ART HISTORY LESSON – teaching your children about VINCENT van GOGH from your home!

I first got really up close and personal with 🌻 Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), his artistic genius and his personal demons, when I studied him for part of my GCSE art class (eek, 30 years ago!) . . . I made my dad sit on a decrepit old garden chair in our 🌸 springtime suburban garden, and then I painted him Van Gogh-style, with ☕️ a cup of tea in hand! I often wondered what 🌻 Van Gogh would have made of that painting! And I sometimes wonder where it is now? (My dad and stepmum’s attic I imagine; my dad is a bit of a hoarder!).

Fast forward 8 years, and I began to work as a tour leader for American high school students and their teachers (quite daunting, as at this stage in life, the history and art history teachers had far better knowledge than I, a mere university language student!). On the agenda, for me working in 🇫🇷 France, were several 🌻 Van Gogh destinations :

  • 🌻 Arles (Provence) – where Vincent was inspired by ☀️ the sun and the colours of the south, where he painted profusely and also where he latterly spent time in an asylum;
  • ⛪️ Auvers-sur-Oise (Ile de France) – where 🌻 Van Gogh lived out his last months, surrounded by his loyal brother Theo, Dr Gachet and his daughter . . . and where he died and is buried alongside Theo;

And so why teach or learn about 🌻 Van Gogh during this springtime 🏡 home confinement?

1) Vincent was repeatedly inspired to 🎨 paint scenes from springtime: 🌸 almond blossoms, flowers;

2) Vincent spent time confined indoors during his time in a mental asylum in the south of France; and yet he still found inspiration to create 🖼 paintings!

Vincent van Gogh © Musée d’Orsay

Vincent van Gogh – a brief history (some key periods to share with your children)

Virtually penniless during his life as a painter, after his death at the very young age of 37 years, the 🇳🇱 Dutch-born 🌻 Vincent would later find fame all over the world! This was largely due to to the work of his sister-in-law Jo, who sold nearly 200 of his paintings between 1891 and 1925.

🌸 Arles period – springtime blossoms, flowers, cafés, Gauguin

After a couple of years in Paris with his brother Theo, and introduced to several 🎨 influential artists, Vincent felt in need of sun, warmth and colour . . . and so he headed to Provence for the spring of 1888: to the city of Arles . . . there he was repeatedly inspired by 🌸 spring blossoms (Almond branch in a glass, 1888; Almond Blossom, 1890):

Vincent van Gogh, Almond Blossom (1890) © Van Gogh Museum

In Provence, Vincent was warmed and inspired by ☀️ the sun and the vibrant colours of the south, even the light that shone at night time (The Yellow House, 1888; 🌻 Sunflowers, 1888; Starry Night over the Rhône, 1888; Café at Night, Place du Forum, Arles, 1888; The Bedroom of Arles, 1889).

Vincent van Gogh, Sunflowers (1888) © The National Gallery (London)
Vincent van Gogh, Terrace of a Café at Night (Place du Forum, Arles, 1888) © Kröller-Müller Museum (Netherlands)

Here also, his painter friend Gauguin visited him, and it is claimed that during an argument with him, that 🌻 Van Gogh cut off his own ear . . .

Ater the ear-cutting episode, Vincent spent time in an asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (an interesting article from The Guardian here; only, perhaps, for parents and much older children!) . . . Bad physical and mental health shadowed 🌻 Van Gogh throughout his life, and there are many theories about the problems that led to his presumed suicide: bipolar disorder (manic episodes countered by depressive episodes and anxiety), borderline personality disorder, schizoaffective disorder, hallucinations and nightmares, epilepsy . . . perhaps exacerbated by lead poisoning, the excessive drinking of absinthe.

Vincent van Gogh, Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear (1889) © The Courtauld Gallery
⛪️ Auvers-sur-Oise period – Dr Gachet, death ⛪️

🌻 Vincent van Gogh moved to Auvers-sur-Oise (30km from Paris, this town had already attracted several other painters for sojourns: Pissaro, Cézanne) to be close to his beloved brother Theo in 1890 . . . Here he was befriended by Dr Gachet, a doctor and art collector who lived nearby . . . seventy days after his arrival in Auvers-sur-Oise, having painted a further 78 paintings, he shot himself in the stomach and died 2 days later (see here for more information).

Vincent van Gogh, L’Église d’Auvers-sur-Oise (1890) © Musée d’Orsay

Some ideas for teaching your children about Vincent van Gogh

As I was preparing this article, I found so many fabulous resources available on the internet!

🎬 SHORT FILMS about Van Gogh 

I found the following 🎬 short animations on YouTube;

🎬  The life story of Vincent van Gogh (NowYouKnowAbout) :

This was my favourite of 🎬  the three videos that I showed the boys, and I think also the favourite of my 9 year old! Informative, full of historical facts and geography, but also colourful and varied.

🎬  Biography for Kids (FreeSchool): Vincent van Gogh for Children – short, but informative, with passages to read and some geography;

🎬  Art with Mati & Dada: Van Goghthis short animation is aimed at younger children. Of the 3 videos I showed my boys, my younger son (6 years) liked this one the best! It reminded me of the fact that I used to tease my American students as they called 🌻 Van Gogh Van Go, as Mati refers to 🌻 Van Gogh as Van Go in this film!

[ more about Art with Mati & Dada: Welcome to the wonderful world of Mati and Dada, where learning meets creativity and imagination. Seven year old Mati, a cheerful young girl with a zesty passion for art,is magically transported into the lives of great artists by her eccentric sidekick, Dada. Together these two friends go on exciting adventures, solving little mysteries and getting caught up in bumbling confusions, en route to learning about art from the masters. Created by: Giovanna Bo and Augusta Eniti co-produced by Achtoons and Rai Fiction ]

. . . and from 🎬 BRUT:

📚 Books & Online Reading

Perhaps you have some books about painters or specifically about 🌻 Van Gogh in your home? I found some old ones from my teaching days, and so I showed the boys some of his paintings. You could also try these online sites:

  • Kiddle Kids Encyclopedia – see here;
  • Tate Kids – see here;

[ good to know: you can purchase books from the Van Gogh Museum shop online (there may be current restrictions, so please do check!) ]

🌎 Geography

🌻 Van Gogh was 🇳🇱 Dutch . . . but he lived his later adult life in 🇫🇷 France . . . perhaps you can point this out on 🗺 a map? Here are a couple of maps I have made for you:

© Pinterest (unknown author)
🖼 Virtual museum visits (up close and personal with Van Gogh’s paintings) 

🖼 Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam) despite a visit to Amsterdam back in my student days, I have never been to the 🖼 Van Gogh Museum there! This museum, set across 4 floors, hosts the largest collection of 🖼 artworks by 🌻 Van Gogh, including over 200 paintings, 500 drawings and personal letters . . . I was excited to learn that I could visit this museum virtually with 🎨 Google Arts&Culture . . .

🎨 Google Arts&Culture also allows you to zoom in on particular paintings, like the Terrace of a café at night (1888, The Kröller-Müller Museum, Netherlands) – see here . . . or learn about the books that Vincent read and the love letters he wrote . . .

With 🎨 Google Arts&Culture, you can also visit:

  • 🖼 MoMA The Museum of Modern Art (NY) – here, Vincent’s The Starry Night (1889) resides / see here and here;
  • 🖼 Musée d’Orsay (Paris) – several of Vincent’s famous works reside see here, in this iconic Parisian museum / see here;

And, when home confinement ends, and you are allowed to visit museums with your body and mind, you might like to keep an eye on the exhibitions at these Culturespaces interactive museums (all located in interesting disused spaces) in 🇫🇷 France, to see if Vincent pays them another visit:

  • 🖼 Carrières des Lumières (Les Baux-de-Provence) – opened in 2012 / in the heart of the Alpilles, just below the beautiful perched village of Les Baux-de-Provence, this old disused limestone quarry is 14m high! / see here;
  • 🖼 Atelier des Lumières (Paris) – opened in 2018 / the Chemin-Vert foundry was created in 1835 by the Plichon brothers, , to meet the navy and railway’s needs for high quality cast iron parts / see here;
  • 🖼 Bassin des Lumières (NEW, in Bordeaux) – opened in 2020 / an old submarine harbour, used by the Germans in WWII;
🎨 Drawing, painting & colouring 

🎨 Van Gogh Museum website: you can print off lots of different pictures to colour in, directly from the museum’s website; see here ;

🎨 colouring pages (Just Color) – see here;

🎨 colour by numbers: (Homemade Pre-School) – see pdf;

🎨 for older children: How to Paint Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in 6 Minutes (Learn How 2):

And from the National Gallery:

🎼 Music 

🎼 Have you ever listened to the song Starry Starry Night (originally called as Vincent) by Don Maclean (1971) ? / read more about the inspiration for the song here . . .

The same song was also recorded more recently by Lianne la Havas; listen to the words carefully :

4 thoughts on “ART HISTORY LESSON – teaching your children about VINCENT van GOGH from your home!

  1. I am great admirer of Van Goghs paintings and on every visit to Netherlands ,I pay a visit to Nuenen village where he painted some of his initial creations during his short stay there! I also visited the Rosegardes shining Cycling paths in Nuenen inspired by Starry Nights! I have posted a blog on this which can be viewed on my site! Thanks for sharing the life of the great painter 🌷💕🙏


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