The Kroller-Muller is in the center of a large, pretty park, which would have been fun to explore if we'd had the time. It has the second largest Van Gogh collection in the world; the next day we saw the largest, so I was in heaven. They had some great pieces in addition to the Van Goghs, too, like this Cranach and this Baldung. And when I say 'great,' I mean 'northern Renaissance.'
Finally, Amsterdam. Young, quirky, easygoing, hip, international, English-speaking, Amsterdam. It was crowded with people this weekend because Monday happened to be Koningsdag (King's Day), a national holiday. Bear in mind this was a trip with my father, so I wasn't exactly hitting all of the younger, hipper parts (i.e., the 'coffee-shops' and red-light district). We had little more than a day, so I'd definitely like to go back and explore some more; it really is a fascinating place. Still, I wouldn't trade our outskirts/driving itinerary for anything!
We got in on Saturday evening for dinner and a stroll, and on Sunday made sure to get to the Rijksmuseum as it was opening. We made a beeline for the hall of masterpieces - and thank goodness, because when we walked through again later it was packed. We spent several happy hours looking, mostly on the Dutch floor. I probably don't need to reiterate here what an amazing collection they have. We found a small cafe for lunch that was very close to the museums but away from the tourist crowds. It felt nicely neighborhood-y, and had stellar coffee (the real reason I sought it out).
The afternoon was then absorbed by the Van Gogh Museum, and I was happy to have lots of time to devote to it as well. (The knees are weak but the eyes are strong!The knees are weak but the eyes are strong!) I'm in love with the lushness, the texture and rich variety of Van Gogh's work. In person, the 'Almond Blossoms' he painted for the birth of his nephew Vincent Willem are both sad and sweet. The Almond Blossoms he painted for the birth of his nephew, Vincent Willem, are both sad and sweet. I hadn't paid much attention to his wheat-field paintings before, but here and at the Kroller-Muller I was drawn to how well they were depicted - especially imminence of the wheatfield under thunderclouds, with the fresh and full-of-life feeling just before rain. the imminence of the 'Wheatfield Under Thunderclouds,' with the imminence of the wheatfield under thunderclouds, with the fresh and full-of-life feeling just before rain. fresh, stormy, full-of-life feeling that comes just before rain.
I was also entranced by Van Gogh's experiments with colour and brushwork, and the museum did an excellent job of presenting his shifting techniques and ideas. It helps that you can walk through numerous works spanning his entire painting lifetime (barely ten years!). The contrast between his early paintings and late ones is startling, and exciting to compare in person. I also appreciated the curatorial angle presenting Van Gogh not as a mad, tragic figure but an intensely prolific professional, engaged with the artistic community. Excerpts from his letters often accompany the works they discuss, and there's a great room on his friendships and interaction with other artists. You have to hand it to his family, too, for their preservation and promotion of Van Gogh's work after his death: their collection and efforts formed the museum.
So, after that pinnacle of artistic delight, we meandered through the Vondelpark (right by both museums), and on to a nice dinner. It was an early start the next morning to get dad back to the airport and me back to London and a full day of work and library-ing. We had to make our escape before the city was shut down for King's Day, though the celebrating - and painting the town orange - had already started.
More after the break:
I move that we institute a rule that you are only allowed to take a photograph if you have looked at the object for more than three seconds. (That's a pretty low floor. If I were being draconian, I would say five minutes, minimum.) This is born from the ubiquitous experience, at both the Kroller-Muller and the Rjiksmuseum, of standing in front of a work and having at least three cameras hovering within inches of my face, surrounding my head like a halo. (I move, and the cameras scatter like flies.) Part of it is etiquette - please don't reach your camera in front of my face - and part of it is annoyance with the fact that you're not actually looking at what you're taking. You're here in person to see it, so see it. Look at it. Don't walk around with camera poised in front of your eyes, seeking only to identify something "famous" and capture that. The fame of a work doesn't matter; what matters is do you like it? What do you like about it? What do you think is going on in it? Let's have a crash course in radical looking at the world; putting down all the cameras and cameraphones and consciously appreciating whatever is in front of you, rather than documenting it for other people's eyes. If you're taking a picture because you want to remember what you've seen years later, that's understandable. Just be conscious of what you're doing, and why you're doing it. And don't let it get in the way of your actual experience of the place - or others'. So if you take away anything from this, let it be this: please, put the camera down and look.
After those experiences I felt sheer joy when photos weren't allowed at the Van Gogh Museum. Van Gogh's work almost can't be appreciated in reproduction - at least, growing up surrounded by poster prints of the Almond Blossoms and Cafe at Night, I thought they were boring and banal. It's the physical texture and artistry that brings them to life. And that's something you can only see for yourself - not through a lens.