Not even in his wildest dreams could Vincent Van Gogh, the tortured Dutch painter whose art wasn’t appreciated during his lifetime, imagine that one day he would be a global superstar considered one of the greatest artists in the history of civilization.

Across Europe, from his native Netherlands to France, where he died in mysterious circumstances at age 37, an explosion of high-profile exhibitions and festivals will occur throughout the year to honor the 125th anniversary of his death in July, 1890.

So this is the year for Van Gogh fans to revel in his paintings, follow in his tracks, visit his haunts, appreciate his influences, and steep in learning about his tragic and extraordinarily creative life.

Museums, cultural institutions, towns, gardens, theaters, and restaurants are among the many venues joining Van Gogh Europe, an initiative created to celebrate his life and work, under the banner “125 years of Inspiration.”

Van Gogh

Although he sold only one painting in a short lifetime tragically marked by depression and mental illness – including the infamous ear-slicing episode – his paintings today are among the world’s most expensive and sought after, and he’s regarded as one of the most revolutionary and influential painters of the 20th century. The recently refurbished Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam attracts 1.5 million visitors a year.

While it’s commonly believed that Van Gogh shot himself in Auvers-sur-Oise, a small village near Paris, serious studies argue that actually he was the victim of an accidental shooting by one of the town’s bullies.

“It’s perhaps a little odd to celebrate his death,” the director of the Van Gogh Museum, Axel Rueger told ANP. “But over the years the artist has become a global celebrity, a kind of rock star.”

Cafe at night

Here are the highlights of a memorable year:

Opening the season is Van Gogh in the Borinage, The Birth of an Artist at the BAM (Fine Arts Museum), which launched on January 25 and runs until May 17, in the Belgian city of Mons, one of Europe’s Cultural Capitals this year, and featuring 70 of Van Gogh’s early paintings, from the period when he decided to leave behind his work as an evangelist and dedicate his life to painting.

Van Gogh

Among the early exhibits of the season is also Goltzius to Van Gogh, Drawings & Paintings from the P. and N. de Boer Foundation at the Fondation Custodia in Paris, which began last December and will go until 18 March 2015.

The world’s largest collection of his paintings, drawings and letters is housed at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum. Recently redesigned, the impressive permanent exhibition includes more than 200 canvases, 500 drawings and 750 documents – among them masterpieces including Van Gogh’s many self-portraits, the Sunflowers, the Potato Eaters, the Bedroom in Arles.

Van Gogh's Bedroom at Arles           Photo: Wikipedia

The museum is now organized thematically to respond to a primary attraction for millions of visitors: the artist’s tortured life. For the first time, the “myths” surrounding the painter – like the ear incident, his illness and his death – are discussed by the museum and illustrated with his works.

Later in the year, the Van Gogh museum, in collaboration with the other leading monographic museum, Oslo’s Munch Museum, will host a large scale exhibition with more than 100 works, Munch : Van Gogh, the first to showcase the similarities between the two tormented artists and Van Gogh’s influence on Munch’s development. The exhibit, which runs from September 25 to January 17,  2016, will feature many iconic masterpieces that are rarely loaned.

The Munch : Van Gogh exhibit will debut first in Oslo from May 9 to September 6, 2015 at the Munch Museum.

The Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands, with the second largest Van Gogh collection in the world, will show Van Gogh & Co. Criss-crossing the Collection, with more than 50 paintings and sketches from the artist that will compare his work with those of his contemporaries, including Paul Cézanne, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Claude Monet and Odile Redon. The show runs from September 25  to January 17, 2016.

The region of Brabant, where Van Gogh was born in 1853, grew up and started painting, also features a number of special programs, exhibits and pedestrian and bicycle tours through the various towns where he lived and that shaped his work.

The route starts in Zundert, his birthplace, and includes Tilburg, where he first attended drawing classes, Neuen, where he returned at age 30 and marks 21 sites that influenced many of his paintings – a quarter of his total oeuvre – and ends at Den Bosh at the Noordbrabants Museum which has a number of original works on display.

Other organizations offer programs with Van Gogh as their inspiration.

The spectacular Keukenhof Gardens in the tulip cultivating region between Amsterdam and The Hague, have planted flower arrangements inspired by Van Gogh’s self-portraits. The gardens open at the end of March.

Keukenhof Gardens

The Appeltern Gardenfestival, opening in April, has “A Garden for Vincent” as its design theme for 10 of its gardens.

In his later years, Van Gogh lived mostly in France, moving first to Paris where influenced by the Impressionists he began painting more colorful works and then traveled south to Arles and Saint Remy de Provence. Finally he moved to Aubers sur Oise where he died. Each of those venues features themed activities.

The Fondation Vincent van Gogh in Arles has organized Van Gogh Drawings: Influences and Innovations from June 12 to September 20. In addition to some 40 drawings from Van Gogh, often using a reed pen, this exhibition will also feature work by other artists who inspired him. These range from 17th-century engravings to works by Japanese artists.

In Paris, finally, the Musee d’Orsay has the largest collection of Van Gogh outside the Netherlands, with 24 of his paintings, mainly from his French period, in the permanent collection.

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