The one souvenir I’d wanted to bring home from Amsterdam was a copy of Barbara Stok’s graphic novel Vincent in English, from the Van Gogh Museum bookshop. When I got there the Friday night I arrived, though, it was completely sold out—and the soonest it’d be back in stock was the day after I left! Blarg. Only after I returned to the States did I realize it was still available at the American Book Center on Spui, which I’d chanced by earlier the same afternoon that I visited the museum but hadn’t thought to check before I departed the city six days later.
The book appeals to my nascent love of graphic novels
as well as my longstanding love of introspection.
So that evening at the museum, I consoled myself with buying greeting cards taken from panels in the book, to send to friends as airmail souvenirs. (Don’t you love the idea of carefully sticking a foreign stamp on a letter, popping it into a mailbox, and imagining its journey in planes through the air and in trucks over roads to its destination back home? Way more tactile than texting photos, as immediate as that is.)
Van Gogh’s bedroom, as interpreted by Barbara Stok.
In the meantime, I felt chills being in the same room as paintings like this! The Bedroom (1888) by Van Gogh was supposed to have inspired Egon Schiele’s similar painting The Artist’s Room in Neulengbach (1911) too, though I hadn’t covered the latter in my master’s thesis.
I arrived on a Friday, which meant the museum was open until 10 p.m. So I decided to make the artist’s acquaintance (at this point I was still running on an espresso doppio to power through the jet lag).
Vincent Van Gogh, Self-Portrait as a Painter, 1888
Visitors were fairly free to get up close and pore over the paintings as they liked, along with snapping photographs on their smartphones—particularly of the well-known works. Isn’t it incredible to peer at the very daubs of paint that Van Gogh himself had applied to the canvas? Stroke by stroke, until the now-familiar image emerged.
Vincent Van Gogh, Irises (detail), 1890
Vincent Van Gogh, Wheatfield with Crows (detail), 1890
To see how Van Gogh applied color theory was pretty fascinating. That is, when placed side by side in a painting, colors opposite each other on the color wheel—red opposite green, yellow opposite purple, and blue opposite orange—heighten an image’s overall intensity.
Vincent Van Gogh, The Garden of Saint Paul’s Hospital
(‘The Fall of the Leaves’), 1889. I love how the saturated blue of the wall
picks up the blues off center in the painting.