Van Gogh Museum is one of the best museums in Europe. And often the only reason people are visiting Amsterdam for. But, with more than two million visitors each year, it’s wise to prepare for your visit to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam well. Keep on reading to learn what to see at the Van Gogh Museum and tips for visiting that fantastic museum.
What to see at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam
If you’re wondering about what to see at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, no worries, you’re at the right place. This amazing museum is home to some of the most famous paintings created by this Dutch painter. And a place where you can learn a lot about his life and work.
I used to work in it for three years as a museum guide, so I know it quite well. Here are my tips for a great visit to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
History of the Van Gogh Museum
Van Gogh Museum was opened in 1973. It was designed by a famous Dutch architect, furniture designer, and a member of De Stijl movement, Gerrit Rietveld. The new entrance and temporary exhibition wing were created later on by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa.
It has the biggest collection of Van Gogh’s work in the world. After he died in 1890, Vincent’s brother Theo inherited his paintings. However, Theo died only six months later, and his widow, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger took care of the artwork.
She started organising exhibitions of his work, writing about him in the art magazines and selling his paintings. In the 1920s she realised it’s good to have his collection together and stopped selling his work. Some 200 paintings and majority of his drawings (around 1,000) that remained in the family collection are displayed in the Van Gogh Museum today.
They were first displayed in a near-by Stedelijk Museum, but after the new museum was built in 1973, they were moved to their new permanent home.
Van Gogh’s work
Although Van Gogh is one of the most famous and beloved modern painters today, his painting career was rather short. He started painting quite late when he was 27. And died only ten years later in 1890.
However, during that time (1880-1890), he created more than two thousand paintings and drawings. Sadly, during his life, he sold only one painting.
Over his ten-years-long painting career, Vincent lived in three different countries, and his style changed a lot. His early paintings created while he was living in the Netherlands are dark and with peasants and their life as the central motif. When Van Gogh arrived in Paris, he was introduced to modern art and started experimenting with the styles that were appearing there, from Impressionism to Pointillism.
In 1888 he travelled to the very south of France, to Arles, where he’s starting with his own recognisable style. However, this is where the mental illness started appearing, too. And it’s going to be visible on the paintings he created during the last years of his life.
Van Gogh Museum Highlights
Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is one of my favourite museums and a great place to learn about the life and work of this artist. Not only because you can see the majority of his paintings there, but also because they are displayed in chronological order. So you can see the development of his art well, too. And follow how quickly he changed throughout those ten years.
The ground floor of the Van Gogh Museum
Van Gogh’s self-portraits
Vincent painted around 35 self-portraits, and many of them are displayed at the ground floor of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Some of them are not finished because they were only a way to practice for him. And he didn’t really want to sell any of them.
TIP: When at the Van Gogh Museum, take a look at the back of some self-portraits that are displayed in the glass windows. I’m sure you’ll be surprised to see what’s there.
I hear you asking: why seeing the copy when there is an original ‘Sunflowers’ at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam? Well, because this is quite an exceptional reproduction. And the only painting there you can touch and smell!
Vincent often used thick paint when working on his art, and that was especially the case with the ‘Sunflowers’. This reproduction was created for people with vision impairment. But, it’s a great way to feel his art with different senses, too.
The first floor at Van Gogh Museum
The Potato Eaters
In the first room on this floor you’ll find Van Gogh’s paintings from the first five years of his career, while he was living in the Netherlands. With the way he’s using the light and showing a harsh life of peasants, ‘The Potato Eaters’ is his first masterpiece.
Bedroom in Arles
Another one of his very famous paintings, ‘Bedroom in Arles’ is one of the highlights of Van Gogh Museum. By playing with contrasts, and using bold outlines, this painting inspired generations of expressionist painters after him.
Vincent van Gogh painted seven different versions of this famous painting. And one of them is in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Bright and joyful, and painted almost only with one colour – yellow, it marks the peak of his art career.
The second floor at Van Gogh Museum
Van Gogh’s letters
If he weren’t celebrated as one of the best painters in the world today, Van Gogh would be known as a great poet. Vincent wrote numerous letters to his brother Theo and others, especially artist, friends. He described and included small drawings of paintings he was working on in them, too. You can read or listen to them on the second floor. And they are absolutely something you shouldn’t miss while at the Van Gogh Museum.
Vincent’s painting material
You can learn so much about the way Vincent painted and worked at the Van Gogh Museum, as well. One room at the museum is entirely dedicated to that part of his art. From the pigments he was using, the way he experimented with colours, tools he created himself to the perspective frame, they are all in there.
The Yellow House
Probably one of the most famous artist’s residencies, the Yellow House is where Vincent lived while he was in Arles. It’s also where he wanted to found his own art colony. And where Paul Gauguin lived with him for some time. A famous painting of the Yellow House is located on the second floor of the Van Gogh Museum.
The third floor at Van Gogh Museum
Although towards the end of his life, mental illness become more visible on his paintings, with its tranquillity and beautiful symbolism, this piece really stands out. Vincent painted it for his little nephew, and the symbolism of the new life could be recognised all over it.
Van Gogh loved painting flowers, and besides the sunflowers, irises were one of his favourite motives. When visiting the Van Gogh Museum, you shouldn’t miss this large composition of irises in a vase on a yellow background.
Wheatfield with Crows
Although not his last painting, this one really symbolises the end of Vincent’s life. With a vast wheatfield where he used to paint during the previous two months of his life and dark sky with black crows flying to it, it bears some disturbing symbolism.
How much time should you spend in the Van Gogh Museum?
Two hours should be enough time to see all the highlights at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It has four floors, and although they are not too large, you’ll need some time to walk around.
However, if you’d like to explore it at a slower pace and visit a temporary exhibition, too, you should reserve around three hours for your visit.
TIP: Van Gogh Museum is wheelchair-friendly. There is a large elevator in it, and you can get around it without a problem.
Is Starry Night at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam?
No, ‘Starry Night’s is not at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It’s located in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.
Tips for visiting the Van Gogh Museum
Together with the neighbouring Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum is one of the busiest museums in Amsterdam. That’s why it’s good to prepare for your trip well. Here are some of my tips for visiting the Van Gogh Museum.
- Buy your ticket with a starting time in advance – You can only visit the Van Gogh Museum while having a ticket with a starting time on it. It’s a busy place and to control the crowds, the museum is only letting a certain amount of people in it at the same time. You can buy your Van Gogh Museum online ticket on a link here.
- Best time to visit the Van Gogh Museum – With more than two million visitors per year, it could get really busy at the Van Gogh Museum. The best time to visit is early in the morning, and I would advise you to be there at 9 am. If you’re not a morning type, then a bit later in the afternoon, around 4 pm could also be a great time to visit the Van Gogh Museum.
- No photos are allowed in a museum – You can not take any photos or video inside the museum. And it’s actually quite lovely because you can focus on enjoying paintings thoroughly. If you especially like some art work during your visit to the Van Gogh Museum, buy a postcard with them on it. Or, download great quality photos of Van Gogh’s work from the museum website (here is the link).
- Take a guided tour – I used to work as a guide at the Van Gogh Museum and can tell you from my experience, your visit is going to be so much better with a guided tour. Here is the Van Gogh Museum tour I recommend.
- Have a break at the museum cafe – Van Gogh Museum has a lovely cafe where you can have a cup of coffee, a glass of wine or a quick bite. It also has a beautiful view of Museumplein, and I’m definitely recommending you to take a break there during your visit to the Van Gogh Museum.
- Visit the bookshop on the top floor – If you’d like to read Van Gogh’s letters or buy his biography, then be sure to visit a bookshop on the top floor of the Van Gogh Museum. It has a great selection of art books, works about Van Gogh and some children books about painters and art, too. And I’ll definitely add it to your list of what to see at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Van Gogh Museum is among the best museums in the world. Hope this guide will make your visit more enjoyable. And that it’s going to help you decide on what to see at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
You can read all of the posts from my Van Gogh trip below:
- I’m going to follow the footsteps of Vincent van Gogh
- Van Gogh in the Netherlands (locations related to his life & work)
- Van Gogh in Belgium (locations related to his life & work)
- Vincent Van Gogh in Paris (locations related to his life & work)
- Van Gogh in Arles (locations related to his life & work)
- Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (locations related to his life & work)
- Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise (locations related to his life & work)
This post contains some affiliate links. Image source of all the Van Gogh’s reproductions and letters is Wikipedia.