Vincent van Gogh is arguably the most popular, most reproduced and most talked-about of all modern artists, so it’s not surprising that the Van Gogh Museum, comprising a fabulous collection of the artist’s work, is one of Amsterdam’s top attractions. The museum occupies two modern buildings, with the kernel of the collection housed at the front in an angular structure designed by a leading light of the De Stijl movement, Gerrit Rietveld, and opened to the public in 1973. Well conceived and beautifully presented, this part of the museum provides an introduction to the man and his art, based on paintings that were mostly inherited from Vincent’s art-dealer brother Theo. To the rear of Rietveld’s building, and connected by a ground-floor escalator, is an ultramodern curved annexe, an aesthetically controversial structure built in 1998, that holds temporary exhibitions.
The ground floor of the main museum displays works by some of van Gogh’s well-known friends and contemporaries, many of whom influenced his work – Gauguin, Millet, Anton Mauve, and Charles Daubigny all feature. Above, on the first floor are paintings by the artist himself, mostly displayed chronologically, starting with the dark, sombre works of the early years like The Potato Eater. The collection continues with the brighter palate he adopted in Arles, superbly represented by one of the artist’s Sunflowers series, intensely – almost obsessively – rendered in the deepest oranges, golds and ochres. While van Gogh was in the asylum in St Rémy, his approach to nature became more abstract, as evidenced by his unsettling Wheatfield with a Reaper, the dense, knotty Undergrowth and his palpable Irises. Van Gogh is at his most expressionistic here, the paint applied thickly, often with a palette knife, a practice he continued in his final, tortured works painted at Auvers-sur-Oise, where he lodged for the last three months of his life. It was at Auvers that he painted the frantic Wheatfield with Crows, in which the fields swirl and writhe under weird, dark skies, as well as the deeply disturbing Tree Roots.
The two floors above provide backup to the main collection. The second floor hosts temporary exhibitions focusing on aspects of van Gogh’s art and life, while the third floor has a conservation and restoration area, more drawings and sketches from the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions illustrating yet more of van Gogh’s artistic influences.