The Netherlands: Travels with Van Gogh

netherlands windmills at eveningThrough his letters, his drawings, and his paintings, Vincent Van Gogh left a legacy which has reached across the world. These days you may find his work in museum collections from Mexico to Israel, from Stockholm to Cardiff to Boston to San Francisco. Van Gogh grew up in the countryside of Holland, though, and it is in touring in the Netherlands that you will find deep context for his work, both in museums and in the landscapes which imprinted themselves on his imagination.

As he explored differing ways of expressing his ideas in his work, from representational drawings to experimenting with work influenced by other styles and other countries, Van Gogh was creating his own signature visual art, a style which has influenced and inspired artists in many genres and continues to do so. Through 2015 and into 2016, there are continuing and one off events marking the work and life of Van Gogh at the 125th anniversary of his death. In the Netherlands especially there are permanent collections which feature his work, as well.

Van Gogh grew up in Noord Brabant, a province which is next to Belgium. The house in Zundert in which he lived as a child was pulled down, but there is now on the site a museum devoted to his life and time in Holland. In the nearby town of Tilburg you may see his school classrooms and the art room where he first received instruction in drawing.

Van Gogh self portrait

It was in the towns, fields, landscapes, and seasons of the Netherlands that Van Gogh received his most powerful education as an artist, though, soaking up ideas and references that he would carry with him across his career and to the works he created elsewhere. As an adult one of the places lived was Nuenen, which had a windmill he often painted. Windmills often turn up in the paintings he made later on in countryside of France, too.

Drenthe, Etten, The Hague, and Amsterdam are among other Dutch cities where Van Gogh lived and worked. It was in Drenthe, in the north of the country, that he painted and drew many studies of peasants, weavers, and farms, subjects which, in the brighter colors of his French days, would also continue to occupy him throughout his life. The quality of light that fascinated him still falls on the fields of Holland. Though the the farm machinery has changed, there remain hints of what the land and the work were like in Van Gogh’s time.

Sheaves of Wheat Van Gogh
In Amsterdam there is a whole museum devoted to Van Gogh’s work. Certainly if you are drawn to his art it is a place you will want to visit; even if you are not, though, it offers much to think about as you follow how an artist evolved in his work over time. There is also a fine collection of work of his contemporaries, placing the groundbreaking and radical nature of what he was creating in context of a time that was one of seminal change in the arts.

Tracing the paths of Van Gogh’s inspiration in his native country is a fine journey to undertake at any time. This year is an especially good time to visit, though, as there are many special events planned. There is an exhibit of work by twenty contemporary artists inspired by Van Gogh in Amsterdam; several of the tulip growing areas have created portraits of him in flowers; chefs in the town of Ede are creating menus and food events inspired by his life and work; theater productions and a dance event are planned. There are many more things going on. My favorite of all of them, though, is the illuminated cycle path in Eindhoven, just outside Nuenen. It is inspired by Van Gogh’s painting The Starry Night.


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  1. Wandering Educators July 21, 2015
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