Vincent Van Gogh never really found fame in life. As far as we know, he only ever sold one painting while he was alive (Red Vineyard at Arles). It wasn’t until after his death that his family promoted his work and his popularity grew. His nephew, Vincent Willem, took up the job of champion and was one of the main campaigners for the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It was in 1973 that his dream was realised and the doors first opened.
Because of the lack of popular success during Van Gogh’s life, the family had a large collection of his work in its possession and many of these pieces were used for the first collection of the museum. Over time it has grown and the Van Gogh Museum now has more than 200 paintings and 400 drawings. Most days of the year, queues of international visitors wait outside for a chance to see the masterpieces for themselves. A lot has changed since the death of Vincent Van Gogh as an impoverished and relatively unknown artist 125 years ago.
Van Gogh was born into a society with an appreciation of art, though. The Dutch have produced some of the greatest artists in history – Rembrandt, for instance – and this love of local and international art is clearly on display in Amsterdam. The city has an impressive collection of museums and galleries. I only have one day and so I’ve decided to try a mixture of museums to get a taste of what’s on offer.
Of course, I start with the Van Gogh Museum. The collection of his work is well organised into sections that illustrate the different periods of his artistic life and show the other artists who influenced him. There are three floors and the highlights of his career are given prominent displays. Some of his letters are also shown within the museum and there is a lot of information about his career and personal life.
After a couple of hours, I move just next door to the Stedelijk Museum. This modern art gallery has a few Van Gogh paintings but the real highlight is the 20th century collection on the second floor. There are hundreds of pieces of different sizes and media, representing every major art movement of the time. Don’t be surprised if you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a performance art piece.
In the afternoon, I make my way to the Hermitage Amsterdam. It’s an offshoot of the famous Russian museum and currently has an incredible display of enormous group portraits in Amsterdam from the 17th century. It’s an insight into the social world of the Netherlands at the height of Dutch power.
Before I finish for the day, I find time to visit Foam, the most famous photography museum in Amsterdam. It changes its exhibitions regularly to showcase photographers from around the world. Today there is a large collection from Japanese artist Nobuyoshi Araki. In a smaller part of the building, some works from local and upcoming photographers are on display.
I realise that Vincent Van Gogh is in good company here in Amsterdam. Take a canal cruise through the city and every view will look like a piece of art. Go inside the galleries along the waterways, though, and there are countless more masterpieces to discover.
- The I am Amsterdam card gives you unlimited public transport, free entry to most major museums and attractions, and other discounts. You can buy it for 24, 48 or 72 hours.
- To see Amsterdam by boat, you can buy a Hop-On Hop-Off pass that also includes entry to the Van Gogh Museum
- The tourist information office at the Amsterdam Centraal train station is an excellent place to get a map and ask for some advice about attractions
- Most of the major tourist attractions in Amsterdam have free wifi, so there are plenty of opportunities to check online maps or post to social media
My highlight was in the Stedelijk Museum when I suddenly realised not all was as it seemed and a performance art piece was taking place in front of me. Before I knew it, I had then become a part of the performance – and enjoyed it immensely!