This wonderful museum traces Van Gogh’s life and artistic development via the world’s largest collection of his work.
Van Gogh Museum
More than 200 canvases are on display, stretching from his early, bleak portraits of peasants in the Netherlands through to his later years in sunny France, where he produced his best-known work with its characteristic giddy colour. Also on show here are 500 of his drawings and 700 hand-written letters.
The museum is spread over four levels, moving chronologically from Floor 0 (ground floor) to Floor 3. Allow at least a couple of hours to browse all of the galleries.
Paintings and artworks
Van Gogh’s works are scattered in museums around the world, but the Van Gogh Museum holds the largest collection, comprising a staggering 200 paintings and 500 drawings by Vincent and his contemporaries, including Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Monet. Van Gogh’s earliest works – showing raw, if unrefined, talent – are from his time in the Dutch countryside and Antwerp between 1883 and 1885.
He painted peasant life, exalting their existence in works such as the masterpiece, The Potato Eaters (1885). Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette (1886) is another highlight, painted when Van Gogh was a student at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts.
He then moved to Paris in 1886 and began to paint self-portraits as a way of improving his portraiture without paying for models, which he couldn’t afford. Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat was painted in the winter of 1887–1888 and is one of his boldest color experiments.
One of his most beloved works, Sunflowers (1889), is a result of him leaving Provence for Arles, intent on painting the vibrant landscapes and achieving his dream of creating an artist’s colony.
Another of his iconic paintings, The Yellow House – a rendering of the abode he rented in Arles – is also from this period. In 1890, Van Gogh painted one of his last paintings Wheatfield with Crows – a particularly menacing and ominous piece finished shortly before his suicide.
Aside from admiring the massive collection of masterpiece paintings, don’t pass up the opportunity to hear recordings of Van Gogh’s letters at the multiple listening stations in the museum. The letters are mainly to and from his younger brother, Theo, who championed his work, and offer a poignant insight into their relationship.
History of the Van Gogh Museum
After his death in 1890, Vincent left his complete collection of works to his brother, Theo. When Theo died shortly after in 1891, the collection was handed over to Theo’s widow, Jo van Gogh-Bonger, and after her death in 1925, it was then passed on to her son Vincent Willem van Gogh. He loaned the collection of artworks to Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, before a dedicated museum was called for to house the late artist’s impressive oeuvre.
Opened in 1973, the Van Gogh Museum’s main building was designed by the influential Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld, who was an important member of De Stijl – a group of progressive artists and architects active in the 1920s. Behind the main building, reaching towards Museumplein, is a separate wing, which was opened in 1999 and designed by Kisho Kurokawa. The transparent building with its state-of-the-art glass structure hosts temporary exhibitions by big-name artists.
In 2015, a swish new extension and entrance hall added 800 sq meters (8600 sq ft) of space to the museum.
The museum usually offers 50-minute guided tours (in Dutch) which take groups of four around Vincent van Gogh’s masterpieces. However, due to Covid-19 these are currently unavailable.
Opening hours and best time to visit
Opening hours for the museum vary throughout the year. During the peak summer months (July-September), the museum tends to open daily from 9am-6pm, while at other times of year the hours are 10am-5pm (until 6pm on weekends). Winter opening hours are even more limited, with the museum sometimes closing completely on Mondays. Check the official website for up-to-date opening hours.
As you’d expect to be the case for the world’s largest collection of works from one of the world’s most famous artists of all time, the museum gets packed. The best times to visit to try to avoid the crowds are before 11am and after 3pm.