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Stepping into Van Gogh’s France

You don’t need to leave Asia to immerse yourself in Parisian charm. In the heart of Seoul’s shopping district, Dongdaemon, L’Atelier occupies the eleventh floor of the Hyundai City Outlet. Outside the miniature Paris, a young woman wearing a nineteenth-century inspired dress directed us to a curtained wall. In seconds, the grand curtains were drawn, revealing a grand door. A regal voice blares above visitors, going over the finer points of the visit and reminding you to enjoy the experience. Then the double doors swept open. A visual masterpiece that shows its audience Paris as famous painters saw the city, the site is divided into five unmissable sections named after real locations in the City of Love.

Five sections of l’atelier

Moving Pictures and Charming Streets

Stepping inside, we left the modern world behind and entered an idealized nineteenth-century Parisian square called the Place de Tetre. The flooring is decorated to give the appearance of cobblestone. To our left is “Patisserie Gloppe”, a quintessentially French bakery café displaying fresh bread on the left and allowing a peak into the café on the right. Like much of the immersive installation, animated videos of people in nineteeth-century attire and settings add authenticity and a sense of life beyond a visitor’s personal experience. Across from it sits “Boutique Paquin”. Looking through the window, you can see middle-class women preparing for a hat-making course. These two store facades immediately set visitors into an understanding of what the L’Atelier experience will be like.

Past the Place de Tetre sits a room of static and moving portraits. L’Atelier Gallery showcases artistic heavyweights. Largely featuring accurate remakes of Paul Gauguin’s portraits, the gallery adds a sense of magic with animation bringing the works of Van Gogh and Degas to life; the postman shuffling as he watches the audience and the ballerinas stretching and twirling on stage.

The Artists’ District

Taking a glimpse into an artist’s creative space, visitors weave single-file through the art studio of Maurice Utrillo. Paint tubes, finished canvases, and empty bottles lie throughout the studio in their own specific spaces, an organized chaos that many see as synonymous with an imaginative mind. Bridging the space between L’Atelier Gallery and Montmartre, the decision to stage Utrillo’s workspace specifically is an ode to the French district that lies ahead. Born in Montmartre, much of his work comprised of cityscapes of the Paris he loved.

Flowers at La Madeleine

With a sunset comprised of bold shades of purples, pinks, and oranges, the sky blends together in an artist’s passionate strokes. Flower stalls stand to either side, their bright colours tinted an orange-red from the setting sun. Tables stand in the middle of the space, visitors either reading the free French gazette or colouring in the masterful scenes created by their favourite artists. A neat row of vibrantly painted shelving units hold dainty pots of flowers and plants, curating the natural beauty and giving it new context.

In the Musée de I’Orangerie, Monet’s garden landscapes come to life. Starting in a blank white hexagonal room, the sounds of chirping birds and trickling rivers fill the air as the walls and floor become flooded with the moving images of Monet’s work. Butterflies scuttle here and there, lily pads shift their course, and fish deftly avoid the moving feet of awestruck visitors. Led through some of his most renowned works on springtime France,  the interactive experience provides audience members with new appreciation for the country-loving painter.

Uncovering the Man Behind the Masterpieces

In the Place Lamartine, a veil is lifted from the mysteries surrounding Van Gogh’s character. In “The Study of Emile Zola”, a time-travelling historian discusses some of the Dutch painter’s most famous works, such as “Sunflowers” and “Starry Night”. He interviews miniaturized versions of people who were at the periphery of Van Gogh’s life, such as his stern but fair landlady and the postman who regularly delivered correspondence between the brothers. Giving no sign that his discussions with these Lilliputian characters – impressive CGI that interact with the spaces and objects around them – are peculiar, the audience is drawn into the strangeness of the setup. As such, the subject matter discussed, Van Gogh’s perceived peculiarity to his contemporaries, is normal by comparison.

Further along, visitors can head into an impressively large square. Here sits The Yellow House, a lodging in Place Lamartine. Briefly, Van Gogh had rented four rooms in the house, capturing it in a series of paintings. One of these showcases his bedroom, which has been lovingly recreated for the curious to explore. The bedroom is sparsely decorated. Laregly engulfed in shadows, its main features are a single bed, a worn jacket that hangs on the wall, a rickety chair, and a blank easel.

The easel is brought to audience’s attention in “Van Gogh’s Dream”. A charming musical of Van Gogh’s journey through France and his wondrous vision of the world, the thirty-minute musical paints the cityscape in his overlapping brushstrokes, giving character to even something as inconsequential as the floor below our feet. Using a mixture of live action and CGI, the transitions are easy to follow as the character of Van Gogh sticks to a uniform of brown slacks, a blue sweater, and straw hat throughout. Never forgetting the love of his work, the actor is earnest and tender in his portrayal of a troubled artist loved after his time.

A Starry Ending

The twilight of L’Atelier, the lights are dimmed low in the Place du Forum, stars shining on CGI streets and street lamps glowing in warm tones. Here lies the Café Terrace at Night, a renowned Van Gogh portrait. Tables and chairs lie on the cobbled streets and the café’s wooden porch. In the distance, a CGI figure that bears a striking resemblance to the misunderstood artist is busy at work capturing the scene.

Across from the outdoor setting is the Night Café, its interior a burgundy red room crowded with more tables and chairs. It is reminiscent of the bar Van Gogh would visit. Here, much as it would have been in his time, “absinthe” is on offer – its true nature a sugary cocktail drink. “Van Gogh’s coffee”, black caffeine local to the region, would have been all the poor painter could have afforded when he wasn’t inclined to imbibe in heavier substances.

Beyond the café’s lies the post office, a common sight for Van Gogh, who wrote to his brother often. Covering Vincent’s basic living costs, Theo Van Gogh believed in his brother’s work and was one of the few to advocate for it. While their connection was tense, their love for each other was unconditional. A few months after Vincent’s death, Theo himself passed away.

Things to Know Before You Go

Shows Run All Day

Three minutes prior to each show – “Van Gogh’s Dream”, “The Study of Emile Zola”, and “Monet’s Garden” -, exhibit workers in Period-inspired clothing will walk around the area and announce the show’s beginning soon. Shows run from ten in the morning to six at night, so if you miss one, take the chance to wander around the area until the next show is ready!

Everything is in Korean

If Korean is not your mother tongue, fear not! Prior to entering L’Atelier, visitors can download the app on their mobile devices. Here, free English audio guides are available so that guests may enjoy and understand the France that their favourite artists loved.

Bring a Sweater

At the risk of sounding like a Mother Hen, it is better to bring one than wish you did! Set completely indoors, L’Atelier is not afraid of using air conditioning. At times mimicking the autumn and winter months, it is best to bring something to keep yourself bundled up.

If the swirling patterns and lively colour palettes of Vincent Van Gogh speak to you, a visit to Seoul would be incomplete without a day spent in L’Atelier!

1 reply »

  1. This is probably the most beautiful museum in the world. I love the striking colors which are enhanced through your thoughtful photography. Best of all, the location is within easy reach of anyone visiting Seoul. Wonderful.


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