March is here and already 2 months of the year have passed thus far. It seems as if 2020 would never arrive and in the blink of an eye it is passing before my very eyes. A year ago I enjoyed Venice, Munich and Salzburg; I never imagined being able to include Amsterdam and London on this list this early in 2020. Yet, here we are….
A few weeks ago, I was extremely fortunate to have the ability to visit the magnificent Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. This museum, which opened in 1973, is a must see for any lovers of art and, in my opinion, one of the most well curated art collections in the world.
Reaching the Museum and Tickets
The Van Gogh Museum sits in close proximity to Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum in the Museum Quarter of the city. There is very easy access via tram on the 3, 5, or 12 lines or via the city bus system 347 or 357. If you are using the I Amsterdam City Card, both tram and bus passes are included with your purchase.
If you are like me and prefer to walk, I found it to take about 25 minutes to walk to the museum from the Centraal Station. With that being said there is no wrong way to reach the museum. You may even consider renting a bike.
The Van Gogh Museum can be an especially popular tourist destination. As such, booking your tickets in advance with a timed reservation is a must! The easiest way to guarantee your spot is to purchase your ticket on the official museum website here as soon as you know the day you wish to visit. The Museum does not have anyway to book over the phone or at the facility itself. Tickets are 19 Euros for adults over 18; anyone under the age of 18 are free.
If you do not wish to purchase your ticket online, the I Amsterdam City Card does include an entrance to the museum, but you must book a timed entry to the museum through the I Amsterdam website. From speaking with my hotel concierge, the timed slots are typically available on the same day early in the morning, however, summer can be unpredictable. He warned me that usually the latest you would be safe booking is 48 hours in advance.
If you are unable to purchase a ticket, you can consider joining as a member as all visits are included in the membership. It is 75 Euros for the year and grants you and a friend special access everyday without a timed entry ticket.
Once you have your timed entry, print the electronic confirmation you will receive from the Van Gogh Museum or save it on your smart phone. You will need it easily accessible when you visit.
Security At the Museum and Entry
The Van Gogh Museum does have a basic security checkpoint where they will ensure you are not bringing any large backpacks or luggage into the museum itself. You will be asked to store anything larger items in the free cloakroom. Several tourists behind me were refused entrance with their rolling luggage. Many museum in Europe have strict policies with backpacks. In almost every museum I visited in France, Germany, Austria, Italy and UK guests with backpacks were asked to be carried in front of you or asked to be checked.
You will only be allowed entry into the museum 15 minutes before your ticket states. When I was visiting, my ticket was set for 9 am, the first time slot of the day. The staff member outside the line up area asked to see the date and time of the ticket before I was permitted to join the queue. My ticket was again scanned when reaching the entrance of the museum.
The Van Gogh Museum consists of a lower floor or basement level and three additional floors in the Main Building and Exhibition building. Upon entering the museum, you will descend down an escalator to the entrance hall level where you can pick up a museum map and audio guide if you so choose.The audio guide is 5 Euros. From my past experience, I typically pick up an audio guide and become annoyed about 15 minutes in carrying it around and waiting for the narrator to finish. I passed on it, but it is well worth it if you would like the history of each painting explained to you.
The entrance hall area and “selfie wall” is the only area of the museum you are permitted to take any photos. Please do NOT attempt to take photos anywhere else. I witnessed a person almost asked to leave museum when they took a photo of the early works of Van Gogh. The staff does not tolerate many “mistakes.”I do not remember seeing any signs specifically indicated no photos, but it does mention it on their floor plan.
If you are hungry before you began wandering through the museum, I would have a quick snack from the small cafe near the main gift shop and cloakroom. There is no eating or drinking beyond the lower ground floor area. The strawberries are supposedly the best items on the menu. Wifi is also free throughout the museum.
When I arrived at the Van Gogh Museum in the morning, I decided to go in chronological order. I began with the Van Gogh self portraits and walked up the stairs to the first floor. There is no “wrong” way to view the galleries, but if you walk through the galleries in order, you will be able to follow the life of Van Gogh as he developed as a painter. If you decide to work “backwards”, you may find it less crowded.
My Thoughts and Experience
Having been to the Musee D’Orsay and several other famous art institutions before, I was familiar with Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” and “Starry Night,” however, he did so many more paintings and you really cannot began to appreciate all of his work until you see a museum solely dedicated to his works. Van Gogh did not began painting until he was 27; although he had a very sad life, he really was in a league of his own.
What really struck me at the Van Gogh museum were Van Gogh’s ties to Japanese art. From my trip to Giverny and Monet’s home, I knew Claude Monet was a large collector of Japanese art and greatly appreciated it, but Van Gogh’s love of Japanese art was new to me. There were several paintings by Van Gogh on display where he attempted to “recreate” art he had seen. The colors were bold and stokes of the brush made these paintings appear so strikingly close to “jumping off the canvas.” There is no other way to describe it.
As you make your way through the paintings inspired by Van Gogh’s time in Paris, you will recognize the influence of the Impressionists and their love of nature. The galleries that show Van Gogh’s work near 1888 and after reveal what Van Gogh learned from Paris and how he applied it into his own work where he found the style that worked best for him; broad brush stokes and bold colors. You will find people, nature, homes and so much more.
The personal letters from Vincent to his brother Theo reveal an incite into the family and how deeply they cared to allow him to expend all of his energy painting full time to support his talent. The two brothers shared a deep bond and were the best of friends.
If you are lucky enough to have a time slot right when the museum opens, you will find it the least crowded. You will have the museum to enjoy largely to yourself and a small group of maybe 50 people with the same timeslot until about 10:30 or 11. I noted that quite a few school groups and tour groups wandering through the galleries at this time.
My experience of walking at the normal pace spending about a minute or two at each portrait took me about an hour and a half to work my way through. The museum truly has the perfectly curated balance of works and size of the collection. You can spend as little or as much time as needed inside. During my visit, the museum was closed for any special exhibits so I can’t speak for the other building.
If you finish around lunchtime, head outside of the museum to the area between the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum. There are some delicious food vendors outside that offer you the chance to sit outside (unless its freezing cold) and enjoy the Museum Quarter atmosphere.
There is a book shop on the third floor of the museum as you finish viewing the gallery on the death of Vincent Van Gogh that will contain almost every imaginable book on Van Gogh you can think of. The main gift shop in the lobby level did not have the same amount of books, but contained items mainly pertaining to the museum. If you are looking for a biography or other book, pick it up on the third floor before shopping on your way out.
The main gift shop has your “typical” items that are expensive, yet I would recommend the museum catalog if you are going to purchase one item. Since photography is not allowed, with the museum catalog, you can have access to everything you see.
The Van Gogh Museum if you are an art lover is a must see. Book tickets early, if possible, and go early. You will not be disappointed. If you have kids, they will enjoy the museum, but their attention span may not last long. The museum does offer guided tours that may be a better value for money if you are like me and don’t generally enjoy the audio guides offered. It seems ironic that Van Gogh was never able to sell his paintings during his lifetime and today he is considered one of the greats. Until next time, happy travels.