It’s a starry night for my arrival in Amsterdam. It seems like a fitting introduction for a trip to the Netherlands to learn more about one of the most famous painters of all time. Here, in his homeland, Vincent Van Gogh is honoured as a loved and respected son of the Dutch.
It was 125 years ago that Van Gogh died. There’s still uncertainty about exactly how it happened – whether he shot himself or some young boys did it accidentally; whether it happened in a beautiful wheat field that he used for artistic inspiration or somewhere less poetic. In many ways, it doesn’t matter. It is the life of the troubled but brilliant artist that should be the focus.
My exploration will begin in Amsterdam at the Van Gogh Museum, one of the top art museums in Europe. It has the world’s largest collection of Van Gogh works with about 200 paintings and 400 drawings. It also has about 700 letters from the man himself and, as he was a prolific writer, these offer a fantastic insight into his mind.
Often it is Van Gogh’s mind that people associate with the story of the painter. In particular, there’s the infamous incident where he cut off his left ear with a razor blade during what is considered to have been a psychotic episode. Yet, if you look at his work, you can see so much colour and brightness in the later years. The two Vincent Van Goghs – the unsettled man and the studious artist – are sometimes hard to reconcile.
To try and understand this better, I will also be visiting the Van Gogh House in the north of the Netherlands near the city of Emmen. It is the only publicly accessible house in the country where Van Gogh lived and worked. These days, the building is used as a museum and visitors are able to see his study and bedroom as they would have been in 1883 when he was in residence.
Throughout my journey this week, I’ll also have the opportunity to see some of the landscapes of the Netherlands. As the seasons change, the famous fields of flowers are getting ready to bloom here and already it feels like spring. Vincent Van Gogh found much of his inspiration in these flowers and in the other natural surrounds of the places he lived. Hopefully I may be able to see some of it through his eyes.