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  • Writer's pictureMoorea Hall-Aquitania, MA

A Brief History of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam

What is the Van Gogh Museum?

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is a museum that opened in 1973 that’s dedicated to the life and work of 19th-century Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh.

Van Gogh Museum

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Van Gogh Museum History

Vincent van Gogh was born in the Netherlands in 1853, the eldest of six children of a Protestant pastor. After working as an art dealer he decided, at the age of 27, to become an artist. Van Gogh joined his brother Theo in Paris in the 1880s where he mingled with some of the leading lights of the burgeoning Impressionist movement. Under its influence, van Gogh’s work took on lighter and brighter tonal schemes. In 1888, he moved to the South of France, where he had a famous quarrel with fellow artist Paul Gauguin, after which he severed his left ear. It was then that van Gogh’s mental illness manifested itself, an affliction that led to periods of depression and to his spending time in psychiatric hospitals. On the 27th of July 1890, in a field near Auvers-sur-Oise, the 37-year-old artist tragically shot himself in the chest with a revolver and died two days later.

The Van Gogh Museum is dedicated to his highly expressive works, and is one of the most visited museums in the city (and the world) due to its stunning collection and didactic approach to the art of van Gogh and some of his contemporaries. The permanent collection of more than 200 paintings, 500 drawings and almost all of his letters, is organised chronologically into five key periods of the artist’s life: the time he spent in the Netherlands, Paris, Arles, Saint-Rémy and Auvers-sur-Oise. Alongside van Gogh’s many artworks are displays of his letters, research into his painting and drawing techniques, and artworks by his peers and sources of inspiration. As you wind your way upwards through the building, passing through the many pastel-coloured rooms filled with art, you’ll follow the trajectory of his short life. The building is an attraction in itself, designed by Gerrit Rietveld in the 1960s and completed by his partners after his death.

Van Gogh - Wheatfield with Crows

After Vincent’s death, his works were managed by his brother Theo and wife Johanna van Gogh-Bonger. Their son, Vincent Willem van Gogh, inherited the collection and in 1960 formed the Vincent van Gogh Foundation, which was turned into the museum in collaboration with the state in 1962, with the artworks on permanent loan. However, over subsequent years the museum has been modernised. The Kurokawa Wing, which houses temporary exhibitions, was designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa and opened in 1999. In 2015, the museum added a new glass entrance hall built with cutting-edge glass construction techniques, which joins the Rietveld building and the Kurokawa Wing.

The collection is appreciated by more than two million visitors per year, who come from all over the world (more than 85 per cent of them from outside the Netherlands) to see canvases such as The Potato Eaters, van Gogh’s first great work; the famous oil study of his Bedroom in Arles; The Yellow House where that bedroom was located; and one version of arguably his most famous work, Sunflowers. The museum is also the international centre for Van Gogh research, hosting the Van Gogh Museum Academy as a platform for scholarly research, academic conferences, and conducting in-depth technical research alongside restorations of van Gogh’s paintings.

As well as the popular permanent collection, the museum offers an exciting exhibition programme inspired by, and in dialogue with, van Gogh’s art. The museum puts on around five temporary exhibitions per year and organises a range of educational workshops and family activities. In 2019, the museum launched the ‘Meet Vincent van Gogh Experience’, an immersive, technology-driven exhibition that tours internationally. For visitors able to come to Amsterdam, the Van Gogh Museum offers a rich experience that will leave a lasting impression of the artist as a man, as well as an appreciation for his work.

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