The painter Vincent Van Gogh was a restless spirit, he struggled to find his place in the world. This is ever so evident from his wanderings and never staying in one place for too long.
Nuenen was one place he spent 2 years. It is a village in the Dutch province of Brabant, just outside the provincial capital, Eindthoven. This was the place where Van Gogh really embraced painting. Here, in the 2 short years he lived in Nuenen, he created a quarter of his works, 551 pieces; among them the renowned “Potato eaters”.
The village has truly embraced its Van Gogh heritage and run with it: they opened the Vincentre after an enthusiastic clerk working at the town hall gathered numerous documents, letters and other information linked to Van Gogh. Five years ago the collection moved from the original little outbuilding next to the town hall to the large old town hall. In the past 5 years the Vincentre has seen 100 thousand visitors from all around the world pass through its doors.
Our Van Gogh tour started at the Vincentre and continued with Hans, our volunteer guide, with a wander around Nuenen.
The Vincentre is dividied across 3 floors, each level with just a room, room and a half. It’s not big, but it has an interactive element, which helps transport us to the time of Van Gogh.
I particularly liked the individual audio headsets, available in …. languages
On the ground floor we follow a timeline of Vincent’s life. Some digital portraits of family and friends tell more personal stories. We are quite lucky to know so much about the painter, because he was an extremely prolific in writing letters, which have been preserved.
The first floor is dedicated to life of Van Gogh in Nuenen, taking us back in time to the era in which he lived he. There is also a film taking about his time here.
The top floor is given over to temporary exhibitions. I sat this one out with the kids, who found the table with coloured pencils and colouring sheets.
The Vincentre had 2 different activity sheets for children: one, aimed at older children, was a quiz where kids had to find answers from the exhibits, the other, probably suitable from 4-5 years onwards, was about finding clues and drawing missing parts of a display. Angelina (8) did the quiz and got stuck on a couple of things. She described it as “Tricky”. Hugo, not usually one for completing museum trails, really got into the pictorial quiz. He did very well and persevered to the end with it.
The Vincentre also has a little shop and cafe- well worth grabbing a quick coffee and a fristi (a yoghurt drink) for the kids before heading out to wander around in the village.
Walking around the streets, knowing that Van Gogh walked the same routes brings the person and personality alive.
We saw where he had his studio- at the back of his parents’ house, the garden he’d look out onto and compared it to his sketches that are left from the time.
We saw the church he painted for his mother after she’d fallen and broke her leg. As his mother was bedridden, he painted her the church she’d worship at:
“If you can’t go to the church, Mother, then I’ll bring the church to you”
It is this village he peeked through a window and saw a scene that inspired him to paint the Potato Eaters.
It is in this village that he found and lost his one and only reciprocated love, Margot. A tragic story of love, envy, greed, family pressures and impatience.
Walking in his footsteps brings the man alive.
Though the village has moved on with time and is not doggedly clinging onto the past, it has retained some vistas and some of the character that Vincent would’ve seen.
We followed his footsteps around part way only with our guide, but the village has a brilliant walking tour set up for Van Gogh fans: there are 17 information post placed at important places around the village; they guide you from one place to the next, giving a short description that can also be played aloud in Dutch or English. No guide needed, though I felt the guides are very knowledgable giving extra hints and tips and really do bring the stories to life.
We definitely got a whole lot more out of it by going around with Hans.
During our walk the boys got to run around a bit, expelling some of the boyhood excess energy that these Duracell bunnies seem to have. There is also a playground not far off the route, had we done more… not that we needed it.
From our walk we headed out of town towards Eindhoven to the Watermill which had featured in Van Gogh’s paintings and is now restaurant and then onto a Starry Night walk.
Info & links
Getting there– Nuenen is just outside of Eindhoven. You could fly directly into Eindhoven, which has it’s own airport with Ryanair and BA operating flights from the UK, or there is an excellent train service from Amsterdam Schipol airport.
We drove from the UK using one of our annual multi-trip tickets for DFDS. (It’s about a 3-3.5 hour journey from Dunkirk, 15 minutes longer from Calais, just try to avoid rush hour traffic around Antwerp).
Parking – there seemed to be ample parking around the museum, it was well signposted and the system explained in English too.
Specific opening times and entry prices are on the Vincentre website