We went to Amsterdam for a couple of days last week and the number one place to get to for me was the Van Gogh (1853-1890) museum (which also shows his contemporaries like Gauguin’s painting of Van Gogh painting the sunflowers) which we did first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds.
I actually find looking at lots of paintings quite tiring so we only focused on the Van Gogh’s not the Felix Vallotton exhibition showing currently there. To me there’s no point trying to see hundreds of paintings as you simply can’t take them all in (Though you tend to do that if you’ve paid. It’s easy in the UK as many of the major galleries and museums are free. The National Gallery in Melbourne is too which was a weekly event when I lived there. It’s fantastic you can just go to these galleries to see one painting if you want. )
What can you say about the Van Gogh’s? They are just simply radiantly beautiful and moving works, full of soul that touch you unlike anybody elses work. They are full of love unlike thousands of other paintings you see. You simply cannot really ‘get’ them from reproductions as the brushwork is so delicate and is worked in such an infinite number of ways which you can’t see in prints. That brushwork is like a musical score singing across the canvas. And the luminous colour is the speaker which sings to you of his soul. And everybody’s soul.
I had quite a number of favourites in the exhibition one of which was ‘The Yellow House’ from 1888 which was painted like a precious jewellery box. Here’s the story of that place from the Van Gogh Museum’s website:
In May 1888, Van Gogh rented four rooms on the right-hand side of a house on the Place Lamartine in Arles. His living quarters were the ones with the green shutters. His bedroom lay beyond. Vincent had finally found a place where he could not only paint but also welcome his friends. His goal was to establish a “Studio of the South,” where he and like-minded artists could work together.
Just as he did in Nuenen and Paris, Van Gogh here depicts his own surroundings. To the left we see the restaurant where he usually took his meals. His friend, the postman Joseph Roulin, lived to the right, behind the first railroad bridge.
The view is also an exploration of color contrast: “What a powerful sight, those yellow houses in the sun and then the unforgettable clarity of the blue [sky],” he wrote to Theo in the letter that accompanied a drawing he had made after the painting.
I used to think 1888 was Van Gogh’s best year for painting as his later paintings seemed to lose there spatial coherence, a sense of unity. But it’s not really true. The very last paintings he did including ‘Landscape with Crows’ still radiate a sense of universal order which I could only see in real life. It’s the forces of nature (God) which connect everything together. You can’t escape it he’s saying.
Van Gogh Museum
Address: Paulus Potterstraat 7, 1071 CX Amsterdam, Netherlands (it’s right behind the Rijk’s museum)
Open 9am-6pm; late Fridays
Phone: +31 20 570 5200