van gogh museum

Museums | A walk through the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam

ita | eng

The global lockdown is slowly coming to an end and museums are reopening – with the necessary precautions – but technology has become fundamental during these weird and uncertain times. Today we’d like to take you inside the house of one of modern arts great postimpressionists: the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which holds one of the Dutch artists’ most important collections.

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam opened its doors on July 3rd 1973, thanks to Gerrit Rietveld, and in 1999 Kisho Kurokawa expanded it by creating a new wing. Today the museum holds a vast collection of 200 paintings, 500 drawings and over 750 autographed letters by Van Gogh. The three floors of the museum portray the life of the artist, from his art studies and research, to his move to Paris and Arles, and lastly to his period in Saint-Rémy. The journey is engaging and will immerse you in the artists’ life, are you ready to begin?


 

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GROUND FLOOR

On first arrival the visitor will encounter Van Gogh’s self-portraits, to understand right away with whom we are coming into contact with. Van Gogh was an artist interested in the study of colour and the use of brush strokes to express the vortex of emotions within himself. Only one painting though portrays the real Vincent: the self-portrait of him as a painter, where alone, behind an easel, he felt most alive.

Van Gogh tried to find his way right from the start, first by trying to become a shepherd like his father then an art merchant, but failed at both. Soon his interest moved towards painting, as he himself explained in a 1883 letter, “I’d like to leave memories of myself in the form of drawings or paintings, not to be made to satisfy a certain taste in art but simply to express a sincere human emotion”.

 

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FIRST FLOOR

His first paintings are mostly of peasants and weavers, true and humble workers; they depict the expressive potential which Van Gogh was searching for within his work. The life of peasants is the best expression as they work in close contact with nature, so it became the perfect way for Vincent to depict the sincerity of emotions he wanted to portray in his paintings. Van Gogh soon decided to follow this path, in art, and took up lessons in Aja, then moved to Drente and Nuenen, painting not only peasants but also the surrounding landscapes.

Some of his most famous work is from this period. For example The Vicarage and Nuenen (1885) and The Potato Eaters (1885), which described in his own words, “During winter I had the threads of this warp in my hands and I fixed the model, and though it’s presentation is rough and crude, the threads have been chosen with care based on certain rules. It’s obviously a painting depicting peasants. I know this is what it’s about. (…) A peasant is more beautiful when he or she is on the land with their rough clothes than when he goes to church on Sunday all dressed up. In my opinion it would be wrong to depict peasants in a more conventional, clean-shaven, context.” This painting is the product of a long series of drafts dedicated to peasant figures, in which Van Gogh attempted a sincere portrayal of them, and obtained it through the use of dark and earthy colours.

 

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The great debt Van Gogh had towards artists of the past, in particular with Jean Francois Millet, was the constant drafts and paintings from this time, in which peasants were depicted as a perfect figures, in close contact with the earth: “I have to continue to draw diggers, sowers, plowers, men and women. Analysing and drawing everything which has to do with life in the outdoors.

On February 28, 1886 Vincent moved to Paris where, thanks to his many visits to the Louvre, he learnt the use of colours and lines. At the Louvre he came in contact with the impressionists, as well as through his brother Theo‘s connections and art gallery, which often exhibited paintings by Monet, Degas and others. Vincent saw this art work so many times that he picked up and used the same painting techniques and his subjects changed: peasants gave way to still-lifes and lunar landscapes, most of which he painted outdoors, en plein air.

His famous painting Sunflowers (1887) belongs to this period. These flowers became the subject of 11 different paintings, all about the symbolism of light and sun; they later became furnishings of his house in Arles. Each of these paintings show Vincent’s interest in the study of different compositions (the number of flowers varies as do the colours in the background), as well as the symbolical value he attributed to the subject – flowers that in spite of natural causes will remain intact, also thanks to the strength acquired by sunlight.

 

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Paris soon became too chaotic for Vincent, and on February 19, 1888 he moved to Arles in search of serenity and peace. During this period he painted Van Gogh’s Room in Arles (1888), and reached a new artistic maturity: the correct disposition of space in a painting was no longer important, what mattered now was colour: its technique, uniformity and harmony – a lesson which he picked up from the Japanese prints which were circulating the Paris art world at the time. Examples of this are Flowering Plum Orchard: after Hiroshige (1887) and Bridge in the Rain: after Hiroshige (1887).

 

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SECOND FLOOR

His arrival in Arles, where “nature is exceptionally beautiful”, coincided with the fulfilment of a long lost dream: the idea of creating a community of painters, where they could work together and influence each other. This dream was accomplished with the famous Yellow House (1888) painting, a building next to the Arles train station which became one of his most famous works. One of the artist to go as a guest was  Paul Gaugin, friend of Vincent since their time in Paris. It wasn’t a long visit though, as the two painters had quite opposite points of view. After an altercation between the two, and after Vincent cut off his own ear, there followed a period of time in which Vincent was in and out of hospitals, culminating with his hospitalization in the psychiatric ward in Saint-Rémy.

During this period, Vincent painted numerous trees in blossom, like Almond Blossoms (1890) – later given to his brother Theo and his wife Johanna as a gift for the birth of their first son Vincent Willem. This painting shows the lessons learned from the impressionists: the use of light colours, the practice of working en plein air and the fast, overlapping brush strokes.

 

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Part of the exhibition is dedicated to his brother Theo, his sole supporter, who loved him unconditionally with  unwavering determination. Theo’s presence in Vincent’s life was fundamental both financially and emotionally. For his part, Vincent always tried to pay him back as best he could, by donating paintings Theo could sell in the art gallery.

THIRD FLOOR

Van Gogh lived the rest of his life inside the psychiatric ward in Saint-Rémy, where he continued to paint as a form of mental relief. He painted cypresses and wheat fields (Wheatfield with Cypress, 1980): “…cypresses always worry me. I’d like to do something like the sunflower paintings, what surprises me is that they’re still not how I would like them, how I see them. The cypress is beautiful for it’s wood and it’s proportions, it’s like an Egyptian obelisk. And the green is so distinct. It’s a “black” spot in a sunny landscape, it’s the most interesting thing and the hardest for me to paint.”

His medical conditions soon worsened, he was unable to paint outdoors but his brother came to the rescue by bringing him postcards with famous paintings (Delacroix and Millet) which Van Gogh recreated on canvas in his own way. To his sister Wil he talked about Pietà (after Delacroix) (1889) and said: “Delacroix is Pietà, a dead Christ with a Pained Mother. He lies, reclining, at the entrance of a cave, his hands are out on his left side, the corpse exhausted, and the woman is behind. It’s evening, after a storm, and the desperate figure – in a blue dress which is moving in the wind – stands out against the sky, where golden rimmed purple clouds are moving. Even her hands, strong working hands, are stretched out in an act of desperation. With her dress, lifted by the wind, the figure appears as great as she is tall. Though the corpse’s face is in shadow, the woman’s pale face stands out against a cloud – a contrast which gives the same effect as would a light flower against a darker flower would make one stick out more than the other.

 

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In 1890 Vincent moved to Auvers-sur-Oise, close to Paris, to be under the care of doctor Gachet. Here, he began to work again with fervent energy, trying to dominate the emotions he wanted to fix on canvas. During this period in time he painted one of his most famous and beautiful pieces: Wheatfield with Crows (1890). The strength of his brush strokes, the ferocity with which he painted the wheats’ movement and the almost convulsive flight of the crows in the storm seem to be a gloomy omen of his imminent death, which took place on July 29, 1890.

 

 

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For more information with the Van Gogh Museum website .

Translated by Ludovica Sarti

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