Jean-Pierre Isbouts Shows World through Van Gogh’s Eyes

new wondrium series visits important settings in artist's life, including painting inspirations

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Jean-Pierre Isbouts is a filmmaker and art historian. After attending Leiden University in the Netherlands, he came to America to pursue his passions. He combines both in Wondrium’s In the Footsteps of Vincent van Gogh.

Jean Pierre Isbouts on the Wondrium set
Jean-Pierre Isbouts presents the Wondrium series, In the Footsteps of Vincent van Gogh, which details Van Gogh’s landscapes along with the locations where he resided while painting his works of art. Photo by Wondrium

Wondrium’s new series In the Footsteps of Vincent van Gogh melds art history, biography, and a visual tour of Vincent van Gogh’s Europe to explore the legendary painter’s life and death. Filmed in the United States and Europe during a travel lockdown to the E.U., the series wouldn’t have been possible without presenter Jean-Pierre Isbouts’s dual citizenship in the United States and Holland.

Isbouts is Professor Emeritus at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, where he was a doctoral professor in the social sciences program. In an exclusive interview, he explained his work studying and filming the world of Vincent van Gogh.

Close to Home

“I grew up in the same region that Vincent grew up; we’re both sons of Brabant,” Professor Isbouts said. “Brabant is that southern region in Holland; and so from the very early days, I was very familiar with Vincent and I recognized how much understanding his art is involved with understanding his natural setting.

“Some artists have their own motifs: Renoir loved the nude, for example, and Degas liked to sketch city views captured spontaneously. Van Gogh was into landscapes.”

According to Professor Isbouts, for Van Gogh, landscapes exhibited the vitality of life itself. For that reason, he said, it’s impossible to understand Van Gogh without going to the places that he painted. The series was filmed on location, including Holland, Belgium, France, and even Washington, D.C.

After obtaining his degree, Isbouts’s first project in the United States was 1988’s Van Gogh Revisited, hosted by Leonard Nimoy, which helped inform his new series for Wondrium.

“It was wonderful; Leonard and I had a wonderful time, we became good friends,” Professor Isbouts said. “So it was wonderful for me for this project to retrace and go back to all those places and to see what had changed and what had not changed. I’m glad to report that viewers of the series will see much of nature the way Vincent saw it. Very little has changed.”

Deeply Personal for Artist and Patron

Professor Isbouts’s fascination with Van Gogh and his drive to understand and convey his work is undeniable. When asked what makes the artist so important to him, he immediately said how unique Van Gogh’s paintings are. They are, Professor Isbouts said, unable to be categorized among the other artistic movements of the time, such as impressionism, post-impressionism, and early abstract art.

“It strikes us at a very deep, emotional level,” he said. “He continues to have an incredible hold over us, even in the 21st century, because his art is so deeply personal, because it is so expressive of the joys and anxieties of his time, which are very much the same in our time. Our time today is filled with crises, we try to find happiness for each other and for our families, but there are many things on the horizon that make our life a little difficult at the moment, and Van Gogh [had] experienced life in a very similar way.”

Professor Isbouts said that he believes we see something of ourselves when we look at the art of Van Gogh.

Examining classic art is comfortable territory for Professor Isbouts. He traced a replica of The Last Supper that da Vinci made for the king of France back to an abbey in Belgium, and he did several multispectral studies on the canvas, leading to a film that aired around the world. As a result of the film, the Belgian government pledged Є500,000 to restore the canvas, which began in January.

“Your work as an art historian, ultimately, helps to preserve these great works; so, that was a very satisfying moment,” he said.

In the Footsteps of Vincent van Gogh is currently available to stream on Wondrium.