Art Review: Vincent Van Gogh Alive London

“This is no ordinary art exhibition” and with no actual paintings, but 38 huge screens magnifying 3,000 Van Gogh images you’d be wondering what he’d make of it all. The artist himself doesn’t quite come alive in this exhibition and might well be rolling in his grave, but finally counting up the money.

Van Gogh wasn’t a commercial success in his lifetime and in 1890, at the age of 37 and having sold just one painting, he shot himself, saying “I only hope I haven’t botched it.” Now the battle for commercialising his legacy is hotting up with at least four immersive exhibition companies touring the world – with over 50 shows in the USA alone and, of course, the superb permanent Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam where they are launching an immersive experience  ‘Fine Art Meets Fine Fragrance’.

We’ve been lucky to be invited to see London’s Van Gogh Alive which was first presented in Singapore in 2011 by Grande Experiences, and since then has been seen by over eight million people in 70 cities – that’s quite a blockbuster – and it’s now on in Kensington Gardens London until 26 September 2021 and then in Media City Manchester from 22 October until 23 January 2022.

If you’ve ever been to a Son et Lumiere, which have been going since the 1950s in France, your mind will be blown. If you’ve been to a 4-D immersive experience where they shake you up and throw salty water in your face to signify a shipwreck, then you’ll be slightly underwhelmed – but your kids won’t, they will love it.

Van Gogh Alive @ Kensington Gardens: Official Trailer

It’s gloriously bright and crisp, with thousands of images – well, Van Gogh did create over 2,000 artworks, and punctuated with scrawled text from his letters which you can treat as motivational thoughts for the day. Forgive the sparse benches and hard floors as seating for the 45-minute full-on screening and the deafening, banal classical soundtrack that would even have me cutting my ear off. Mercifully they play BA’s Flower Duet so we know it’s time to head for the exit – and straight into the fabulous “Café Provençale” restaurant and terrace bar to pick over this incredible show.

In short, go for the stunning digital spectacle of the most recognised painter of all time, and let your kids dance and twirl bathed in chrome yellow and cobalt blue – it beats being dragged around a shushed art gallery where the paintings are hung at adult heights – here the art is on the floor. For grown-ups you can get closer to the red vineyards of Arles with the delightful award-winning Hambledon Classic Cuvée NV from 50 acres in Hampshire. The wine’s sourdough, magnolia and lily scents waft us back to our year in Provence. and remind us to be thankful we can see things again together – that’s quite an experience in itself.


Cafe Provencale at Van Gogh Alive – with great staff!

Van Gogh Alive focuses on the fantastically productive period between 1880 and 1890 when Van Gogh criss crossed from The Hague,  isolated parts of northern Netherlands, Antwerp, Paris and finally, fatefully Arles.

The close-up art is superb, you can clearly see Van Gogh’s striking colours, swirling, vigorous brushwork and weathered faces of peasants and the charming Roulin family and those sunflowers!

Immerse yourself into the picture – Man In London meets Van Gogh

If there were any notes to make, then the soundtrack could do with some naturalised elements such as the wind and sea, mewing from the circling animated seagulls or muffled voices in the street, rather than the frightening plucked half-tube zithers that accompany the Almond Blossoms and their endless flight of petals across the screens. The overhead train tracks taking Van Gogh to Arles was a welcome relief, even if it felt like the journey was in real time. The overwhelming historical notes in the ‘Interpretative Area’ could be weaved into the slides to give context to the art on screen and replacing a few of the tortured epigrams. But the show is not morbid, it’s fast-paced and rather exhilarating.

There are other elements too, like video tutorials, a staged Van Gogh’s bedroom and a 360° mirrored Sunflower Selfie room to delight your Instagram feeds sans a “zombie apocalypse”.

This experience will enhance our love of the artist and real life paintings which you can take a look at The National Gallery London where The Sunflowers is still one of the most popular paintings.

And rightly so, shame Vincent didn’t get to see it while he was alive.

Ticket prices: £24 for adults; £14 for children (5-16 years) and £19 for concessions.