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Monday, July 23, 2012

The van Gogh Museum , Amsterdam

The van Gogh Museum, street entrance, is deceiving.
The view is neither its best architecturally nor does
it do the museum justice in any other sense. Much
of the museum is actually below street level.
Forget about taking pictures at the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. I'm not talking about stealing the artwork...that goes without saying. I mean using your camera. Before I even got into the place, outside on the front steps, I was warned by a museum official "no photography permitted" (and I was just shooting the outside). Later, I saw some surreptitious cell phone photography. Not to belabor the point, but in today's Internet age, there's not much reason to bother. Everything here can be found on line.

Architecturally, the van Gogh, with its most recent addition, is striking from this angle; but,
quite frankly, it's one most visitors don't see, actually the back of the museum.
Inside, the "floating" staircase is much more
fun than the elevators.
Discussing van Gogh or his work here would be redundant. I've probably written more on this one artist than any other in the long timeline of art history. He's an infinitely fascinating man, even if you're not fond of his painting (and a surprising number of people aren't). You go to his museum to get up close and personal with the man and his art as in no other place on earth. Often there's not even the worrisome slab of Plexiglas between you and his magnificent daubs of paint. I asked about why some paintings were so protected and others weren't. (There seemed to be no rhyme nor reason to their doing so). The explanation, such as it was, seemed muddled and unsatisfactory. Architecturally, the museum is boldly modern but not to the point it intrudes into the work displayed. Likewise, it's well-planned and not so large as to fear getting lost, yet spacious in displaying not just van Gogh, but work from the entire era in which he lived.

I saw art by Gauguin, Vlaminck, Courbet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Seurat, Monet, Pissarro, Manet and few others with which I was not familiar--not just work those who were influenced by van Gogh, but also those who influence him. Some of these I'd never before encountered except in books or on line. The van Gogh has the largest collection of its namesake's work in the world, comprising over 200 paintings, 400 drawings, and 700 letters. As with Saint Petersburg's Hermitage, a few days later, time was limited, perhaps no more than 90 minutes (with some of that spent in the expansive (and expensive) gift shop). In all, I spent more time reading labels than studying the art. The place is worthy of a full afternoon, a full day for the connoisseur.

Johanna van Gogh-Bonger,
1925, Isaac Israels
When Vincent van Gogh died in 1890, those works not sold to pay off debts, were inherited by Vincent's brother, Theo, who himself died six months later. Thus the lot fell to Theo's widow, Johanna. She sold some of it in broadening the appreciation of Vincent's work but maintained a private collection until her death in 1925, at which time the paintings fell to her son, Vincent Willem van Gogh. He loaned them to the massive Stedelijk Museum (today next door to the van Gogh). There they remained until 1962 when the van Gogh Foundation and the city of Amsterdam decided to erect a separate museum. The museum opened in 1973 and was renovated and enlarged in 1998-99. Though I saw no obvious need, the museum is due to be closed in the fall of 2012 for further renovation, during which time some 75 pieces will be displayed at the Amsterdam Hermitage Museum.

Off-white walls, hardwood floors, discreet, roped barriers, inside the van Gogh is very much
like any other modern-day museum except for the extraordinary man and his work.

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