What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.
Vincent van Gogh
Our last stop in Amsterdam before catching our train back home was the Van Gogh Museum. You’d think by our fifth day in Amsterdam, we would have learned that when you are visiting one of the top tourist destinations in the city, you need to get there early and/or purchase your tickets online. Instead, we took our time packing up, checking out of the hotel, and grabbing breakfast. By the time we got to the museum, it was after 11am. The line was long, but we were hopeful that it would move fast and we’d have a decent amount of time to spend inside before we had to make our way to the train station.
A half hour passed and it felt like we’d barely moved. The Van Gogh Museum is just as popular as the Rijksmuseum, but it’s not even close to as large. To let more visitors in, museum staff have to wait for others to leave. I kept checking the clock, afraid that by the time we made it to the front, we’d have to turn around and leave. Even the line for people who purchased their tickets beforehand was moving slowly. It took almost two hours, but we finally made it in!
The museum is made up of four floors and an extra wing that was temporarily closed when we visited. Each floor has a unique focus, including the current exhibition running through the 12th of January, Van Gogh At Work, found on both the ground floor and the third floor. There is a massive amount of art here to see, over 200 works by Van Gogh alone. But you’ll also find many pieces from Van Gogh’s peers as well. I’d recommend you allot yourself at least two hours to see it all, including the special film on Van Gogh that runs in the extension off of the museum shop.
As I was thinking about the best way to describe our afternoon here, I realized there was no better way than to simply share some of my favorite pieces on display. I switched the color settings on my camera to neutral and applied no editing out of camera for these so I could share them just as they truly are. Seeing them on a computer screen hardly does them justice, but it’s better than nothing, right?
The Harvest, 1888
The Bedroom, 1888
Worn Out, 1882
Boulevard de Clichy, 1887
Old Vineyard with Peasant Woman, 1890
Head of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette, 1886
Tree Roots, 1890
Tree Roots is acknowledged as being Van Gogh’s very last work. He did not complete it before he died. The top is almost finished, but the lower half was left incomplete. There are so many more I could share, but to keep the amount of pictures here from getting out of hand, I’ll have to stop. I was so happy to discover that cameras were allowed in the museum, although photos of some works are not allowed, even with the flash turned off. (Van Gogh’s famous Sunflowers still life was one of those, unfortunately.)
So much to see, so much to admire, so much to learn. There is a lot more to Van Gogh than “the guy who cut his ear off”. It is a shame that’s how he’s remembered. Contrary to popular belief, Van Gogh was not born with artistic talent. He had to attend art school, study, and learn from others to cultivate his talent. By experimenting with different painting techniques, he developed his own distinctive swirling brushstroke seen in many of his most famous works. Color was of utmost importance in his paintings because it was his form of personal expression. Van Gogh’s paintings are among the most expensive ever sold, rivaling those of Pablo Picasso. A few have sold for upwards of $100 million! He certainly had his share of troubles, but instead of letting them hold him back, he used them as fuel to create hundreds of truly magnificent works of art.
The museum is open every day. The entrance fee for adults is €15, but at least kids can get in for free! (Sidenote: If you’re looking for Starry Night, arguably Van Gogh’s most famous painting, you won’t find it here. It is displayed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.)