Fresh Paint for Van Gogh

Heather Tucker, dinsdag 7 mei 2013

Orange feathers and puke. Granted, only a small amount of each but it wasn’t quite the scene I was hoping to see when I stepped out onto Museumplein in Amsterdam. To be fair, not only is this area sardine packed with top museums but it was also one of the key places for last week’s (April 30th 2013) Queen’s Day festivities - hence the orange feathers, and probably the puke as well.

Behind me the remains of a stage used for the celebrations was being dismantled. Groups buzzed around the controversial bathtub shaped building of the Stedelijk Museum in front of me. And just through the buildings on my right, I could see a rather long line of people - all facing the building I wanted to enter - the Van Gogh Museum.

For the past seven months, the museum has had to close its doors to visitors while they refurbished due to tightened fire safety regulations. The museum took advantage of the time to also renew the floors, replace the ceilings and, of course, paint the walls.

I hadn’t had the opportunity to visit the museum before its facelift so everything was new to me but I was more than impressed. The daring choice to display the 200 works by Van Gogh and his contemporaries on walls painted dark grey, bright yellow and two shades of blue was only one of the multiple aspects that helps bring the exhibition to life. Samples of canvas to touch, Van Gogh’s sketchbooks digitised for you to flip through, microscopes to view grains of sand that had blown into the paint of images painted outside and the chance to try drawing using a perspective frame - just like Van Gogh - helped even further.

I was also lucky enough to have one of the best guides I have ever had when it comes to touring a museum. He was so full of information and knowledge that it literally brought Van Gogh and his paintings to life. I learned how Van Gogh didn’t like to sign his paintings, how he had a real problem with drawing people, and how he regularly reused his canvases.  The issue of the quality of the paints and ink that he used, meaning many drawings and paintings have faded, was discussed and in one drawing we saw how much Van Gogh struggled with perspective - “have a look at the cart, it is bigger than everyone in the drawing; there is no way any one of them could have used it”.

And from the vibrant buzz and concentrated faces throughout the multiple floors, I think it is fair to say that the other visitors also liked the museum. Although, what Van Gogh would think of them photographing his paintings with their iPads, I’m not so sure.