After buying our tickets being required to check all of the things, sadly including our stroller, we began to explore the beginnings of a great artist. English was fully available along with French and Dutch. The exhibit explains van Gogh’s broken dreams of being, among other things, a pastor and evangelist. During his 2-year sojourn in the Borinage coal-mining area outside of Mons, the difficult life of the local miners affected him so strongly that he took to eccentric behavior (for not his first or last time). He lost his church’s endorsement and finally left the measured life of church ministry for the passionate life of art.
Miners in snow, humble country cottages, a skinny old nag, miners carrying heavy loads, deep lines on the face of an overworked man, the weavers with which he was aesthetically infatuated, the sower type that grew to be a theme for him; all are on display here and their echoes are heard through the rest of his work. Though some of his later paintings are included, this is a birth story and van Gogh’s most famous paintings are not here. Who would have guessed that his dazzling, swirling skies and cheerful sunflowers were born of the dreary trudge of his own repeated failure and overwhelming empathy for one of the world’s hardest professions?
One does not linger in an art museum with an unrestrained two-year-old boy, but in an hour we were able to see all 70 works—most but not all van Gogh’s—and some original letters between Vincent and his brother Theo. My daughter got an idea of the amount of practice that good art requires. At the end the kids got to add a sticker (or five) to van Gogh’s bedroom, recreated in 3D.
The Maison Vincent van Gogh, less than a 10 minute drive away from BAM, is worth a very quick stop if you enjoy walking in the footsteps of a giant. The house is modernized and set up like a museum exhibit inside; there are informative signs and a video about his life, examples of books he was reading during his four months in the house, a few reproductions and one painting, and a very small section of the house set up in period pieces. Most excitingly for us, near the ticket counter there were quill-style pens and inkwells for the kids to write Theo-to-Vincent style letters.