This summer the Grand-Place in the Belgian city of Mons will be transformed into a blaze of yellow, a field of 7,500 sunflowers celebrating the city’s turn as European capital of culture, and the peculiar man who spent 18 months living in the area and failing at yet another chosen career.
This time his failure marked a turning point in the history of art: sacked as a preacher and evangelist working in the Borinage, a tough coalmining region, Vincent van Gogh decided that his future lay in art.
In 1880, not yet even a failed artist, he was living in Cuesmes, a village on the outskirts of Mons in southern Belgium. Images of the battered landscape, poor simple houses and grinding hard work he witnessed would stay with him for life. The Borinage inspired one of his first major works, The Potato Eaters, and its sootily dark palette, though it was not painted until 1885, after he had left the region.
Van Gogh in the Borinage, open from 25 January at BAM, the Beaux Arts Mons gallery, will include scores of paintings by Van Gogh and other artists who inspired him. It will bring together for the first time his early versions – made from prints – of works by Jean-François Millet, whose paintings of peasant life he greatly admired, and his paintings of the same subject made years later in the last months of his life when he was in the asylum at Saint-Rémy.