Retracing Van Gogh: A walking tour of Neunen

It would be difficult, we suppose, to visit The Netherlands and not hear about Vincent Van Gogh, the well-known post-impressionist artist known for “greats” such as Starry Night, Sunflowers, The Bedroom, and The Potato Eaters. But what we didn’t realize was that his life was a humble one, living, as he did, in a small but charming town called Neunen.

I don’t know anything with certainty, but seeing the stars makes me dream.

Vincent Van Gogh

As a side venture with our Viking River Cruise “Holland & Belgium,” we walked the town where Van Gogh spent his life from December 5, 1883, to November 24, 1885. And it was here that he created his now-famous painting The Potato Eaters as well as hundreds of other paintings and drawings.

The Potato Eaters, Vincent Van Gogh
The Potato Eaters by Vincent Van Gogh

Although his major works are housed in Amsterdam in the Van Gogh Museum , several minor paintings show the progression from his “darker” years to the happy, brighter works with which we’re all familiar.

Bust of Vincent Van Gogh
Bust of Vincent Van Gogh

A stroll through Neunen takes you through Het Park where a monument to Vincent stands as part of a protected village.

In tribute to Vincent Van Gogh, Neunen, The Netherlands
In tribute to Vincent Van Gogh’s life and work in Neunen

But it may have been the humble abode where he worked — alone much of the time — that helped us understand how his environment shaped him. We first caught a glimpse of it in this painting dated 1858: The Vicarage at Nuenen at Night, Rear. The somber tones and loneliness of his early years set the stage for many dark days in Vincent’s life.

Vicarage at Neunen, Vincent Van Gogh
An early painting, The Vicarage reveals a somber, moody place for work.

We walked past the ancestral home of Margot Begemann, Vincent’s lover and companion. The house also served as a hiding spot for a Jewish boy during World War II.

Home of Margot Begemann, Neunen, The Netherlands
Home of Margot Begemann, Neunen, The Netherlands

But it’s the full-size sculpture of The Potato Eaters that made the biggest impression on us: An embodiment of the 1885 oil on canvas that shows the harsh reality of country life. The people at the table are not glorified but rather represented in a familial setting as they live their daily rituals — eating dinner together, conversing, and surviving. It was Van Gogh’s art focused on real people rather than royalty or aristocrats that has influenced painters since his time.

Sculpture based upon The Potato Eaters, Neunen, Netherlands
Sculpture version of The Potato Eaters
Detail of The Potato Eaters, Neunen, The Netherlands
Close-up of The Potato Eaters

If you’re in The Netherlands, stop by Neunen. It’s definitely a place to learn more about the artist who fought personal demons to survive as best he could, while leaving us with treasures of art known all over the world.

A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke.”

Vincent Van Gogh
Bicycle, Neunen, The Netherlands
Taking a break from biking in Neunen

Travel artistically,

Rusha & Bert

This post is one in a series prompted by a recent trip to The Netherlands and Belgium. Thank you to Viking cruises (Holland & Belgium 2022) and our travel agent, Lauren Gunnels of Ortelius Travel Advisors, for the arrangements and free time to enjoy the scenery!

15 thoughts on “Retracing Van Gogh: A walking tour of Neunen

  1. Toonsarah

    This sounds like a fascinating exploration of a village I hadn’t really heard of, even though I’m a big admirer of Van Gogh’s work. I was going to tell you about visiting the immersive experience but I see Phil (Hungry Traveller) has already mentioned it. I’m not sure however that I’d agree with you that his later work was lighter in mood. The colours may have been brighter than in the Potato Eaters but it’s clear he was still tormented by his demons.

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      You are so right. I guess I was jumping in to what sells at the gift shop! There were huge displays of cheery sunflowers and starry nights. No vicarage reproductions, however. The museum in Neunen is a good one, but photography wasn’t allowed. Thanks for taking a look!

  2. Armando Garcia

    Gene and I didn’t get to Neuen, but we did get to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. An extraordinary experience which we hope to be able to repeat some day.

  3. thehungrytravellers.blog

    We recently visited the Van Gogh immersive exhibition – we saw it in London but it’s been in locations around the world. If you get the opportunity, please go, it’s not only incredibly clever (I won’t spoil it by telling you more, just in case) but is so informative about his life, his mental torture and his flawed personality, as well of course his genius. You obviously love his work so it’s well worth it if you get the chance. Trust me!

      1. kzmcb

        Thank you, but we’re in the middle of winter. It is going well, with plenty of sunny, cold days and more rain than we usually get.

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