I had read travel articles about an immersive Van Gogh experience in France, that took the visitor inside the paintings and into the artists world. I had been thinking of a vacation that would include a visit when the pandemic hit, so when I found out that the exhibition was on tour and would arrive at a location less than an hour away by train, I was keen to book tickets. S thought our daughter F would be keen to come with us, but when she declined, I made 2 reservations and S and I proceeded to Bristol by train.
The exhibition is housed at the Propyard, only a few minutes walk from Temple Meads station, although in the opposite direction from the city centre. We strolled alongside a canal and found a converted warehouse to be the home of the immersive experience. Apparently a trendy location that also puts on gigs in an informal bar style setting, a staff member told us they make props for the Glastonbury Festival there. The name suddenly made sense.
We entered a hall where copies of many of the artists most famous works were on display, including Café Terrace at Night.
We saw Sunflowers and Starry Night. The words of Don McLean’s song Vincent sprang to mind as I viewed the palette of blue and grey – not to mention the bright yellow of the stars. The exhibition told of his life and one of the facts we discovered was that Van Gogh was colour blind. This is why he painted in such vivid bright and contrasting colours, as he couldn’t easily distinguish between more subtle shades.
The artist’s Bedroom at Arles was recreated alongside his painting of the subject. Van Gogh was committed to an asylum there, which turned out to be one of his most prolific periods for painting.
Arriving in the next room, we realised why a converted warehouse was an ideal venue for this experience. The walls were covered with projections of Van Gogh artworks, many coming to life in front of us. For example, in a painting of a farmer ploughing a field, the farmer and his horse began moving across the picture, as the artist would have seen them as he was painting. A series of other paintings appeared and were similarly brought to life. Sitting in a deck chair watching the walls was a fantastic way to see the art. However, the piece de resistance was still to come.
We had to book the VIP package to see the virtual reality part of the experience, but it was well worth it. The VR headsets truly got us inside the world of Van Gogh. They took us around southern France where he lived, identifying the locations he painted with frames around them. We got a real feel for how the artist saw the world. The poster of Starry Night was an additional bonus of the VIP package, although it could be bought in the gift shop afterwards. The experience was a unique and thoroughly worthwhile way of appreciating the work of Vincent Van Gogh.
A short taxi ride away from the Propyard is Bristol’s regenerated harbourside. Bars, restaurants and hotels jostle for position along the waterfront. We were quite peckish, so didn’t need much temptation to indulge in delicious tapas with a harbour view.
Around the corner is a replica of the Matthew – the ship on which John Cabot discovered North America. For those who may think this accolade belongs to Columbus, Bristolians will tell you that Cabot actually discovered the mainland prior to former, who arrived in the West Indies. To be fair, I should point out that the Vikings got there a few centuries before either, and First Nations Americans long before them.
We headed in the opposite direction, passing through Queen Square, framed by elegant Regency buildings lurking behind the trees. After a pleasant walk through the historic city, we arrived back at Temple Meads station for our journey home.
Bristol is in the south west of England, 120 miles west of London
Trains are available from many British cities including London (1h 30), Cardiff (50 mins) and Birmingham (1h 25). The city also has its own airport. For drivers, it is located at the junction of the London – South Wales M4 and Birmingham – Devon M5 motorways
Click the links for further information on the Van Gogh Immersive Experience and Bristol. There are many hotels and eateries in the city