The Real Van Gogh at the Royal Academy

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The Real Van Gogh opens tomorrow at London’s Royal Academy and it’s sure to be a blockbuster.

I was lucky enough to get a preview last night, and can confirm that it’s definitely a must-see show. Expert reviewers seem to agree – see The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Times and Time Out.

The exhibition traces Van Gogh’s career from his decision to become an artist at the age of 27, to his stay in a psychiatric hospital, and his eventual suicide in July 1890.

Displayed alongside the paintings are Van Gogh’s letters to his art dealer brother, Theo, and other family members and artist friends.

The letters give a fascinating insight into the way Van Gogh worked, the materials he used, the methods he experimented with, and the subjects he painted.

The much-hyped exhibition is going to be popular. If you want to avoid the crowds, I’m told the best times to visit are Friday evenings (until 10pm) or Saturday evenings (until 9pm).

The Royal Academy is also organising some exclusive Sunday evening viewings on 7 and 21 March and 4 April. Look out for details on the Royal Academy website over the coming week, or register an interest by emailing


  1. Jenny says:

    I really enjoyed this exhibition, but word of warning, if you do visit in the evening, make sure you leave enough time for the gift shop! They closed it at 6pm last night – the same time as the exhibition. Quite a few people wanted to buy a souvenir on the way out but couldn’t. I hope the Royal Academy’s finances won’t suffer too much without my 50p postcard contribution!

  2. Having been to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, I was already aware that Van Gogh was an amazing talent. I was aware of the incredible journey his painting took during the short 10 years he painted – From the dark and heroic paintings of Dutch peasants toiling the fields at the beginning of his artistic career, to the riot of colour and inventiveness associated with his later work. This exhibition at the RA however, really brought home the tragedy of the man. Sure we all know that, but this resonates as you look around the galleries. It shouts at you. Why? Because it is packed to the rafters! The man pulls in the punters like nobody else! Brits and overseas visitors can’t get enough of him. Can there be a case study of starker contrast between abject failure in one’s lifetime and superstardom afterwards? It makes for an emotional time when in here. Van Gogh started as out as a good artist, and through some serious hard work, determination and productivity, ended up becoming great. He is a man who was desperate to sell his work, and had a supportive brother who just happened to be a succesful art dealer. Yet he sold a mere one painting in his life. He was a man who had dreams of setting up an artistic community of like-minded creatives in Arles in 1888 -yet just one artist turned up. Van Gogh and Paul Gaugin lived together for two months in ‘The Yellow House’, before yet another blazing row between them culminated in Van Gogh hacking his ear off, and sending it to a – I imagine rather shocked – local prostitute named Rachel. The following year he was in an asylum, and the year after that dead. I’d never really appreciated the immense sadness of it all until now.

    But what a talent! The guy is more eclectic than Shakespeare! He nails perspective with the most innovative of techniques – Swirls, pointillist dots, zigzags and lines of all shapes and sizes fuse together to produce these wonderful landscapes, still lifes and portraits. Many are very good, but I was particularly flabbergasted by two. The first is a bowl oranges in Room 3. These wonderful bright fruit look spell-binding against the different sides of the blue wall, and what a wall of contrasting blues! – as if the two sides are made out of completely different materials. The second is not even a painting, but a drawing in Room 5 – ‘Landscape near Montmajour’ is a masterclass in the insumountable powerhouse of creativity and skill that was this man, Vincent Van Gogh – and all achieved with no more than a reed pen and ink.

    As for the letters that form such an important part of this exhibition, I will have a look at those next time around – if I can tear my eyes away from the paintings that is.

    • Hannah says:

      Glad you enjoyed the exhibition. The letters are well worth a look – let us know what you think second time around!