‘Becoming Van Gogh’ & The Vincent cocktail

‘Becoming Van Gogh’ includes three Van Gogh self portraits; an inexpensive way for him to practice painting with no model. {Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Straw Hat, 1887. Oil on canvas. Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation).} I learned he had two different color eyes as seen in this self portrait.


The Denver Art Museum has hit is out of the park (again) with the newly opened Becoming Van Gogh’ exhibit which tracks Vincent Van Gogh’s  largely self taught journey as an artist for the 10 years prior to his unexpected death.  Though the works are extraordinary, perhaps more impressive is the fact that this exhibit was conceived of by the Denver Art Museum and curated thus so, with the help of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.   Seventy Van Gogh works, as well as 20 works of the Masters who inspired him, sourced from 60 lenders in 40 countries make up this show representing a tenacious decade of effort and one that expires in aggregate after the show’s end January 20, 2013.  This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

I did not know much about Van Gogh’s evolution as I would venture many outside the art world do not.  We are familiar with ‘Starry Night’ and of course the story about his ear but the fact that he mastered the art of sketching, various forms of painting, was in residence in the heyday of the Paris art scene of the 1880’s and hung with the ‘big boys’ of the art world was new to me.  The exhibit is thoughtfully compiled in several gallery rooms leading the viewer through his lesser known works, the dark somber paintings from the early years in Holland to his explosive discovery of color in Paris in 1886-87.  I was surprised to learn of his inspiration from Japanese prints though could see the influence in the later works which are more widely recognizable by most as ‘his’ work.

One of Van Gogh’s more notable sketches for its complexity and subtle use of color. {Vincent van Gogh, Road in Etten, 1881. Chalk, pencil, pastel, watercolor. Robert Lehman Collection, 1975. Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY.}
Van Gogh’s work inspired by Japanese prints. {Vincent van Gogh, Canal with Women Washing, 1888. Oil on canvas. Private collection, image courtesy of Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation).}

What I think I appreciated most was the opportunity to separate from the colloquial sense of him as an unbalanced person to delve into the fascinating, unyielding determination he held as an artist.  After four failed careers he turned his attentions to art and persevered despite raw critiques many would find discouraging.  He preferred ordinary people doing ordinary things as his subjects versus perfection of form and technique.

I personally found his most beautiful works to be from the time he lived in the South of France, painting with vivid color and verve.  One can imagine the vistas, the weather and the light the region is so famous for portrayed not in idyllic flawless terms but those revealing Van Gogh’s experience.  This show is not the story of his personal life but truly an opportunity to follow in his artistic footsteps to appreciate his impressive path which bears many reminders about following one’s own passion, ‘where there is a will, there’s a way’ and never giving up.

Vincent van Gogh, Landscape under a stormy sky, 1889. Oil on canvas. Fondation Socindec, Courtesy Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Martigny (Suisse).

I have been fortunate to view the exhibition twice.  The first with the curators of the exhibit, Timothy Standring (Gates Foundation Curator of Paining and Sculptor for the Denver Art Museum as well as the curator of ‘Becoming Van Gogh’) and Louis van Tilborgh (Senior Researcher of Paintings, Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum and the co curator of ‘Becoming Van Gogh’) whose joy and enthusiasm, were both palpable and contagious.  It did not escape me that their venture paralleled Van Gogh’s in the duration to pull together this remarkable showing being the length of his entire career, but also in their unrelenting dedication to make it happen.  The exhibit is accompanied with an audio guide, which I highly recommend, where viewers will enjoy both Mr. Standring and Mr. Van Tilborgh’s engaging insights as well (and will learn to pronounce ‘Van Gogh’ authentically thank to Mr. Van Tilborgh).

One of my favorite things about a major exhibit coming to the Denver Art Museum is the creative menu pairing of Kevin Taylor’s on site Palettes Restaurant.  Drawing from Van Gogh’s impactful time in France, Palettes is offering a Prix Fixe (fixed price) three course French menu with accompanying French wine menu.  Not unexpected is the partnership with Van Gogh Vodka to tailor a selection of cocktails making one’s dining experience all the more festive.

My second viewing of the exhibit was on Opening Day with my family after which we enjoyed dining at Palettes, sampling the ‘Becoming Van Gogh’ menu.  The menu reflects dishes from the different French regions where Van Gogh would have spent time, offering vibrant flavors and colors worthy of pairing to his art.  A particularly charming aspect catching my notice was that the colors in the dishes changed as they were consumed leaving eye catching chromatic vestiges of a dish thoroughly enjoyed.

Palettes was kind enough to share the recipe for The Vincent cocktail, a fresh, light and inspired blueberry vodka cocktail, for Boulder Locavore readers.

The Vincent cocktail in honor of the Denver Art Museum’s ‘Becoming Van Gogh’ exhibit

'The Vincent' cocktail

Yield: 1 cocktail

'The Vincent' cocktail conceived of in honor of the solo worldwide exhibition of 'Becoming Van Gogh' at the Denver Art Museum. Cocktail recipe from Kevin Taylor's Palettes restaurant on site at the museum.


  • 1 ½ ounce Van Gogh Vodka
  • 3/4 ounce Ginger liqueur
  • 1 ounce Blueberry juice
  • Splash of Lemon Juice
  • Garnish: Blueberries on a pick


  1. Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake, strain into a cocktail glass; garnish with blueberries.

We enjoyed many of the ‘Becoming Van Gogh’ dishes finding all to have full, well developed flavors, visual intrigue and to be an exciting celebration of the exhibit.  A fantastic way to savor the experience of ‘‘Becoming Van Gogh’’.

A beautiful amuse bouche from the chef of cucumber, shrimp, basil oil and I’d guess a beet reduction. As artistically as it was plated, was the ‘art’ it left in its wake!
Two of the Prix Fixe appetizers: (Left) Heirloom potatoes, asparagus, lardons and pommery mustard. (Right) Baked brie, lavender truffle honey, dried cherries and frisee salad (normally would be served with a baguette however the chef served mine with a sliced green apple to accommodate being gluten-free).


Entrée’s: (Left) Striped bass and seafood bouillabaisse, piquillos, marcona almonds, with extra virgin olive oil, and (right) Salmon Provencal, plum tomatoes, zucchini, new potatoes and aged balsamic. We also tried the Coq Au Vin which was beautifully prepared, succulent and very flavorful.
Classic Vanilla Crème Caramel, candied sunflower seeds and berries
Frozen Valrhona chocolate soufflé, berry coulis, fresh berries (usually served with a chocolate tuile cookie which was omitted for our gluten-free dining)

A last detail the Denver Art Museum can always be counted on to embody is an opportunity for visitors to experience the world of the Artist at hand.  For ‘Becoming Van Gogh’ a Paint Studio has been opened on the first floor of the museum where all ages can explore drawing a still life, painting any subject of their choosing, painting a portion of a Van Gogh reproduction, painting large objects with the ‘color of the day’ and observing local Denver artists at work with the opportunity to ask questions; all at no additional cost.  Though I doubt I’ll be the next artist to show at the museum, I did depart that studio with some paintings in miniature that weren’t all bad and largely inspired by trying my hand at Van Gogh’s techniques!  Don’t miss it.


‘‘Becoming Van Gogh’’ runs from October 21, 2012 through January 20, 2013.  Many local hotels are hosting lodging packages with Van Gogh inspired amenities which can be found on VanGoghDenver along with details about the exhibit and ticket purchasing.

Vincent van Gogh, Autumn Landscape, 1885. Oil on canvas laid down on panel. © Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.


    • Toni | Boulder Locavore says

      I too love that painting and almost put it first in this post. I think the horror of the ear story has overshadowed my learning about Van Gogh, stunning me at an early age! I was struck by this unique chance to really delve into his path and departed with alot of respect and admiration about him. The ear was never mentioned in the exhibit.

  1. says

    Wow, what a great piece on the DAM’s Van Gogh exhibit! While reading it I felt as if I was being guided by a docent, learning some fascinating insights. Nicely done. And a trip to Palettes is a must after visiting the museum; they do a great job of pairing the menu with the museum’s art collections. I am looking forward to experiencing the Van Gogh exhibit in person.

    • Toni | Boulder Locavore says

      Thank you Melissa. I feel writing about an art exhibit is like writing about a movie; you want to share the intent but not all the ‘scoop’. Hopefully I did just that. I was so struck by the effort and extraordinary scope of this exhibit, AND that it will never happen again, I hope to convey that and encourage others to see it. Even if you aren’t an art fan, it’s an historical event AND it’s in Denver! Feeling so proud.

      I agree completely on Palettes. It was a beautiful mean (visually and flavor-wise). A really fun day!

  2. says

    Van Gogh is wonderful, and the cocktail looks fabulous. Really good post. Interesting Van Gogh story about drink. He used to drink absinthe (the kind with wormwood that supposedly could help drive you mad – it was banned in the US for decades because of this). The usual way to drink absinthe is to dilute it with water (and sometimes add a bit of sugar) – 5 parts of water to 1 part of absinthe is a typical ratio. Van Gogh liked a 5:1:1 formulation – the extra part was black ink! Reportedly he liked the way it made his teeth look! Obviously he had a highly developed and refined sense of visual perception . . .

    • Toni | Boulder Locavore says

      Oh my John! I feel inately artists seem to be embodying the torment in their soul in their work and Van Gogh I suspect was no different. The exhibit did not speak about his personal life though at one station introduced a painting with ‘after a brief stay in an asylum…’ or something similar leaving viewers suspect if they had not been before. Certainly between absinthe and black ink, any inner demons would be amplified…..I’d think. Thank you for that story! I won’t be featuring that cocktail on my blog any time soon.

    • Toni | Boulder Locavore says

      Thank you Caroline. I realized how little I know about him vs other contemporaries in the Impressionist era. He definitely internalized everything and poured out his own product. You can see so many influences in his work but he did not give in to any trends fully. I had alot more compassion for him after this. And the menu was as good as it looked! A great day.

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