Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most celebrated painters in European history. His work helped usher in the Modernist era of European Art, and remains some of the most powerful and popular in the world. Many of his works can be found in Amsterdam, at the museum that bears his name.
Whether you’re planning on visiting the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, or just want to learn more about the beautiful paintings there, this guide covers the top highlights:
Painted in 1887, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers series remains highly celebrated for its emotive use of color and composition. As opposed to the more elegantly staged still-life’s of past artists, Van Gogh decided to paint his subject in a more natural repose.
This meant an asymmetric entanglement of petals and stems going in all directions. Van Gogh’s characteristically fluid style makes the flowers appear mixed together and hard to tell apart.
The lines spreading out in every direction suggest both a natural un-staged quality, while also hinting at Van Gogh’s deteriorating mental state. And the differing shades of yellow capture both the natural beauty of the flowers, while lending the piece an undeniable sickliness.
Self-portrait with Grey Felt Hat
One of the most celebrated of Van Gogh’s many, many self-portraits, this work displays many of the characteristics that would become the artist’s trademarks.
From the impressionistic use of lines to create a feeling of motion, the vibrant use of color and the artist’s intense stare, this piece is the perfect encapsulation of Van Gogh. The intense blues, reds and greens demonstrate an intensity rarely found in a self-portrait.
Head of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette
An excellent example of humor in art, Head of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette can be seen as a joke about death. It mocks the seriousness with which we often approach the topic, by contrasting its monumental significance in human life with the everydayness of a cigarette. Van Gogh painted this work while attending art classes in Belgium, where he was often forced to examine skeletons for hours on end as part of his anatomical education.
Van Gogh had a deep love and respect for Japanese art, especially the woodblock printing technique that rose to prominence in the 17th century. Almond Blossoms, originally made in honor of the birth of his nephew, has an undeniable Eastern influence. The delicate contrasts between the light blue background and the greenish-blue branches bursting with white flowers show off a rarely seen Van Gogh. Far from the mania and violence associated with many of his paintings, Almond Blossoms captures the repose and elegance of branch waving gently in the breeze.
Bedroom in Arles
The first version of this iconic painting can be found at the Van Gogh Museum. It may be difficult to understand why this piece holds an esteemed place among Van Gogh’s many works. The secret lies in the use of perspective and color. He wanted to emphasize a feeling of peace and rest in this painting, and achieves it by using lines that warp the space to the center of the back wall.
This warps the space, lending the painting a dream-like quality while also forcing the spectator to “lean in” as they follow the lines leading to the bed. The colors are a mix of the real and the dream-like: a earthy-brown wooden bed up against a vibrantly blue wall.
Interested in learning more about great works of art? Check out this article about the Sistine Chapel. Or see it in person on one of our Special Access Tours of the Vatican & Sistine Chapel.