I was trying to decide whether to do a separate post on the Orsay Museum in Paris and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and realized it’s all about Van Gogh to me, so I’ve decided to combine the two (plus I have no pictures from inside the VG museum). I’m not sure I can articulate the reasons why, but Van Gogh is my all-time favorite artist. His paintings just speak to me. I like him so much I have waited in line for an hour in Albuquerque to see a single tiny Van Gogh on temporary display, and have been to the Orsay twice and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam three times (well, to be accurate, on this trip the Van Gogh Museum was temporarily housed in the Hermitage Museum as the actual museum is undergoing renovation). So, do you get how much I dig him? I even brought back a puzzle from the VG museum so I could continue to enjoy the experience! (If you’d like to read more about Van Gogh, who failed to sell a single painting while alive and committed suicide in 1890, here’s a link.)
Before we get to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, though, we need to take a trip to the Orsay in Paris (Musée d’Orsay to be precise). Not only because it has a decent Van Gogh collection itself, but because to my mind it is one of the nicest museums in the world (well, the parts of the world I’ve seen). Why is the Orsay so great, you ask? I’ll tell you. First off, it’s beautiful. Take a look from the outside, and then inside from the 2nd floor balcony:
The Orsay used to be a massive train station (complete with fancy hotel) that became obsolete back in the 1930′s (though the hotel remained open) and was scheduled for demolition back in the 1970′s. However, some bright person(s) in the French Museum Directorate had the idea to collect all of the art from the 1800′s displayed throughout the city and house it here (keeping the restaurant from the fancy hotel and adding a casual cafe to boot). Great idea! The Orsay opened as a museum in 1986, with the beautiful clock from the train station remaining as the focal point of the museum….
Not only is the museum beautiful, but it is well-arranged and the art is well-lit (often by natural light). This stands in stark contrast to some of the museums here in Florence (especially the Uffizi), where you have to squint to see the art in extremely low light. In addition to being wonderful to look at on its own, its art collection is the largest in the world focusing on impressionism and post-impressionism – my two favorite art periods! Here you can find masterpieces by many familiar names, including Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Pissarro, Seurat, Gauguin, Rodin, Whistler and, of course, Van Gogh. I can’t say enough about what a worthwhile experience a day at the Orsay is.
As this time the “no photos” signs were very pronounced, and I didn’t want to risk getting kicked out, I can only share a picture of me and two of the Van Goghs taken here in 2008 (this was shortly after I unwittingly had my head nearly shaved at a salon in Barcelona):
As for the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, it is what its name implies – the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings anywhere (he was Dutch after all). The actual museum, which is under renovation, is a modern marvel and not only houses Van Gogh, but some impressionist and post-impressionist paintings of his friends and contemporaries (for example, Gauguin, who lived with Van Gogh for a bit until Vincent chased him with a razor blade). While not everything is on display at the temporary location, the Hermitage Museum, we were pleasantly surprised at what a nice job they did basically recreating the Van Gogh section of the actual museum. We walked the entire museum very slowly (only partly because of my toe), and then just for good measure went back to re-admire some of our favorites (including works inspired by Japanese paintings). If you like Van Gogh, or think you might, I would definitely put this museum on any “must see” list!
Thanks for coming along on the museum tours!