In Van Gogh’s footsteps

In Van Gogh’s footsteps

Nuenen's attraction is an outdoor museum that covers the exact locations that Van Gogh painted when he stayed here for two years, writes Sudha Balachandran

The Potato Eaters sculpture

Have you heard of a small village called Nuenen in the Netherlands? Well, we certainly hadn’t. But we were in for a great surprise when we visited this beautiful village near Eindhoven. Nuenen is a regular, well-maintained little village, about 10 km from Eindhoven. It has a huge stone-walled church, a quaint but lovely village-centre dotted with modern cafes and shops, pleasant greenery, and several picturesque spots. The ancient church has a tall bell tower, that is visible from quite a distance.

Nuenen’s claim to fame is its association to the well-known Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh. The master painter, whose works were not really appreciated during his lifetime, became famous and much sought after posthumously. Nearly a quarter of his works are supposed to have been done during the two-year period that he stayed in Nuenen. 

After trying his hand at various vocations as a teacher, art dealer, church minister, and travelling across the Netherlands, Paris, Belgium and England, Van Gogh moved to Nuenen to stay with his parents; his father was then the church minister. While at Nuenen, he engrossed himself in sketching and painting the people, places and the sights he saw around him. Today, all this has been beautifully captured and illustrated in Nuenen.

The Van Gogh Trail walking tour covers nearly 14 spots around the village. At each location, interactive informational signs and placards are placed that provide information on the specific painting. An audio guide with a voice-recorded message is also played that talks in the voices of Van Gogh and his family, giving us an idea of the life and times, the stories around each painting and the specific emotions at play while Van Gogh worked on the painting. A miniature picture of Van Gogh’s painting is fixed at every location; this helps us to compare and see the actual location and the way in which the same has been captured by Van Gogh in his painting.

We drove down to Nuenen from Eindhoven, which is situated 10 km away. We started our Van Gogh Trail walk from the village centre. His famous painting, The Potato Eaters, has been created as an outdoor sculpture and set in the midst of greenery in a small park. We learnt that this painting was based on a scene that Van Gogh saw in the house of a peasant family in Nuenen. We then walked around leisurely around the village and visited every one of the places that Van Gogh frequented and immortalised in his paintings. It was exhilarating to literally traverse through Van Gogh’s life and tread in his footsteps. We saw the house where Ms Margot once lived. We got to know from the interactive audio recordings that Margot and Van Gogh loved each other and wanted to get married but their families were not in favour. Margot’s house has been beautifully captured by Van Gogh in one of his paintings.

As we walked along the streets of Nuenen, we got to see the little vicarage that Van Gogh visited in his time and right next to the entrance, we also saw Van Gogh’s painting of the same.

The thought that we were possibly standing at the same spot as Van Gogh when he worked on his painting of the vicarage added to the enchantment of the tour. Several more of his works like the Weaver’s Cottage, the Village Church, the village roads, were all modelled around Nuenen. We spent a good three hours in this little village, walking around and immersing ourselves in Van Gogh’s world — time well spent in an outdoor museum of sorts!