A festive opening ceremony performed by Minister Jet Bussemaker heralded in the new presentation of the Van Gogh Museum’s permanent collection on Thursday, 27 November. During the press conference, Van Gogh’s self-portraits were also symbolically unveiled by members of the Van Gogh family. The spectacular new presentation focuses on the development of Vincent van Gogh. Minister Jet Bussemaker said: ‘This new presentation brings visitors closer than ever before to the life and work of Van Gogh. The museum deserves a great compliment for that!’
The story of Van Gogh's life and art is the common theme of all floors of the museum. As well as his paintings, his drawings and letters have now found a permanent place where they can be seen and read. All the myths surrounding Van Gogh – such as his suicide, illness and ear – are discussed in detail for the first time. More so than before, Van Gogh is presented in the context of his own time. His huge impact on generations after him is also shown. The museum demonstrates that Van Gogh has been a source of inspiration until this very day by presenting changing works on loan.
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) is one of the most famous artists of all time. He has grown to become an icon, an almost mythical figure. The route through the spectacularly redesigned Van Gogh Museum starts on the basis of this underlying idea. On the ground floor of the museum, the visitor is immediately and literally confronted with the master: a spectacular presentation of self-portraits and his only surviving palette. A video installation in the hall shows how, after his death, Van Gogh has become the important (pop)cultural icon that he is today. This visual culture determines how the general public experiences his art.
For the first time, the museum focuses on the complete story: Van Gogh’s artistry, the context, his personal ambitions, his emotions, the myths and his influence until this very day. All these aspects have contributed to Van Gogh's fame. Throughout the entire building, the permanent collection is presented as a unity and an answer is given to the question why Van Gogh is such a universally attractive artist to many millions of admirers.
The main theme in the new presentation is Van Gogh's development into one of the greatest artists ever; a human story that is told in various sections. Van Gogh experienced life and the world passionately, and he wanted to express in his art the major themes of the human condition - anxiety, suffering, love and hope. The accompanying texts show how Van Gogh used his distinct style of painting and use of colour to express these emotions.
Each section focuses on one crucial work that best represents Van Gogh's artistic ambitions at that particular time in his life. For example, the key painting The Potato Eaters (1885) is the focus of the ‘Painter of Peasant Life’ section, related to the early period of Van Gogh's career. The ‘Heyday’ section concerns the time when Van Gogh lived in the South of France. There, he was struck by the clear light and bright colours, which inspired him to paint orchards in bloom, harvest scenes and other nature scenes. The key painting here is Sunflowers (1889). These important works hang on their own individual wall, so that they fully come to life and automatically take up the key role in the story.
For each section, a wall is painted in a particular colour that suits the atmosphere of the subject and the art presented. The traditional white museum walls have now become something of the past: the walls have been painted in distinct colours.
Van Gogh was a talented writer and his correspondence is an important source to understand him better both as a person and as an artist. The letters are on display everywhere in the new presentation: a few original letters are displayed and visitors can listen through the headphones to fragments read out loud. The accompanying texts of the entire presentation have made extensive use of Van Gogh's own words, and this is how the visitor enters the realm of Van Gogh himself.
The museum also, for the first time, devotes permanent attention to Van Gogh's drawings. Van Gogh was a great draughtsman and he made approximately 1100 drawings, half of which are in the Van Gogh Museum collection. Because they are very sensitive to the influence of light, these drawings can only seldom be displayed. By continually rotating a selection of approximately eight drawings, some of his most ambitious pages are always on show. Special sketches and preparatory drawings are also always on display.
Everybody is familiar with the stories about Van Gogh's illness, his partly severed ear and his death. Previously, this was only touched upon in combination with a painting, but from now on the museum will pay attention to the myths in a separate section: a step-by-step presentation of letters, documents and long-term research will show what really happened. In this way, the museum meets a great public demand.
Van Gogh is often thought to have been an isolated artist, but he was in actual fact inspired by the work of other artists until the end of his career. He was involved in the developments of contemporary art and he worked together with artists such as Paul Gauguin and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in their search for a modern style. Previously, works by other artists were shown separately from those by Van Gogh. In the new presentation, the works of his contemporaries and other artists who influenced him are integrated into the story about Van Gogh as an artist so that the connection becomes clear, which enables the visitor to look at this art through the eyes of Van Gogh.
Van Gogh's hope that his work might go on inspiring the world after his death has come true: until this very day he reaches out to millions of admirers. Periodically, a special (modern) artwork will be displayed, which has been visibly influenced and inspired by Van Gogh. From November 2014, this was Francis Bacon's Study for a Portrait of Van Gogh VI, on loan from the Southbank Centre, London. The huge impact of Van Gogh on the first generation of artists after his death will be shown by expressive works such as those by Maurice de Vlaminck and Kees van Dongen from the museum's own collection.
The new media make it possible to get to know even more about Van Gogh and his artworks. The show-piece is the Touch Van Gogh app: some artworks are accompanied by touch screens that reveal the secrets of the painting. By means of individual interventions, such as a perspective frame or a microscope, the visitor can find out more about the daily practice of the artist. For instance, the microscope reveals grains of sand that were blown off the beach onto Van Gogh's wet canvas. Van Gogh's sketchbooks can be browsed digitally. A completely new multi-media tour in ten languages offers the visitor a new perspective on Van Gogh.
Also new is the fact that at three locations, young and old are encouraged in a playful manner to look carefully at a painting or object together. The works are hung at a child-friendly height, accompanied by authentic objects such as old coins and a stimulating explanation. They tell a story in their own right. These walls give information about Van Gogh's love of nature, Van Gogh the prodigious letter-writer correspondent, and about his activities as a painter during his stay in the mental hospital in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. The themes of the presentations will change every year.
The presentation will also pay attention to the unique history of the museum and the role played by the Van Gogh family. Vincent Willem Van Gogh (the son of the artist’s brother Theo van Gogh) inherited his uncle's paintings and was closely involved in the foundation of the Van Gogh Museum in 1973. Personal objects, documents and stories illustrate this unique history. Van Gogh's belongings that were kept by the family, such as a mounted kingfisher and small balls of wool by means of which Van Gogh carried out his colour experiments, are also on display.
The new presentation of the permanent collection was designed by Marcel Schmalgemeijer together with graphic designer Mariëlle Tolenaar.
‘I thought it was important that the entire museum should be pervaded with a sense of aesthetics’, Schmalgemeijer says. My aim was to make visitors feel that they are entering the world of Van Gogh from the very first moment they walk in. We worked very hard on the new presentation for over two years. And now that the project is finished, I think “Yes, we’ve succeeded!".’