The Van Gogh Museum has the largest collection of works by Vincent van Gogh in the world. A total of 200 paintings, 500 drawings and a large collection of letters by the painter are exhibited here. To reduce the finest works in the Van Gogh Museum to a top five is practically impossible, especially taking into account personal taste – but here are five works which have certainly stood the test of time.
In the summer of 1889, van Gogh lived and worked in Arles in the South of France. Here he painted a series of paintings with sunflowers as the main motif. The works were intended as decoration for the guestroom where his friend Paul Gauguin was staying at the time. Van Gogh eventually painted four of these still lifes, and found only two good enough for Gauguin’s bedroom. He later made three copies, and the version in the Van Gogh Museum is one of these.
Van Gogh blazed a new trail with this painting of a peasant family: He wanted to become a skilled figure painter and saw this work as a kind of master test. The painter experimented with different compositions and used dark, sombre colours. According to his own words, he wanted to reflect reality as realistically as possible without idealising it like others before him.
This painting is a reproduction of Van Gogh's bedroom in the ‘Yellow House,’ the studio he rented in Arles. Prominent features are the bright, contrasting colour surfaces, the thickly applied paint and the odd perspective. The back wall of the room appears to be angled. This is not a mistake on the part of the painter - this corner of the house was in fact oblique. In other places objects appear skewed as the perspective is off. Van Gogh consciously chose to paint objects as flat and left out all the shadows to make the composition look like a Japanese print.
From 1889 to 1890, Van Gogh stayed in a psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy. This was a time during which he sought refuge in painting subjects from nature. At the end of this crisis period he devoted himself largely to flower still lifes. He painted large bouquets of purple irises, including one against a bright lemon yellow background where the divergent but complementary colours reinforce each other. Van Gogh had already been struck by the bright, purple irises flowering in the fields around Arles before: Field with Flowers near Arles (1888) shows a bed with these flowers in the foreground.
Wheatfield with Crows is one of van Gogh’s most famous paintings and probably the one about which there has been the most speculation. It was completed in the last few weeks before his death. It has been claimed that this was his last painting and the dark cloudy sky with crows and the dead-end path were a harbinger of his death. The theory has, however, never been proven. The cornfield was one of Van Gogh’s favourite subjects, with the waving corn giving him an opportunity to experiment with style and colour.
A visit to the Van Gogh Museum is a unique experience. There is no other place in the world with so many works by the painter in one place, and which allows the evolution of this work to be followed so closely. In addition to the permanent collection, the museum also stages various temporary exhibitions. The Van Gogh Museum is located on Museumplein together with the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk Museum. This large square is an ideal place to follow a tour with lunch, a drink or a spot of people-watching sitting on a bench – especially when the sun is out.
Address: Stadhouderskade 55, 1072 AB Amsterdam
More information on: www.vangoghmuseum.nl