Musée d’Orsay Breaks Attendance Records With Interactive Vincent van Gogh Exhibition

The show exploring the artist’s final works featured an interactive recreation of the painter trained on hundreds of his letters

Van Gogh's Palette
The museum offered an experience called "Van Gogh's Palette," allowing visitors to immerse themselves in one of the artist's paintings. Lucid Realities, TSVP, Musée d’Orsay, Vive Arts

The Musée d’Orsay in Paris announced that its latest Vincent van Gogh exhibition, which used immersive technology to explore the last chapters of the painter’s life, has broken attendance records, with 793,556 visitors over roughly four months, per Artnet’s Jo Lawson-Tancred.

Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise: The Final Months,” which wrapped up on February 4, displayed works from the end of van Gogh’s career, when he lived in the town of Auvers-sur-Oise in the outskirts of Paris. He moved there in May 1890 and created 74 paintings and 33 drawings before he died by suicide that July.

In addition to showcasing the artist’s paintings, the exhibition encouraged visitors to engage with van Gogh’s artwork through interactive experiences co-produced by the museum, Vive Arts, Lucid Realities and Tournez S’il Vous Plait.

One of those experiences was an artificial intelligence-powered recreation of the artist called “Hello Vincent,” which engineers trained using 900 of van Gogh’s letters as well as early biographies exploring his life. Visitors could use a microphone to speak one-on-one with the A.I. van Gogh, who could be seen on a screen sitting beside Wheatfield with Crows (1890).

According to the New York Times Zachary Small, one of the most frequently asked questions was not about the artist’s work, but his decision to end his life.

“Ah, my dear visitor, the topic of my suicide is a heavy burden to bear,” the recreation told Small. “In my darkest moments, I believed that ending my life was the only escape from the torment that plagued my mind.”

When asked the same question on another occasion, the A.I. van Gogh said: “I would implore this: Cling to life, for even in the bleakest of moments, there is always beauty and hope.”

In addition to the A.I. van Gogh, the record-breaking show featured a virtual reality experience in which visitors donned headsets that allowed them to jump into one of the artist’s final canvases.

“It gives visitors a new way of looking at the art,” Chloé Jarry, CEO of Lucid Realities, told the Guardian’s Kim Willsher in October. “We used the last ever paint palette used by van Gogh to show the colors as they were at the time and added the touches he used in the paintings to create a virtual landscape.”

In recent years, immersive van Gogh exhibitions have popped up in cities all over the world. What’s more, the A.I. van Gogh isn’t the first interpretation of the artist’s story associated with the Musée d’Orsay to draw in numbers. A beloved “Doctor Who” scene from 2010, in which van Gogh time travels to visit the Paris museum and witnesses his enduring legacy, has been viewed over 26 million times on YouTube.

In the future, the museum will continue using technology and immersive elements in its shows. The upcoming “Paris 1874: Inventing Impressionism” will feature a virtual reality experience in which visitors “will be invited to join a night out in Paris with some of their favorite Impressionist painters,” per Artnet.

According to Le Monde, “Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise: The Final Months” surpassed the art museum’s previous attendance record—held by 2022’s “Edvard Munch: a Poem of Life, Love and Death”—by nearly 70,000 visitors.

With or without the immersive technology, the show’s numbers demonstrate the artist’s enduring popularity.

“[Van Gogh’s] life was one of working against the odds: The difficulties that he surmounted represents a fascinating story, one offering solace and hope,” Emilie Gordenker, director of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, told the Art Newspaper’s Martin Bailey last spring. “There is a freshness and immediacy to his work. Every generation seems to rediscover him.”

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