In prudent preparation for our trip, I perused numerous volumes of travel literature – books (Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, Rick Steve’s, Rough Guides), magazines (Budget Travel, Travel & Leisure), and a multitude of travel websites. With respect to Amsterdam, all resources recommended the Van Gogh museum as a “must see.” I had visited the museum once years ago as a college student (in 1991?), and I recalled some of the exhibits fondly.
In lieu of this travel research, I wanted to add more depth to my Dutch experience and elected to read a book beforehand about Van Gogh. I selected Irving Stone’s Lust for Life (a biographical novel). This is a fantastic novel that chronicles Van Gogh’s pursuit to find himself, true love, and a “calling” for his life. Ultimately it is a tragic story that portrays Van Gogh’s inner struggles to develop his talents (to commit his whole heart, mind and soul to his passion - art), while becoming increasingly disenfranchised with his family and society.
More importantly, the book brought to life works from different periods in Van Gogh’s life: the Potato Eaters, Self-Portrait as an Artist, The Bedroom, Sunflowers, and the Wheatfield with Crows. Unlike the Dutch masters at the Rijks Museum (which are also impressive), Van Gogh’s interplay of color, textures, styles and willingness to experiment are more ‘alive’ (IMO). In many ways, I can relate to Van Gogh’s personal pursuit to find himself - we are all searching for meaning in our lives. The evolution of his artwork evidences his own personal journey to distinguish himself as an artist, and the book helped make the Van Gogh museum more meaningful.
I would concur that the Van Gogh museum is a ‘must see’ in Amsterdam, but I would also add that Lust for Life is a ‘must read’ to enliven your experience.
TIP: There is a HUGE queue when the museum opens, even with tickets pre-purchased online (we did: certainly worthwhile). I would suggest waiting 2-3 hours after the museum opens, and enter the museum around 1p. We made the mistake of going first thing in the morning. When we left at 1p, there wasn’t a soul in line!