repeated doses of digitalis often see the world with a yellow-green tint. They also complain of seeing yellow spots surrounded by coronas very similar to those Van Gogh painted in this amazing creation.

Slowly though, as the sapphire night begins to dull, and the glowing moon begins to descend with a sense of finality, the audience is brought out of their tranquil trance and into the harsh reality of the world. The words ‘Van Gogh 360’ written in bold are a reminder of that and disheartened fans of Van Gogh, make their way out of the room begrudgingly.

One of the most significant reasons behind this project is to bring art closer to people. Not everyone has the opportunity to witness Van Gogh's masterpieces in person.

The Van Gogh 360 Experience embodies the convergence of art and technology, offering an immersive journey into the heart of Vincent van Gogh's universe. Through the power of technology, people can transcend the limitations of time and space, submerging themselves in his story. As this technology continues to develop, we can anticipate a revolution in the way we engage with art, making it more accessible and enriching for art enthusiasts.

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