The Van Gogh Museum Is Closing its Doors and Exhibiting at the Hermitage Amsterdam

1. Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)
Irises, 1890
Oil on Canvas - 92.7 x 73.9 cm
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum
Photo : Van Gogh Museum

22/10/12 - Museums (hang, renovation) - Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum and Hermitage - Over 1.6 million persons visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2011. The doors will now be closed for the next few months, from 24 September 2012 to 1st May 2013, for renovations. Certain spaces could not be left open to the public as the work requires turning off the air conditioning in the rooms (indispensable for the conservation of the paintings) and the security system in the building. The refurbishment entails notably the installation of fire prevention measures corresponding to norms and while some of these were already carried out in 2010, the rest of the work will continue until 2014 with the approval of the Government Buildings Agency (which owns the building) and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sciences. This renovation does not concern the architecture, only the interior. We should remember that the museum includes an initial building designed by Gerrit Rietveld in 1973 and completed by Kisho Kurokawa who added a wing in 1999.
How can the Van Gogh Museum keep visitors coming in if its doors remain closed for over seven months ? Part of the collections will indeed remain in storage but a selection of works is traveling to Japan for an exhibition and, above all, seventy-five of its most famous pieces will be exhibited at the Hermitage Amsterdam during this renovation. So we need not worry as The Potato Eaters, The Bedroom, Sunflowers and Irises (ill. 1) will still be on view in Amsterdam. This move is accompanied with an extensive communications campaign in order to draw local, national and international visitors wishing to enjoy the Van Gogh Museum to the Hermitage. In case anyone has not understood, a guiding line has been added leading museum goers from the Van Gogh Museum to the Hermitage Amsterdam along a walking itinerary which offers correspondances between the Dutch city and the painter’s stays in France, thanks to an Iphone application.

2. Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)
The Potato Eaters, 1885
Oil on Canvas - 82 x 114 cm
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum
Photo : Van Gogh Museum

The Hermitage Amsterdam is not welcoming an exhibition, presenting the research results of art historians, rather is displaying a new hang, with no outside loans ; indeed, a different phenomenon here. Each section begins with a letter by the artist and juxtaposes his masterpieces with lesser known works. The colors chosen for the walls depending on the different themes are at times too loud such as the electric green of the landscape section. The publication which appears for the occasion, available in Dutch, English and French addresses mainly the general public ; it follows and develops each of the seven sections.
The exhibition opens with the painter’s work as such, his sometimes laborious attempts at the outset, when he began notably by painting still-lifes, arriving at Still-life with Bible with which he was satisfied and where he tauntingly places the Holy Book next to Zola’s Joie de Vivre. His many studies, reflecting his research, can be found in larger compositions, Wheat Ears (1890) for instance or The Potato Eaters. He also worked from engravings sent by Theo to Saint-Rémy de Provence, after Rembrandt, Delacroix, Daumier and especially Millet and his series Working in the Fields, copied by Van Gogh in color various times in 1889.

3. Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)
A Bridge under the Rain, 1887
after Hiroshige,
Oil on Canvas - 73.3 x 55.8 cm
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum
Photo : Van Gogh Museum

The second part highlights the progressive affirmation of Van Gogh’s style, focusing on different influences which he surpassed, that of the Impressionists, the Neo-Impressionists perceptible in View from Theo’s Apartment, Paris (1887) or even Cloisonnism after meeting Emile Bernard and Louis Anquetin. Almost abstract, The Thickets in Saint Rémy (1889), reveals his experiments with strokes.
The visit then looks at the effects of color, clearly obvious. Van Gogh abandoned the dark shades of his Dutch period for the intense luminosity of Southern France ; he at times played with variations of a single color, such as in Sunflowers or the beautiful still-life Quinces, Lemons, Pears and Grapes (1887) or produced sharp contrasts such as the purple of the irises against a bright yellow backdrop producing the "effect of terribly disparate complementaries which exalt each other in their opposition".
Walking up to the next floor, visitors go back in time with the peasant theme, and its incarnation of the simple life (ill. 2). The works around 1885 are somber ; Millet’s influence returns here if only in the figure of the sower which Van Gogh repeats more than once. Of note are also the large sheets in black chalk such as Digging or Woman Digging up Potatoes.

4. Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)
The Harvest, 1888
Oil on Canvas - 73.4 x 91.8 cm
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum
Photo : Van Gogh Museum

Japanese sources are also an ever present influence in Van Gogh who collected engravings, copied some such as A Bridge under the Rain (1887) by Hiroshige (ill. 3), adopted certain motifs and was taken by their compositions as seen in Almond Trees Blooming or The Great Peacock Moth. "Everything is small, the gardens, the fields, the trees, even these mountains, like in some Japanese landscapes, that is why I was attracted by these motifs," wrote the painter in describing a landscape comparable to The Harvest (ill. 4). This section is in fact much more eloquent and subtle than the current Parisian exhibition at the Pinacothèque which offers an exchange between Van Gogh’s art and Hiroshige’s. With its usual modesty, the Parisian museum points out that "there has never been such a thorough study of Van Gogh’s references and such a daring confrontation has never been attempted" and its director was making an understated pronouncement in an interview on BFMTV when he said that "when Van Gogh is in Southern France in 1888, he feels as if he were in Japan" and that "Each angle, each axis he chooses to paint a landscape is tied to Japan and Hiroshige". However, the connections made between the works are often artificially contrived.

5. Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)
Wheat Field under a Stormy Sky, 1890
Oil on Canvas - 50.5 x 103 cm
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum
Photo : Van Gogh Museum

There follow the portraits, including those of Camille Roulin (1888) or the beautiful Zoave, an attempt by Van Gogh, as many others before or after him as we know, to communicate the spirit of the times. The exhibition ends with the theme of nature’s wealth, a subject which is too vast in fact and which could encompass most of the master’s canvases ; nevertheless, this hold-all section offers some interesting associations such as The Poplar Lane in Autumn (1884) and The Asylum Garden (1889). Both paintings present similar compositions but the end result is almost the exact opposite. While the first opens up and leads our eye to the back of the lane lit up by a blue sky, the second is closed by the tree tops and gives us a feeling of opression. The visit closes with Wheat Field under a Stormy Sky (1890) (ill. 5).

Anyone traveling to Amsterdam can therefore find Van Gogh’s most beloved canvases at the Hermitage while awaiting the reopening of the museum which is to take place for its 40th anniversary and will offer a major exhibition Van Gogh à l’’œuvre. The year 2013 promises to be rich in events for the Dutch capital as it will also celebrate the reopening of the Rijksmuseum, the 400th anniversary of the Canal Ring and the 200th anniversary of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Vincent, from 29 September 2012 to 25 April 2013, at the Hermitage Amsterdam.

Leo Jansen, Renske Suijver, Ann Blokland Vincent, 2012, Van Gogh Museum Publications, 175 p. ISBN : 9789079310371.

Visitor information : Amstel 51, Amsterdam. Tel : +31 (0)20 530 74 88. Open every day from 9 am to 5 pm. Admission : 17.50€ (free for under 16).

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, mardi 23 octobre 2012

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