After traveling to so many places, the one thing I have never been short of is museums. In fact, I’ve been to so many museums that most of them have blurred together, with this art gallery confused with that one, or that history museum swapped with another. Many of them have even been completely forgotten by me. Taking that into account, it’s pretty hard for a museum to be especially memorable, or even impactful on me. This leads us to the Van Gogh Museum, located in Amsterdam (the country where he was born), and quite possibly my favorite museum ever.
Thinking of the Van Gogh Museum as a favorite may seem a bit strange at first. It doesn’t boast a beautiful facade like the Rijksmuseum, or a unique location or entrance like the Louvre, nor is it especially grand in size. No, what makes it interesting and different lies on the inside. Many art galleries showcase works from tens to hundreds of artists, and while you get the opportunity to see different artists’ styles and interpretations, for me this makes it harder to remember anything particular about any specific artwork. The tremendous amount of different art and stories sometimes makes it somewhat difficult to remember one artist’s motive about one painting. Herein lies of the strength of the Van Gogh Museum. It has the benefit of telling only one man’s story, and it by ‘one man’s story’ I mean they are really telling the story of Van Gogh’s life.
The way in which it tells his story is done in an amazingly engaging way. The museum tells Van Gogh’s story through his artwork. By piecing together the bits and parts found in his artwork, it manages to almost create a timeline that shows you exactly how Van Gogh was thinking and felt at the time of his painting. The museum masterfully intertwines canvas and paint with the key events happening at the time to Van Gogh. They do this partly with their organization of the artwork.
The museum is split into multiple floors, with each covering a different stage in his life. In the beginning, you are introduced to Vincent’s ideas and aspirations, reflected in what he drew. In one painting, The Potato Eaters (1885), Van Gogh depicted a group of very poor people sharing some meager servings of food, a single yellow light casting deep shadows into the room. By painting something so negative and with such dark tones, many were uninterested or contemptuous toward his art. With this, you begin to understand how Van Gogh strayed from the average artist at the time. Later, you see him experimenting with different styles, eventually settling on the specific style that his most famous works are known for.
The museum doesn’t just use visual art to help you understand Van Gogh’s thoughts and emotions though. One of my favorite parts of the museum is how it actually uses audio to further engage you. It offers recorded versions of Van Gogh’s interactions with others in letters, most commonly his brother, the man who eventually started the foundation of the museum.
Van Gogh’s writing is nothing to scoff at, either. He writes with what I think is a similar sort or beauty to his paintings, with a sort of emotional weight behind his words. The museum takes full advantage of this by having many audio versions of his letters free for use by visitors. Even though each recording was about three to four minutes long, and there were more than ten of them, I listened to every one of them; they were that encapturing. And when I finally stood before Vincent Van Gogh’s final paintings and letters, I found that his suicide had actually caused me to feel a much higher degree of emotion than I would have expected a museum to be able to.
In the end, while museums like the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay may seem more impressive, I can confidently say that the Van Gogh Museum is much more impacting and interesting than any other museum I have ever been to, and I cannot recommend it enough.