Visiting Van Gogh

June 7, 2016

Don McLean’s haunting song about Vincent van Gogh is running through my mind as I write about my visits to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo, the world’s largest and second largest collections of his work, respectively.

“Starry, starry night

Paint your palette blue and gray

Look out on a summer's day

With eyes that know the darkness in my soul…”  Don McLean

Photo Courtesy of JourneyAroundtheGlobe.com

Don McLean’s haunting song about Vincent van Gogh is running through my mind as I write about my visits to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo, the world’s largest and second largest collections of his work, respectively. Be sure to visit both if you are ever in The Netherlands. At the Van Gogh Museum my tour group was lucky enough to have the painter’s great-grandnephew. Vincent Willem van Gogh, as a tour guide.

Photo Courtesy of T.HongKong.Coconuts.co

One of interesting tidbits he shared is that his great-uncle was a very prolific painter. During the 10 years before he died at the age of 37 van Gogh produced roughly 900 paintings, an average of 7 to 8 per month. But during the last two months of his life van Gogh created more than one painting a day – an absolute flurry of creativity!  The Van Gogh Museum houses more than 200 of those canvases, 500 drawings and 750 written documents by this master artist, which allowed us to see how his technique changed throughout his lifetime.  During his early years van Gogh used dark, somber colors and his style was more realistic.

Photo Courtesy of en.Wikipedia.org

But under the influence of the Impressionists he began using lighter, brighter colors and free-form brush strokes,which I much prefer to his earlier work. Among my favorites of that period are Sunflowers, Almond Blossoms and the Yellow House series, all in the Van Gogh Museum.

Photo Courtesy of VanGoghMuseum.nl

Photo Courtesy of en.Wikipedia.org

Photo Courtesy of VanGoghMuseum.nl

The Kroller-Muller Museum often is overlooked by tourists, but it is a treasure trove of van Goghs as well as gems by Paul Gaugin, Claude Monet, Georges Seurat and Pablo Picasso. It was founded in 1938 by Helene Kroller-Muller, one of the first people to recognize van Gogh’s talent and collect his work. Among my favorites here are “Souvenir de Mauve” and “Terrace of a Café at Night.”

Photo Courtesy of en.Wikipedia.org

Photo Courtesy of Kroller-Muller.nl

If you’re like me you probably remember van Gogh as the “crazy” genius who cut off his ear and ultimately committed suicide. But I did some investigating online and discovered that some researchers are questioning whether van Gogh did either. They say it is possible that van Gogh’s friend and painter Paul Gaugin cut off his ear after an argument and that the two decided to keep the incident quiet. Other researchers say that a young boy accidentally shot van Gogh. We do know for sure that  van Gogh was not famous during his life. He sold only one painting, “The Red Vineyard at Arles,” while he was still alive.

Photo Courtesy of en.Wikipedia.org

His great-grandnephew told us that van Gogh only became well-known because of two women: Helene Kroller-Muller and van Gogh's sister-in-law, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, who drew attention to his work by loaning some of his paintings for exhibitions and by publishing a series of letters van Gogh wrote to his brother. One more example of the power of women!

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