Vincent Van Gogh – Les Carrières de Lumières.

It’s always good to finally tick something off the list of things you have wanted to do for a while – last year it was finally getting to see the Fête du Citron (now to be an annual event for us) and yesterday I got round to seeing the immersive multimedia show in the Carrières de Lumières just outside the stunning village of Les-Baux-de-Provence.

The stunning Chateau of Les Baux in the village above the quarries

This has been on my list for some time, in fact for several years now, but for so many reasons I just haven’t been able to get there. Yesterday though was overcast, too windy for cycling and the lovely market at Saint Rémy was on, so I drove across to spend the morning fuddling around the market & town to be followed by a quick trip over the Alpilles to watch the show in the quarries.

Even on a grey& chilly Spring day, Saint Remy market is beautifully bustling

Each year the old quarries situated just outside Les Baux, which were in use from the 2nd Century AD until the mid 1930s, provide the setting for a spectacular son-et-lumière show based around the work of famous artists, most recently Chagall and Picasso. This year though the subject of the show is the work of Vincent Van Gogh and where could be better, as so many of his paintings depict beautifully lit images of Provence and the area around Saint Rémy, where he spent time in a hospital for the mentally ill.

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The stunning landscape around Les Baux that provided such inspiration to Van Gogh

To be honest I’ve only recently really appreciated the work of Van Gogh, starting to understand the exceptional way he painted and the way he captured the sense and feel of what was in front of him, rather than just simply painting it, so I couldn’t miss the chance to see his works in a new way.

I spent a lovely morning at St Rémy discovering the new Artisan Trail in the town (more soon in another blog) and arrived at the Carrières de Lumières just after 12, parking in one of the car parks just outside, but I realised that I could just as easily have taken the short walk from the village above as there is a well-made and segregated footpath directly to the entrance.

The stark opening housing the entrance to the site

Even though I have read about the shows before and chatted to people too, nothing really prepared me for stepping through the door into the auditorium.

On walking in the first sense I had was the sheer scale of the place – I had entered during the other show that is on called ‘Japon Rêvé’ and was met by the sight of enormous fish swimming around the walls, disappearing & re-emerging in the distance, seemingly vanishing around corners. The whole floor was awash with moving lights, giving the sense of being on the ocean floor, which at first was quite disorientating. After a few moments of standing stock-still (probably rather unattractively open-mouthed) I started to get much more of a sense of the space that was being filled by this incredible sight.

The first sight of inside

The quarries are fully enclosed in this space with a slightly undulating floor that leads to a ramp at the furthest point. It isn’t a square space, it’s much more organic with sheer rock faces and enormous pillars that create the perfect screens for the lights being projected onto them. This creates an unusual space with hidden corners and open views that lead the eye to something different and new at every moment of the show.

Japanese Lanterns floating around the walls and pooling light on the floor during Japon Reve

In many ways I was pleased to have arrived during the ‘Japon Rêvé’ as it gave me a chance to understand what was happening and eventually close my mouth, as what was taking place in front of me was truly jaw-dropping, before the Vincent Van Gogh show ‘La Nuit Étoilée ‘ – ‘Starry Night’ began.

‘La Nuit Étoilée ‘ follows the life of Van Gogh through his paintings, opening with the wonderful light of Provence from Les Alpilles and Saint Rémy with the images shifting and swirling around the space in a way that left me mesmerised. It shows his early works, which are much darker and a stark contrast to the vibrant colours and light of Provence – the faces of people (long-dead) swim across the space, the detail of their stares a sign of Van Gogh’s genius.

The well worn faces of a distant past – I am sure these people would never have considered that their faces would be used in this way

Then onto Nature and his stunning paintings of flowers – with The Sunflowers rising from the floors up the huge stone pillars ….

The Irises, filling the space with an incredible depth of colour ….

The colours of the Irises filling the entire space were just stunning

And the Cherry Blossoms that eventually drift from the stems and melt into the darkness…

This doesnt do the image justice at all, but it was spectacularly beautiful

The paintings then return to Provence and the area around Arles with the light bouncing across the walls as his brushstrokes are clearly visible in the way the work has been reproduced in this show.

As expected the portrayal of ‘La Nuit Étoilée ‘ is particularly stunning with reflected light swimming on the floor of the carrieres and the movement captured by Van Gogh in paint, translating easily to actual movement of light in the work of art reproduced on the walls.

The movement and colour in this was beautiful

Then a shift again to the time Van Gogh spent at St Rémy in an attempt to find peace from his struggle with himself. The vivid colours and strong images coupled with the soundtrack of Nina Simone singing ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ was particularly powerful and without the need for words gave a strong sense of his state of mind at the time he was at the Asylum – I must admit I found this particularly moving as we know how his story ends and to see it portrayed in this way gave me a much better understanding of how his life and struggles were reflected in his work.

The show ends simply with self portraits disappearing before your eyes and Vincent’s signature in bright red across the walls, elegant and somehow very fitting.

Vanishing Van Gogh

To be honest I was quite overwhelmed by what I had seen – the scale, sense and production of the show were excellent and I had loved every minute of it.

When the lights go on it’s hard to balance the stark appearance of the roughly hewn stone with the incredible sights you have just seen

The stark, vast columns of stone left from quarrying over the centuries

Needing a little time to reflect I popped round to the Cafe in the centre of the Quarries and sat with a coffee and a rather nice slice of Apricot Clafoutis, listening to the chatter around me, before watching a film on Jean Cocteau who has strong links to the Quarries too.

The quarries cover over 7000m2 and continue outside , holding another area playing a film about Cocteau

I then headed back and re-watched the show again, just because I could – there was no time limit on the ticket and no pressure to move on or leave, which was nice. It was just as stunning second time around, in fact I think you could watch it several times, standing in different places within the auditorium and see it slightly differently each time, with only your legs tiring due to having to stand.

The immersive sense of being within the art is incredible

I left feeling very content that not only had I ‘ticked the Carrières de Lumières off my list’, but that it had been even better than I had imagined. It may have been my first visit, but it certainly won’t be my last and there’s every chance I’ll head back again this year just to see it again.

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‘La Nuit Étoilée ‘ is on at The Carrières de Lumières until 5th January 2020 – it’s open 10am – 6pm March & November – January, 9.30am – 7pm April – June & September – October and 9.30am – 7.30pm in july and August with the last entry 1 hr before the site closes.

Adult entry is 13 euros , but there is a ticket that allows access to both The Carrières and the Chateau at Baux for approximately 16 euros, which would be great value if you wanted to spend a full day at the village.

More information is available on the website http://www.carrieres-lumieres.com

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27 Comments Add yours

  1. It’s incredible isn’t it? I accompanied a school trip here a few years ago and saw an Italian Renaissance show featuring Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael. The kids I was with were 10 years old and they were all bowled over by it. Loving Van Gogh I’m definitely going to try and get to this show this year. Jeff hasn’t been and I know he’d love it. #farawayfiles

    1. It was absolutely jaw dropping and I couldn’t believe the impact it had on me – I can imagine 10 year olds must have been absolutely mesmerised by it – with Van Gogh having such string connections to the area it is really special so I hope you get there – I certainly intend going back with Andy #farawayfiles

  2. You are SO lucky to have done this. I went to the Klimt in Paris last December, and it was one of the best things I have ever seen. This looks on a par. #farawayflies.

    1. I would agree that this is one of the best things I have seen too – truly beautiful and perfectly choreographed too (if sound and light can be choreographed) – certainly worth a visit if you can get there #FarawayFiles

  3. Clare Thomson says:

    Walking INSIDE the Starry Night sounds amazing – I love the idea of being surrounded by art like that. What a wonderful idea! Thanks for inspiring me again on #FarawayFiles.

    1. It is truly incredible and I don’t say that very often – just being immersed in the art is a real experience #FarawayFiles

  4. What an incredible way of showcasing art! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it. This makes me want to go to Provence right away, what a find!
    #FarawayFiles

    1. Thanks – it’s so visual and immersive and I saw Van Gogh’s work in a totally new way. Certainly worth going to if you happen to find yourself nearby #FarawayFiles

  5. Janis says:

    This looks incredible, what a fantastic display. By having people in your shots, it puts into perspective how large it is. I love Saint Remy, it’s one of my favourite places in France, so any excuse I have to return I’m welcome for. #farawayfiles

    1. It is incredible – I really hadn’t appreciated the scale of it until I saw it for myself – I hope you get a chance to go

  6. Hilary says:

    I would LOVE to see and experience this! I can see why it was on your list. I always through Van Gogh was overrated, but I was converted a few years ago after visiting the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. I was so moved by his life story, and seeing all the work up close was something special. This would be a moment like that! #farawayfiles

    1. Thanks I think that was it for me too – to see his work on such a large scale, shown in the context of his life story – I was just so moved – it is an incredible experience #FarawayFiles

  7. rla4670 says:

    Spectacular photos (particularly the shot of the countryside taken through the arch)! I had read a couple of short articles online about this exhibit, but none of them did justice to how extraordinary it is. You’ve effectively captured the incredible visions of Van Gogh, but added the effect of the quarry experience, too — thanks for such a beautiful post!

    1. Thank you that’s really kind of you – it absolutely blew me away and I just stood with my jaw on the floor for the first few minutes…. Will be heading back again this year to take my hubby, who is yet to visit

  8. Good to see this again for #AllAboutFrance.

  9. Wow! Even the smallest French town can do a public art exhibition with a certain je ne sais quoi, but this has taken it to another level – they certainly know how to put on a show and it really must have felt like you were in the paintings. #AllAboutFrance

    1. It is incredible and the setting in the quarry is so atmospheric – quite possibly the most stunning thing I have seen

  10. Italian Kiwi says:

    I just love the carrières de lumières! I was there a couple of years ago when they had a Medieval art light show. It was very intense! 😀 The Van Gogh one must be fabulous! Time for another visit I think! #AllAboutFrance

    1. Eoin says:

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    2. It’s just incredible and so atmospheric as you are totally immersed in the art… The sense of Van Gogh’s story too and his life through his work is just beautiful

  11. lwwren says:

    I have just been to the Paris Van Gogh show – amazing, Your post is brilliant loved your write up and description!
    Wren x

    1. Thanks – I only recently realised it was on in Paris too… I must admit the atmosphere of the quarry added to the whole experience, coupled with the paintings of the landscapes just outside the door too 🙂

  12. I visited a couple of years ago when I first moved to Provence, and have been meaning to go back again… By the looks of it, the Vincent Van Gogh exhibition is one not to miss! #allaboutfrance

    1. It really is incredible and I will be back this year without a doubt…. My hubby really does have to see it! #AllAboutFrance

  13. Eoin says:

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  14. Oh my gosh this looks absolutely AMAZING. Absolutely stunning! Love it and want to go!! #AllABoutFrance

    1. It’s also on in Paris, not in a quarry, but may be worth a visit as it is jaw-droppingly beautiful #AllAboutFrance

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