GOGHING* TO THE MUSEUM
*”Gogh” as in Vincent Van Gogh. Get it?!
For our last day in Amsterdam we decided to focus our attentions on the aptly named Museum District. Located just South of the old town centre this part of town is home to some of the best art galleries and museums in the world, including the 2 that we visited: the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum.
The wide boulevards and leafy parks of the Museum District were already teeming with eager tourists when we got there at 8:30 this morning. No wonder really, given that it’s museums are amongst Amsterdam’s most popular attractions. None more so than the Van Gogh Museum, an art gallery come museum dedicated to the life and works of one of the Netherlands’ most famous artistic sons. Having learnt from our London experience we pre-bought our museum tickets online and were able to skip the worst of the queues to get into the Van Gogh Museum. Once inside we were quickly enveloped in the quiet of the gallery and lost in the world of Vincent Van Gogh*.
*Photos are not allowed inside the museum, but below are images of some of our favourite Van Gogh works that we saw today from http://www.vangoghmuseum.nl.
Through its collection of paintings, sketches, and personal letters, the museum told the story of Van Gogh’s life, including his struggles with mental illness and eventual suicide in 1890. We learnt about his early years, as a child in rural Holland, and his life-long friendship with his brother Theo (who became an art dealer and supported Vincent financially and emotionally for much of his career). There were letters on display in the museum that Vincent had written to his brother, describing his religious fervour during the years he worked as a missionary; and his love of the land and it’s colours during the years he lived in the South of France, around Arles.
Like many artists of the era, Van Gogh eventually found himself in Paris, living in Montmartre and studying the works of other artists. In February 1888 Vincent left Paris having painted over 200 paintings during his 2 years in the city.
He moved to the countryside and invited fellow artist and Gauguin to visit. Gauguin’s visit marked the beginning Van Gogh’s decline in mental health that eventually led to his death. The men had an argument in December 1888 and when Gauguin stormed out Van Gogh severed his left ear with a razor. He bandaged his wound, wrapped the ear in paper, and delivered the package to a brothel frequented by both him and Gauguin, before returning home and collapsing. He was found unconscious the next day by the police and taken to the hospital. Van Gogh himself had no recollection of these events, and it is thought that he had suffered an acute psychotic episode.
Van Gogh returned home but spent the next 18 months between the hospital and home, suffering from hallucinations and delusions. Finally, on 27 July 1890, aged 37, he shot himself in the chest with a revolver and died.
There has been much debate over the years as to the source of Van Gogh’s illness and its effect on his work. Whatever the cause, there’s no doubt that his mental health both fuelled his creativity and, ultimately, destroyed it. Van Gogh’s work continues to inspire artists and art-lovers alike however, and, together with those of Pablo Picasso, his works are among the world’s most expensive paintings.
Van Gogh drew as a child but did not paint until his late 20s; he completed many of his best-known works during the last 2 years of his life. In just over a decade, he produced more than 2,100 artworks, including 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolours, drawings, sketches and prints. Many of Van Gogh’s sketches, self portraits, landscapes, still-life’s, and portraits are housed within the museum in Amsterdam; together they tell a poignant story of the artist’s life and make for a fascinating couple of hours.
We really enjoyed the walk through Van Gogh’s life and works, but needed a break before venturing into the next museum. We stopped for coffee in the main square of the Museum District, people watching and wondering at on earth the display of colourful rabbits in the square was about. We never did work it out, but they sure were cute and popular with tourists for a photo stop (us included)!
Our second (and final) museum stop for the day was the immense Rijksmuseum which houses thousands of pieces on Dutch art and historical artefacts from the Middle Ages to the present day, including works by Rembrandt van Rijn and Johannes Vermeer.
Some of the most riveting displays for us were those from the the Dutch Golden Age (i.e. 16th and 17th centuries), when Dutch ocean faring explorers were discovering the world; when the Dutch diamond trade brought immense wealth into the country; and when the Dutch East India Company was at its most powerful. Some of the models of ships from that era were especially impressive.
There was also a very large display of Delftware, or Delft pottery. Traditionally made in the small town of Delft in the southern part of Holland, Delftware was amongst the first European copy of the famous Chinese porcelain that was so prized during the 17th century. There were all sorts of plates, cups, tiles, flower pots, tea pots, and tiles on display. Some of them decorated with imitations of Chinese motifs, other traditional Dutch imagery (i.e. windmills, children dressed in traditional garb, etc).
The museum’s art collection was quite impressive too, with works dating from 1200 to 2000 on display.
There was an especially large display of works by one of our favourite Dutch painters: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (better known simply by his first name). Born in 1606, Rembrandt was one of the great painters of the Dutch Golden Age. His unique style (e.g. Rembrandt was the first to paint figures in a group portrait actually doing something), and beautiful use of light and illumination make his works both beautiful and valuable (though he himself died a pauper). His most famous work housed at the Rijksmuseum is the “Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq”, commonly referred to as “The Night Watch”. This is Rembrandt’s largest, most famous canvas which he painted on commission for the guild hall of Amsterdam’s civic guard.
We finished our tour through the Rijksmuseum and, Full to the brim with information, art and artefacts, we left the Museum District and wandered back to our studio apartment in Nieuwmarkt to enjoy one last quiet evening in Amsterdam (it’s definitely quieter early in the week – this town seems to wind things up a notch a bit each day, with the peak being Saturday nights and the quietest time being Monday morning). Shane took care of a few “admin” bits and pieces and I took myself to the hairdresser for a little TLC. We’re off tomorrow, bound for Belgium, and though we’re excited about the next thing, we’re also quite sad to be leaving the Netherlands already. This is a wonderful place to visit, and an easy place to get comfortable in. After just a week we feel pretty at home, and love the relaxed Dutch view on things. Hopefully Belgium will be just as chilled out, just with less whacky weed and more chocolate!