An Immersive Van Gogh Show Breaks Attendance Records at the Musée d’Orsay

A new V.R. experience will invite museum goers on a night out in Paris with their favorite Impressionist painters.

A woman takes photos of "The Self-Portrait" at the exhibition Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise, the Final Monthsat Orsay Museum in Paris, France, 2023. Photo: Gao Jing/Xinhua via Getty Images.

The Musée d’Orsay just reported that its latest Van Gogh exhibition broke all previous attendance records, bringing in a total 793,556 visitors, or an average of 7,181 each day. The show’s A.I. and immersive V.R. experiences were largely ridiculed in the press, but they proved persuasive to new audiences.

“Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise,” which closed last Sunday, brought together canvases from the final two months of the Post-Impressionist artit’s life. In this short but prolific period in mid 1890, Van Gogh lived in Auvers-sur-Oise, a small town just outside Paris, and made 74 paintings.

The exhibition was the most visited in the Musée d’Orsay’s history, easily surpassing the 724,414 visitors that went to “Edvard Munch: A Poem of Life, Love and Death” in 2022, as reported in Le Monde. The Paris museum’s third most visited show was 2018’s “Picasso: Blue and Pink,” which brought in 670,667 eager art lovers.

Still from Le Palette de Van Gogh. Image: © Lucid Realities – TSVP – Musée d’Orsay – VIVE Arts.

Though a museum show in a major art capital dedicated to one of history’s most beloved painters already has all the makings to be a blockbuster hit, the Musée d’Orsay surprised audiences with some new, technologically-advanced elements. One of these was an A.I. reincarnation of Van Gogh that had been trained on the artist’s letters, though its musings were anachronistic to the point of absurdity according to one reporter from the Guardian.

“The truth of my motivation remains a mystery even to me. Thank you for understanding my mental health struggles,” Van Gogh apparently told one museum goer who had demanded he explain the reason for his death by suicide. For those wondering, he speaks in a gruff English accent despite his Dutch origins.

“I saw no other way to find peace,” he admitted to another reporter for The New York Times. It was a startlingly intimate confession from a man who has not otherwise had an opportunity to speak for well over a century.

The museum also hosted a V.R.-powered experience that uses Van Gogh’s final palette as a portal to transport visitors into his painterly landscapes. The journey was narrated by Marguerite Gachet, the daughter of Van Gogh’s doctor who he painted twice in 1890. Through her account, the experience attempted to provide some biographical insight into Van Gogh’s activities and encounters during his final months.

Fans of V.R. who missed out on this immersive experience from last fall’s Van Gogh show will get another chance to don a headset at the Musée d’Orsay’s forthcoming “Paris 1874: Inventing Impressionism” show, which opens in March. This time, visitors will be invited to join a night out in Paris with some of their favorite Impressionist painters.

It had seemed that the public’s wild enthusiasm for immersive art experiences might be flagging last year when one prominent producer was forced to file for bankruptcy. The digital format became a runaway hit during the pandemic after it was featured in Netflix’s Emily in Paris. Audiences were particularly mad for all things Van Gogh, with nearly 50 separate Van Gogh experiences to be found across the U.S. in 2021.

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