Van Gogh’s immersive art experience at York St Mary’s to gogh on until March 31

Deck chairs at the ready: Sit down and relax into a “Zen-style” immersive experience surrounded by Van Gogh’s animated artworks at York St Mary’s. All pictures: Charlotte Graham

THE Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience exhibition at York St Mary’s, Castlegate, York, has been further extended to the end of March 2023.

For the festive season, art lovers can enjoy a “Zen-style escape” from the bustling streets in the former church that offers a sanctuary of peace, tranquillity, mindfulness amid the chance to “step inside” Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings as an antidote to the Christmas crowds.

As exhibition manager Evie Blackstock says: “The run-up to Christmas has to be one of the busiest and most stressful times of the year, so we’re encouraging frazzled shoppers to come and recharge their batteries with a calm, relaxing experience surrounded by Van Gogh’s paintings, animated and projected onto the nave walls of York St Mary’s.

Making a big Post-Impression: Vincent Van Gogh surveys his artwork projected onto York St Mary’s nave walls

“The best way to enjoy the experience it is to settle into a deck chair and let the soothing soundtrack wash over you as you are surrounded by stunning artwork. It instils a real sense of calm, so people are ready to face the outside world again with renewed vigour.”

In the 360-degree son-et-lumière presentation, many of Van Gogh’s most famous works are shown on the nave’s four walls and floor, accompanied by an emotive soundtrack, interspersed with “commentary” from Van Gogh. 

The Dutch Post-Impressionist painter’s story is told through 200 of his artworks, from his peaceful time in the French countryside, to the mental turmoil that brought his life to an end through suicide at 37 on July 29 1890 at Auvers-sur-Oise. He had sold only one of his 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, in his lifetime.

York St Mary’s: The setting for Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience

After the immersive sound-and-light show – run on a 35-minute loop to enable visitors to enter and leave at any point – and projections of his floral artworks onto a huge vase, visitors can partake in mindful colouring of Van Gogh’s works, with their illustrations being projected onto a virtual gallery on the wall. 

“Some people initially think that this is just for children but engaging the creative part of your mind is very soothing for adults, too,” says Evie. “There’s great satisfaction from finishing an artwork.”

A small exhibition about Van Gogh’s life and work awaits on the mezzanine floor, along with an optional extra (with a £3 additional charge): a virtual-reality visit to Arles, France, where Van Gogh was at his most productive. 

“Starry, starry night, Paint your palette blue and grey,” as Don McLean sang on his 1972 chart topper, Vincent

Donning VR headsets, visitors are taken on an 11-minute digital recreation of the village, starting in the house where Van Gogh stayed, before travelling around the streets and sights so familiar from his later paintings. 

York was the first British venue chosen to host Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, opening at York St Mary’s, next to the Jorvik Viking Centre, on July 5 2019, followed by Leicester, with temporary exhibitions in such cities as Manchester, London and Bristol (and a New York show too).  The Immersive Experience has just opened at Carlisle Memorial Church, in Belfast, where it will run until late February.

“We opened in York in summer 2019 with an original plan to remain until early January 2020, but it has been so popular that we’re delighted to be confirming another extension until March 31 2023,” says Evie. “This year, we had already extended to August and then to the end of the year!

The Dutch Post-Impressionist painter’s life story is told through 200 of his artworks in Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience

“We’ve had quite a number of visitors visiting us several times – it’s like they come in to recharge their cultural and emotional batteries – and we’ve had a couple of changes, including upgrading our virtual reality systems and extending the gift shop, during our stay to cater for the numbers of people through the door each day.”

Urging a winter visit, Evie says: “As a visit takes around an hour, this is something that people can easily fit into a trip to York – to rest their feet and their minds.  It’s little wonder that we’re the longest-running version of the exhibition in the world!”

Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, Castlegate, York, is open every day except Tuesdays, from 10am to 6pm; last admissions at 5pm. Tickets: adults £13, concessions £11, children £9, with an additional charge of £3 per person for the optional Virtual Reality experience. To pre-book, go to: