“During his short life, Van Gogh did not allow his flame to go out. Fire and embers were his brushes during the few years of his life, whilst he burned out for his art. I have thought, and wished—in the long term, with more money at my disposal than he had—to follow in his footsteps.” —Edward Munch, October 23, 1933
On July 29, 2015 it will be 125 years since Vincent Van Gogh died. Considered the greatest Dutch painter after Rembrandt, he struggled with mental illness, anonymity and poverty in a short, troubled life in which he managed to sell just one painting. His legacy includes iconic portraits, self portraits and landscapes of cypresses, wheat fields and sunflowers.
Born to upper middle-class parents, Van Gogh drew as a child but didn’t pick up a paintbrush until he was in his late 20s. In early adulthood, he worked for a team of art dealers, then traveled extensively and taught in England. Once deeply religious, he aspired to be a pastor and served as a missionary in Belgium, where he sketched locals and sowed his early artistic roots. In 1885, Van Gogh painted The Potato Eaters, considered his first major work.
While hospitalized for mental illness in France, the struggling post-impressionist worked in a studio set up by his brother Theo. There, inspired by a dream, he painted Starry Night, one of his most beloved works. He took his own life a year later at age 37, in Auvers sur Oise, near Paris.
How Van Gogh’s mental health affected his painting has been widely debated. Despite a tendency to romanticize his angst, most modern critics see him as a deeply frustrated artist plagued by debilitating inertia and mental chaos.
125 Years of Inspiration
Through the Van Gogh Europe Foundation, 30 museums and cultural institutions in four countries—Holland, Belgium, France and England—are working together to conserve the heritage of the legendary post-impressionist. Special exhibits and programs in 2015–16 will be linked by the theme, 125 Years of Inspiration. In Holland, exhibits at Otterlo’s Kröller-Müller Museum and Den Bosch’s Noordbrabants Museum celebrate Van Gogh’s legacy this year.
Although poor and unknown throughout his life, Van Gogh greatly influenced 20th century art. The largest collection of his works—200+ paintings, 500 drawings and 750 written documents—is in Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum. Re-opened in 2013 after a nine-month renovation, the museum attracts some 1.5 million visitors annually with such masterpieces as Van Gogh’s self-portraits, The Sunflowers, The Potato-Eaters and The Bedroom. Other exhibits focus on the artist’s life and those he befriended and influenced.
On September 25, 2015, Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, in collaboration with the Munch Museum in Oslo, will debut Munch: Van Gogh, a special exhibit focusing on similarities between the work of Edvard Munch (1863–1944) and Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890). Both recognized for their emotionally charged paintings, innovative style and tormented lives, these two giants of Western painting are known for modernizing art through a highly personal and expressive visual language that conveys universal emotions.
Munch: Van Gogh will feature 100+ seldom-loaned masterpieces, including Munch’s The Scream, The Sick Child and Madonna, allowing viewers to admire an important part of both artists’ works in one location. Through early 2016, it will inspire special fall programs at De Appel Arts Centre, De Balie, EYE, Het Dolhuys, The Concertgebouw and other top Amsterdam venues. Through films, performances, debates and music, programs will reveal how Munch and Van Gogh’s influence on contemporary art and culture has stood the test of time and is alive and well today.
Visiting The Van Gogh Museum
Open daily from 9am–6pm (10pm on Fridays), The Van Gogh Museum is one of Amsterdam’s most popular attractions. Yet visiting can be tiresome if not planned with foresight. Although it will cost you spontaneity, buying tickets online will save waiting in a long, slow-moving queue. Rather than lining up with hordes of others, you’ll be in the fast-moving priority lane.
After placing your order for a specific date and time, you’ll receive tickets via smartphone or laptop. Show the barcode on your phone at the entrance if you don’t want to print your ticket. Those under 18 and Museumkaart holders get in free, but can select an entrance time to avoid collecting a ticket. Adult entry is currently €17.
An interactive multimedia guide will take your visit to the next level. Available in 10 languages for €5/adults, €2.50/13–17-year-olds, it can be booked with your online ticket and picked up at the museum’s multimedia desk. With stops at 23 paintings including The Potato Eaters, Sunflowers and The Bedroom, the audio tour looks at Van Gogh as both a man and an artist, offering insight into how he worked and what motivated him. Go at your own pace while looking and listening.
For families, there’s a multimedia guide designed for 6–12-year-olds, available in English and Dutch. On Thursday afternoons, free gallery talks focus on a selection of works in the collection and a theme that connects the paintings.
When to Visit
The most intimate museum experiences are generally in the morning, when crowds are smallest. If you don’t have an online ticket, arrive before 9am for the shortest wait. Better yet, go on a Friday night, when the museum stays open until 10pm and free tours (limited to 15) are offered at 7pm in English and 8pm in Dutch. Meet at the information desk for the interactive experience taking in three of Van Gogh’s masterpieces.
On the first Friday of the month throughout the year, the museum pumps up the energy with bands, authors, performances, video artists and workshops, plus a cocktail bar to fuel the fun. Programming on other Friday nights features a DJ, VJs, free tours and cocktails, but is lower key. In June, July and August, Friday Night at the Van Gogh adds top-drawer video presentations to the mix. This fall, programs will showcase how the work of Edward Munch and Vincent Van Gogh continue to influence the next generation of artists.
On June 27 and 28, 2015, try your hand with paint, canvas and brushes at free walk-in workshops for museum visitors, from 1–3:30pm. When hunger hits, grab a pizza or some tapas at the museum café, Le Tambourin, serving dishes starting at €12. Share photos using #vangoghmuseum on Instagram.
Tram lines 2, 3, 5 and 12 and buses 170, 171 and 172 stop at or within easy walking distance of the Van Gogh Museum, at Paulus Potterstraat 7, 1071 CX Amsterdam. If coming by car (not advisable), there’s a car park at Museumplein, entered off Van Baerlestraat. Now Gogh!