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Highlights and Paintings of the Van Gogh Museum


"Self Portrait with Felt Hat, 1888" by Vincent van Gogh

Photo © Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions
Here you'll find a description of what to expect in the Van Gogh Museum collection, including highlights of the artist's work by period.

Find practical visitor information, including ticket prices, opening times and tips to avoid lines and crowds, in my Visitor's Guide to the Van Gogh Museum.

Collections at the Van Gogh Museum:

The Van Gogh Museum houses the world's largest collection of work from Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890), as well as pieces from several 19th-century artists, including the Impressionists.

The main building of the Van Gogh Museum features:
  • Permanent collection of Van Gogh paintings (most contributed by his brother Theo), in chronological order over five periods of his life (see below for highlights of his work by period).

  • Permanent collection of 19th-century schools, styles and artists Van Gogh emulated, including Realism (Courbet), Impressionism (Pissarro, Monet, Manet, Sisley, Cézanne) and Post-Impressionism (Toulouse-Lautrec).

  • Print room and temporary educational exhibitions, such as restoration research and comparative displays. A study area features computers with Internet access.
The special exhibition wing, the gray oval building that backs to Museumplein, opened in 1999 to house rotating exhibitions of 19th-century artists (admission included in € 10 general admission fee, unless otherwise stated).

Highlights of the Van Gogh Museum by Period:

  • Early Work to 1886 (the Netherlands)

    • See the beginnings of Van Gogh's career, which include somber depictions of landscape and peasant subjects.

    • In The Potato Eaters, his first large-format work, Van Gogh shows the unglamorous life of farmers by deliberately using the shadowy colors of a dusty potato.
  • Paris 1886 - 1888

    • Living with his brother Theo in the artsy Montmartre district of Paris, Van Gogh experiments with color, form and technique. He also completes 27 self-portraits during this time.

    • In Self Portrait with Felt Hat, 1888, we see Van Gogh's use of "pointillism," a technique of small dots and lines inspired by Neo-Impressionism.

    • The bright colors and strong lines of The Courtesan show his admiration for Japanese wood cuts and prints.
  • Arles 1888 - 1889

    • When Van Gogh moves to the southern French town of Arles to escape busy city life, he returns to painting rural life. But the ever-present sun of Provence inspires much brighter, more colorful work than that of his cloudy Netherlands period. It is also here that he cuts off part of his own ear in a fit of rage.

    • He paints Sunflowers here, a gift for fellow artist Paul Gaugin.

    • Works of blossoming trees, like The Pink Peach Tree, are stunning and show Van Gogh's appreciation for the transient nature of spring.

    • Also here is The Bedroom, in which we see his personal living area in a strangely skewed perspective.
  • Saint-Rémy 1889 - 1890

    • After spending time in an Arles hospital, Van Gogh continues to suffer from his mental illness, a sort of epilepsy or perhaps bipolar disorder. In 1889, he admits himself to a clinic in nearby Saint-Rémy.

    • When allowed to work in the gardens and woods around the hospital, he paints pieces like The Garden of St. Paul's Hospital and Undergrowth.

    • Often times he uses his personal style to copy masters, as in The Raising of Lazarus (originally by Rembrandt).
  • Auvers-sur-Oise 1890

    • After leaving the hospital, Van Gogh heads to this village near Paris, where he produces 80 paintings in the last two months of his short life.

    • Although he finds the landscapes of Auvers beautiful (see View of Auvers), he is often extremely depressed during this time.

    • Van Gogh completes Wheatfield with Crows in the last few weeks of his life. It is widely speculated to symbolize his sadness and imminent death (e.g., the paths leading to nowhere and the foreboding sky). Van Gogh shoots himself on July 27, 1890, and dies two days later from his wounds.
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