Visiting Vincent

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by eilidhcatriona on August 8, 2011

The Van Gogh Museum is one of major tourist attractions in Amsterdam. With a large permanent collection of the artists work and letters, it is a destination for art aficionados as well as the casual tourist.

Vincent Van Gogh is a name most of us are familiar with. Born in 1853 in the Netherlands, he studied with many of the great painters of the day in Brussels and France, such as Gauguin, Pisarro and Toulouse-Lautrec, until his death by suicide aged only 37 in 1890. He is known for his paintings, which gained acclaim after his death, as well as for allegedly cutting off his own ear (in actual fact, a piece of his ear).

During our recent visit to Amsterdam, the Van Gogh Museum was one place I was keen to visit. Having been to an exhibition in Edinburgh several years ago featuring many of Van Gogh’s paintings, I wanted to see more of his work. I am not very knowledgeable about art – I can recognise a few styles, and I know what I like (Van Gogh, Salvador Dalí, Rene Magritte...), but I enjoy looking at paintings. I’m not so keen on older works, as I prefer the bright colours of more modern works.

Entrance to the museum is €14 for adults. We passed the museum on the tram every day, and there was always a long queue. So we decided to buy our tickets in advance, which would mean we didn’t have to queue – you can do this from the website, or from any of the Tours & Tickets outlets around the city. You do not have to visit the museum at any particular time or on any particular date if you buy from Tours & Tickets. There is no saving in buying in advance from Tours & Tickets (I thought there was, but I was remembering the price wrongly from what I had seen online), although you can save quite a bit on other attractions. The museum is located on Museumplein, beside the Rijksmuseum, and is easily reached by public transport from the city centre. It is fully accessible for wheelchairs.

The Van Gogh Museum has a permanent collection of some 200 paintings, 500 drawings and 700 letters, as well as the artist's own collection of Japanese prints. Not everything is on display. The main display is arranged over three floors, and by time period of Van Gogh’s life. These periods tie to the various places he lived in while painting, such as Paris, Arles, Saint-Rémy and Auvers-sur-Oise. Each section of the collection includes notices detailing what Van Gogh was up to at this time, in Dutch and English, and all the paintings have labels in both languages (there is an audio tour available in various languages, but we chose not to take it – it was €5, and I always end up getting lost with what I’m supposed to be listening to/looking at).

The collection is presented well, and what at first glance looks like wasted space between paintings, where more works could be displayed, soon makes sense when you realise the size of the crowds around each painting. In addition to works by Van Gogh, there are works on display by artists whom he admired or was trying to emulate at that particular point in his life. These offer an interesting comparison to Van Gogh’s work, although not always a positive one. There was one section in particular which stood out to us, on the technique of pointillism, where two paintings by another artist were shown alongside one of Van Gogh’s works (the other artist may have been Millet but I cannot be sure) – Van Gogh’s looked appalling next to them. It seemed he did not master this technique very well, as it really was not a good example of the style, particularly when shown alongside two very good works.

I don’t know if Van Gogh can be called a good artist – I don’t know enough about art to say. He is certainly popular. I like many of his paintings, but especially those of the French countryside. My favourite is Wheatfield with Cypresses, painted while he was in the asylum at Saint-Rémy – this however resides in the National Gallery in London, where I saw it last year, so I had to make do with other paintings. I also particularly like Almond Blossom.

In addition to the permanent collection, the Van Gogh Museum has a few temporary exhibitions. There were four running when we visited in July 2011, including two about greater examination of Van Gogh’s works – his reuse of canvas and an in depth study which had been carried out into his works from Antwerp and Paris from the late 1880s. There was also a small exhibition about the restoration of his famous painting of his own bedroom, including a full size replica of the room, and a display of prints and posters from Montmartre, by artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec and Steinlen.

The Van Gogh Museum has a cafe in the building, but given the prices and the food on offer, I would say it is more a restaurant than a cafe. We had a look at the menu and decided to wait until we had left. There is also a large gift shop (of course), with a huge selection of themed gifts and books. I like a lot of the Van Gogh souvenirs, which I have seen elsewhere, but resisted the urge to buy a handbag with detail from Almond Blossom printed on the side. Instead I stuck to a couple of small gifts for my mum. I heard the American lady in front of me in the queue saying she was only making a purchase so she could get a museum carrier bag...once I had my own bag I was quite disappointed, I expected something special after hearing that, but it wasn’t that great. Maybe she collects carrier bags...

I enjoyed our visit to the Van Gogh Museum, but now we have been, we are unlikely to go back unless there is something specific we want to see. I can go see my favourite Van Gogh painting for free anytime at the National Gallery. It is somewhere I would recommend visiting if you are in Amsterdam however, as it is an interesting place to visit – and there is plenty of art to see.
Van Gogh Museum
Paulus Potterstraat 7
Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1071 CX
+31 (20) 570 52 00

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