Van Gogh in Amsterdam


Examples from Van Gogh’s ‘Flowering Orchards’ series

Recently I visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and left feeling I wanted to share my experience in some way, hence this blog. I learnt a lot about Van Gogh’s life that I had not previously known, which I suppose is the point of going to a museum, apart from being affected by the works seen.

Van Gogh was a Post- Impressionist of Dutch origin, hence a whole museum in Amsterdam showcasing his work and it is obvious the Dutch are proud to claim him theirs. Being an admirer of  the Impressionist and Post- Impressionist painters I was keen to experience his works first hand and I can honestly say I was not disappointed. The emotionally charged colours, the vibrancy and movement in the paintings, plus the sense of Van Gogh’s character showing through them moved me profoundly.

There has been speculation by art historians about the extent to which his mental health affected his work. We know that he suffered serious bouts of depression and that sadly he committed suicide, aged thirty seven. I personally feel Van Gogh’s anxieties show through and particularly so with his self- portraits. Also, his skies are turbulent , and one asks why, as it was not always stormy when he painted! He uses colour to affect mood as well as strong broad brushstrokes. This makes the paintings very emotionally charged.

One thing I learnt of particular interest because of our own library’s knitting collections is that Van Gogh used balls of wool to experiment with colour combinations. It is thought he used a ball of twisted yellow and purple wool for the painting ‘Grapes ‘, dated 1887. Both the wool and the painting are on display at the museum.

Another technique Van Gogh used which I have to confess I had not heard of was Peinture ‘a L’Essence where oil is absorbed from the paint using blotting paper therefore leaving only the pigment. This is then thinned with turps and applied to the canvas. The painting ‘Grapes’ was done in this way.

Van Gogh apparently struggled with perspective and in one room we saw his gridded perspective frame. We were invited to use one of these instruments, built in simulated form, and I enjoyed observing one person ‘have a go’ though I didn’t use it myself as she took too long!

My favourite paintings in the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, were the ‘Orchards in Blossom’ series as they gave a feeling of joyfulness and optimism as well as being extremely peaceful, almost meditative in their quietness and silence.

I would thoroughly recommend a visit to the museum if ever you find yourself in Amsterdam.


Judy Russell