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Visions of Van Gogh

Photos Courtesy Van Gogh Museum

If there’s one thing you must experience during a trip to Amsterdam (besides a Dutch pancake), it’s the city’s Van Gogh museum.

Art lovers will immediately recognize this famous Dutch painter who, along with Rembrandt, is one of the Netherlands’ most prominent cultural figures. But even if you’re not brushed up on your 19th-century European impressionist painters, with a visit to this museum you’ll discover how much Van Gogh influenced the way in which we interpret images in the world around us.

Vincent Van Gogh is perhaps most famous for his colorful, swirling and surreal Starry Night. You won’t see that on display at the museum in Amsterdam (it resides at New York’s Museum of Modern Art), but you will see a wide-ranging catalog of his other excellent work, including numerous self-portraits and a famous scene he painted of his bedroom. The Van Gogh Museum has some 200 paintings and 500 paintings by the artist, as well as 700 letters he wrote to his brother Theo and others.

The museum presents these works in chronological order, displaying them with parallel stories of the artist’s life and struggles. He took up painting as an adult with no formal art training, and went most of his career without ever selling a single painting. In his late 30s, he struggled with epilepsy and mental illness, famously cutting off part of his own ear and eventually taking his own life. It would only be later that the art community would recognize him as one of the foremost fathers of modern painting.

Though the story is dark at points, the museum’s exhibits are beautiful. Walking through, I see how Van Gogh was a master of Impressionist-inspired techniques.  From a distance, his paintings all look perfectly clear and in focus; when you take a step closer though, you see that they are all composed of thick, short and colorful brushstrokes. The strokes by themselves could pass for haphazard, but when you take them together, you see that they are carefully and deliberately designed to depict farmland, cityscapes and human portraits in a colorful, innovative way.

The Van Gogh Museum is just one of many art institutions in Amsterdam, which is celebrating its artistic heritage this year with a variety of special exhibits and events.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.