Van Gogh exhibition – step into a painting

Van Gogh exhibition – step into a painting

29th November 2019 2 By Biggsy
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Last Updated on 24th July 2020

Have you ever dreamed of stepping into a painting? Well that’s the tagline of the Van Gogh exhibition, currently up in York’s St Mary’s Church, which allows you to do just that! Sit in a deckchair in the centre of the church and marvel at Van Gogh’s art as it’s beamed onto all four surrounding walls, and occasionally on the floor too.

Stunning for the eyes, magical, almost mystical …

The Yorkshire Post

Combine it with a Christmas Market trip

We discovered the event one our midweek Christmas Market trip up to York and were keen to experience what it was like. St Mary’s church is located at Castlegate YO1 9RN adjacent to Primark (Google link.). This is just a stone’s throw from the city’s famous narrow street ‘The Shambles’.

For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.

Vincent Van Gogh
St Marys church Van Gogh exhibition entrance
An impressive entrance to the exhibition

There’s sound as well as light

It’s not just a light show though. You’ll be treated aurally to accompanying, melodic tunes interspersed with narration telling you more about the magnificent man who never actually became famous during his lifetime – only selling one painting while he was alive! I know that feeling with my photography 🙂

The show lasts 35 minutes on a loop but you might join it half way through so just sit down anyway and watch one a half loops of it if you need to, leaving to go whenever you see fit. There’s no time limit to this experience.

If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.

Vincent Van Gogh
Van Gogh green leaves adorning church walls
Ever been inside a green-leafed church?

The promotional shots you may see may show lone individuals exploring the church without anybody, or anything in site! In actual fact 30 or so deckchairs are set out in the middle with the likelihood of half of them being filled at any one time. This doesn’t distract from the experience at all, expect if you’re an Instagrammer of course wanting to replicate what you’ve seen online. However we did manage to create some reasonable arty shots dead centre from the back of the church with deckchairs in the foreground.

I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.

Vincent Van Gogh
Two people sat in the St Mary's church light show
Sitting at the very back of St Mary’s church – York

But what does the Van Gogh exhibition feel like?

There’s a general air of hush as people enter from behind a curtain and head to the nearest available deckchair. We sat at the very back, having the whole nave laid out in front of us. This gave us more of a 180 degree view but we subsequently shifted up to be bang in the centre for a more 360 view later on. In a deckchair you can’t really spin around to see what’s behind you anyway. You’ll notice that the multiple projectors have all been positioned to perfectly fit the confines of the church with light projected carefully onto the various piers and pointed arches within the nave.

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.

Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh portraits on St Mary's church walls
Vincent Van Gogh portraits adorning the walls

What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?

Vincent Van Gogh
St Marys church York light show
St Marys church York turned into a giant cathedral

The aura is surprisingly soothing for what’s described as an atmospheric sound and lightshow. It’s certainly tastefully done and the sounds and narration only add positively to the whole effect. Being in a church there’s that feeling of stone and coolness in the air which only adds to the overall feeling.

I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.

Vincent Van Gogh
Van Gogh self portrait without a beard
Not a physical portrait but lights beamed onto the wall

Don’t miss the side rooms?

Before you leave the main feature in the nave don’t forget to check out the small roped off bedroom at the rear of the church. This is a replica of Van Gogh’s bedroom in Arles. Also front right is an area with more information on his ‘vase’ work with crayons and a desk encouraging you to create your own masterpiece.

Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.

Vincent Van Gogh
Van Gogh exhibition information boards
Experience the light show … but with enough info. to learn something new too

Tucked away in the corner is a VR section (additional £3 required) which gives you more information on the great man. We didn’t take up this opportunity and were happy to stick with the light show in the main nave, which you then re-enter to exit the church; one final chance to slump back down in a deckchair to re-join the show.

There’s the obligatory gift shop before you finally leave the church with some of Van Gogh’s work on various plates and tea towels etc.

If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere.

Vincent Van Gogh
Crayola and yellow lamp stands
Release your inner Van Gogh!

How long do I have before the exhibition moves on?

The exhibition is currently in York until January 5th 2020 having already been resident in Naples, and Brussels. See it while you can in a space that only adds to the pleasure of being immersed in a great artist’s work.

All is not lost if you can’t make it to York. At the end of January 2020 it moves south to Leicester giving you another chance to catch it.

And my favourite Van Gogh painting?

Did we have a favourite painting? Well the ‘Starry night over The Rhône’ added a lovely bluey glow to the church so I’m going to go with that one.

St Mary's Church Van Gogh exhibition
Starry night over The Rhône in St Marys church

I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.

Vincent Van Gogh

Find more information about the Van Gogh exhibition at

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