Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam

Too soon it is our last full day in Amsterdam.  We have created a large agenda and set out  early.  We have booked a time slot at the Van Gogh museum, a trip back  to the Rijksmuseum, a canal tour and will finish as dinner guests at Aunt Emmy’s home.

We take the tram to the museum square, arrive early and use the time to chill.  There is no need to queue as we will all be gained entry at the same time.

The museum is dedicated to the work of  Vincent Van Gogh and his contemporaries.  We embark on a journey through his career, his unravelling and untimely death.

Van Gogh’s early work is quite dark and at odds with what is typically known as his style. “The Potato Eaters,” a darkly coloured painting depicts its subjects as caricatures.  Van Gogh received harsh criticism for this work, listened and changed his style dramatically.  His paintings became cheerful, colourful with sunny yellow prominent.  I can’t help but wonder if the darker pieces are what he truly felt, though was forced to give the world its cheery preference.

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Vincent was not a wealthy man and could not afford models, so he used himself to work on techniques.  Each self portrait depicts a sad man, lacking in confidence, telling in how he saw himself and at odds with the cheerful colour palette.

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Van Gogh dreamed in his later years of an artist colony at the yellow house in the south of France.  He was excited for Gaughin and other artists of the time to create their art together, a Utopia. Gaughin did come  to the yellow house and stayed for nine weeks. Initially all went according to Van Gogh’s plan, though it ended badly with an argument, Gaughin leaving and Van Gogh cutting off his own ear.

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It is unclear of Van Gogh’s malady, some speculate bipolar disease, others have thought epilepsy or poisoning.  In any case, his actions were not the workings of a sane man.

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He admitted himself to a mental institution after the “ear incident” where on good days he painted prolifically, on bad days he barely moved.  His paintings were bright, colourful, seemingly at odds with his state of mind.  One of his famous paintings, “Starry nights,” currently located at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City was painted from the view he saw outside of the asylum window.

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Van Gogh’ breakdowns became more frequent and he died several days after  a self inflicted gun shot wound.  I feel sad at the completion of the tour.  At the beginning of the tour, I knew his outcome, though his cheery paintings had me naively hoping for a different, better end.  I wished that somehow his dreams would be fulfilled and perhaps his hopeful paintings are telling,  Van Gogh did as well.

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

We venture to the Rijksmuseum.  I’m excited to see the actual paintings that I studied in University, as opposed to photos in books.

We arrive to a stately building, with at odds architecture, Neo Gothic meets Renaissance that somehow works together to create a cohesive building.

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The most charming feature is a bike tube through the museum, the only one of its kind in the world.  Bicyclists can travel through the museum, there is no art on the walls of the tube, the bikes are the art and quintessential Netherlands. During the last major renovation, the architect wanted to change the space to a courtyard, the tube nearly lost.  Thankfully, there was much protest and the bike tube remained.

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The majority of the museum is dedicated to 17th century Dutch masters.  Notable paintings are, Vermeer’s “Milkmaid,” Rembrandt’s “Nightwatch” and Van Gogh’s “Self Portrait.”

John and I decide on a “highlights” tour where the major works will be seen.  We use the Rijksmuseum app that we downloaded at home and set off.  There is so much beauty everywhere that it is difficult to remain focused.  The building, stained glass, even the floor compete for my attention.  I focus, John is distracted and not moving through as quick.

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We decide to part ways as our museum strategy differs. This is John’s second trip to the Rijksmuseum, he wants to absorb. My approach is quantity over quality, wanting to see as much as possible. We both agree we would need months rather than the day allotted to do the place justice.  Our strategy, divide and conquer.

It is freeing to explore on my own at my own pace, I suspect that John too feels free without me breathing heavy and pacing. I miss him at times when I want to look at his expression or ask him what he thinks of a particular painting.

I smile when I see Vermeer’s, “The Milkmaid,” more vibrant than imagined.  The Threatened Swan by Jan Asselijn grabs my attention, such an odd perspective and the first acquisition by the museum, purchased for 100 guilders. The newly married couple and their relaxed stance and grins has me grinning back.  Van Gogh with two ears looks so very sad and of course this sadness is part of his story.

A queue is noticeable at the end of the hallway.  I know that it is the main event, “The Nightwatch.”  I can wait and enjoy all the paintings, some famous and some my new favourites as I amble along.

The Nightwatch, Rembrandt’s masterpiece is in a room of its own.  The painting is massive.  Its current size is 143” x 172,” though at one time it was larger, the original size 156” x 192.”  The painting was trimmed to fit a hall where it hung before moving to its present destination,   Its unimaginable to think that Rembrandt’s masterpiece would be trimmed, though this was the practice at the time.  I wonder what Rembrandt would think, I don’t think that he would be pleased. There is a trap door in the room to remove the painting in case of fire.  This was used during WWII to save the painting.  The Nightwatch was removed from its frame and rolled up where along with other major works was hidden until after the war.  I think about the brave souls who during such a dark time, saved the beauty.  They were successful as only a few minor works were lost. I cannot imagine if it was all lost.

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I find a room of doll houses.  These were not created for children but rather were a rich woman’s hobby.  The cost of the dollhouse was the same as a canal home at the same time. The attention to detail is extraordinary and I wonder about this woman and how little she had in her life that she spent such time and expense on this folly.  I think about my craft room and the thousands of dollars invested in supplies and decide to keep my thoughts to myself.

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John and I meet again and he is excited to show me the ship room where he has spent the majority of his time, his eyes are lit with enthusiasm. We see Michiel de Ruyter’s portrait and a beautiful model of a ship.  John says he could spend all day in this one room.

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img_1970We are meeting Nelda and Marieke for dinner and have to leave.  We vow to return one day.  Music catches our ear and we see a band in the bicycle tube with a growing audience forming.  The instruments are unusual, the music unique.  We enjoy the ambience as the bicyclists cycle by.

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We walk out of the tube, the garden catches our attention.  Everywhere we look we see beauty and art.  I wonder what it would have been like to grow up here with all this, would I have taken it for granted?  I think of our own museum with its dusty dinasours and our art gallery with its impressive architecture trying to make up for its lack of content.  I wonder if someday our museums in our relatively new country will be like this? Perhaps someday art currently hanging in our gallery will garner the crowds that surround the Swan and perhaps hundreds of years ago someone wondered if the Swan was worthy of a gallery and the cost?  We have to start somewhere I think.

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