Van Gogh Museum Highlights & Tips for Visiting blog post was first published on Culture Tourist on 3 July 2020 and updated on 13 June 2023.
Van Gogh Museum is one of the best museums in Europe. And often the only reason people visit 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 reading to learn about the Van Gogh Museum highlights and tips for visiting that fantastic museum.
Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam
If you’re wondering about the Van Gogh Museum highlights and things to know before your visit, no worries, you’re at the right place. This fantastic museum is home to some of the most famous paintings created by Vincent van Gogh. And it’s also a place where you can learn a lot about his life, family and him as a person.
I used to work at the Van Gogh Museum for three years as a museum guide, so I know it quite well. Here are my tips for visiting the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Van Gogh Museum History
Van Gogh Museum was opened in 1973. It was designed by a famous Dutch architect, furniture designer, and a member of the De Stijl movement, Gerrit Rietveld. The new entrance and temporary exhibition wing were created later on by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa.
The museum has the most extensive collection of Van Gogh’s paintings worldwide. Fun fact: the second largest art collection of Van Gogh’s artworks is also located in the Netherlands, at the Kröller-Müller Museum.
After Vincent van Gogh died in 1890, his younger brother and one of his closest friends, Theo, inherited his paintings. However, Theo died six months later, so his widow, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, took care of the artwork.
She started organising exhibitions of his paintings, writing about him in art magazines and selling his artworks. In the 1920s, she realised it was good to have his collection together and stopped selling his artwork. Some 200 paintings and most 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 neighbouring Stedelijk Museum. After the new museum was built in 1973, they were moved to their new permanent home at the Museumplein in Amsterdam.
Van Gogh’s Artworks
Although Van Gogh is one of the most famous and beloved modern painters today, his painting career was rather short. He started painting when he was 27 and died only ten years later.
However, during that time (1880-1890), he created more than two thousand paintings and drawings. Sadly, during his life, he sold only one picture.
Over his ten-year-long painting career, Vincent van Gogh lived in three different countries, and his artistic style changed a lot. His early paintings, created while he was living in the Netherlands, are dark, showing peasants and their difficult life as the central motif. When Van Gogh arrived in Paris, he was introduced to modern art and started experimenting with the styles appearing there, from Impressionism to Pointillism.
In 1888, he travelled to the very south of France, to Arles, where he developed his unique, recognisable style. However, this was also where mental illness started to appear. And it will become visible in the paintings he created during the last two 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 fascinating 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 and easily follow how quickly he changed throughout those ten years.
The ground floor of the Van Gogh Museum
Please note Van Gogh Museum is currently reconstructing some of its galleries. That’s why some paintings may not be in the rooms where they usually are. However, they are displayed similarly as they usually are. So, you can keep using this guide to the Van Gogh Museum highlights.
Van Gogh’s self-portraits
Although we have only one photo of Van Gogh, we know very well what he looked like from his self-portraits. Vincent painted around 35 self-portraits, many of which are displayed on the ground floor of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Most of them aren’t finished because they were only a way to practice for him. So his plan wasn’t to sell any of them.
TIP: When at the Van Gogh Museum, look at the back of some self-portraits displayed in the glass windows. Vincent always lacked money, so he often reused his older paintings and created new artworks on their backgrounds. That’s also showing you that self-portraits were only a practice for him, and he didn’t plan to sell them.
I hear you asking: why to see 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 at the museum you can touch and smell.
Vincent often used thick paint when working on his artworks, and that’s especially visible in the Sunflowers. This reproduction was created for people with vision impairment. However, it’s also a great way to feel his art with different senses.
The first floor of the Van Gogh Museum
The Potato Eaters
The Potato Eaters is, without a doubt, one of the Van Gogh Museum highlights. In the first room on this floor, you’ll find Van Gogh’s paintings from the first five years of his career. They were made during the time he lived in the Netherlands. With the way he used light and captured the emotion of the harsh life of peasants, The Potato Eaters is his first masterpiece.
Bedroom in Arles
Van Gogh developed his own unique and recognisable art style when he moved to the south of France. Bedroom in Arles is one of his paintings on which you can see the colour experiments typical for him during that time. By playing with contrasts and using bold outlines, this painting inspired generations of expressionist painters after him.
Van Gogh often created multiple versions of the same painting. That’s why you can see two other versions of this painting at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the Art Institute of Chicago. We also have three versions of his The Potato Eaters and multiple versions of some other of his paintings.
I’m thinking of decorating my studio with half a dozen paintings of Sunflowers. A decoration in which harsh or broken yellows will burst against various blue backgrounds, from the palest Veronese to royal blue, framed with thin laths painted in orange lead. Sorts of effects of stained-glass windows of a Gothic church. Ah, my dear pals, we crazy ones, let’s anyway enjoy with our eyes, shall we?
This is how Van Gogh described his Sunflowers in a letter to his friend painter, Emile Bernard, in August 1888.
Vincent van Gogh painted seven different versions of this famous painting. And you’ll find one of them among the Van Gogh Museum highlights. Bright and joyful, painted almost with only one colour – yellow, it marks the peak of his art career. By showing fresh, bright yellow flowers and the older ones, practically gone to seed, Vincent includes the symbolism of the life circle in this painting.
The second floor of the Van Gogh Museum
Van Gogh’s letters
If he wasn’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 friends artists. He also described and included small drawings of paintings he was working on in them. You can read or listen to his letters on the second floor. They tell so much about him that you should dedicate some time to exploring his letters during your visit to the Van Gogh Museum.
Vincent’s painting material
You can also learn so much about the way Vincent painted and worked at the Van Gogh Museum. A part of the museum is dedicated to that part of his art. You’ll learn about Van Gogh’s painting material and technique on the museum’s second floor – from the pigments he used, how he experimented with colours and the tools he created himself to the perspective frame.
The Yellow House
Probably one of the most famous artist residencies, the Yellow House is where Vincent van Gogh lived 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, the Yellow House, is located on the second floor of the Van Gogh Museum.
The third floor of the Van Gogh Museum
Although mental illness become more visible in his paintings towards the end of his life, with its tranquillity and beautiful symbolism, his painting the Almond Blossom really stands out. Vincent painted it for his little nephew, and the symbolism of the new life could be recognised all over it. The almond tree is among the first ones to blossom in spring, thus symbolising birth and new life. Originally, flowers were pink, but the colour faded over time. However, a combination of light blue and pink resembles a baby.
Van Gogh loved painting flowers; 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. Once again, we can see the symbolism of a life circle, with some flowers slowly withering on the right-hand side of the painting.
Wheatfield with Crows
Although not his last painting, this one really symbolises the end of Vincent’s life. He painted the vast wheatfield above Auvers-sur-Oise, where he used to paint over the previous two months of his life. Above it is the dark sky with black crows flying to it. Three paths are going to the field, almost showing different life paths to take. Knowing he died only a few days after creating this painting, it’s almost as Van Gogh predicted his death in it.
How much time should you spend in the Van Gogh Museum?
Two hours should be enough 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. A large elevator is in it, and you can get around the museum without a problem.
Is Starry Night at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam?
No, Starry Night is not at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It’s located in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.
Van Gogh Museum tickets
You can only visit the Van Gogh Museum with a pre-bought ticket with a starting time on it. It’s a busy place, and to control the crowds, the museum only lets certain amount of people in it simultaneously. You can buy your Van Gogh Museum online ticket at this link.
TIP: Van Gogh Museum is not included in the I Amsterdam Card. If you have it and want to visit this museum, you must purchase your online ticket at the link above.
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.
- 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 morning, and I advise you to be there at 9 am. If you’re not a morning type, a bit later in the afternoon, around 4 pm, could also be a great time to visit the Van Gogh Museum.
- It’s allowed to take photos in a museum now – It wasn’t allowed to take photos inside the museum for years. However, now it’s allowed to take them. Still, be sure to take them without using flash and disturbing other visitors.
- Take a guided tour –I used to work as a guide at the Van Gogh Museum and can tell you from my experience that your visit will be so much better with a guided tour. This is the semi-private Van Gogh Museum tour organised by the company I worked with. They have excellent guides, and I definitely recommend it.
- Have a break at the museum cafe – Van Gogh Museum has a lovely cafe Le Tambourin 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 recommend you take a break there while exploring the Van Gogh Museum highlights.
- Visit the bookshop on the top floor – If you’d like to read Van Gogh’s letters or buy his biography, 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’s books about painters and art. 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. This guide through the Van Gogh Museum highlights, and some tips for visiting Van Gogh Museum will make your visit more enjoyable.
Would you like to learn more about Van Gogh’s artworks before your visit to the Van Gogh Museum? Check out Culture Tourist Art Webinar: Meet Vincent van Gogh! Click on the picture below to read more and book.
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