Van Gogh House, Nieuw Amsterdam, The Netherlands
When most people think of Vincent Van Gogh, they think of a troubled genius. A man who would slice off a part of his ear and ultimately shoot himself in the middle of a field of wheat. But this was an artist who was a much more complicated man than that.
Van Gogh had another side to him. He was actually extremely studious and spent many hours over many years honing his craft and constantly trying to improve. He attended institutes, tried to learn from other contemporary artists, and would focus his work on one particular technique to master it before moving onto the next.
It’s important not to look at Van Gogh as the master we consider him to be today, and look at him as someone who was trying to do this as a job and develop his professional skills. (As it happened, he was very unsuccessful professionally during his lifetime and only achieved fame posthumously.)
Van Gogh ultimately moved to France and painted most of his famous works there. But it was here in his homeland of the Netherlands that he grew as an artist and developed the foundations that would turn him into one of the greatest of his time. One of his favourite topics was the Dutch countryside and the rural life within it.
That’s what brings me today to the small town of Nieuw Amsterdam in the northern region of Drenthe. It was here, in 1883, that Vincent Van Gogh settled down for a couple of months to focus on his work.
He ended up here slightly by accident. He planned to travel to this region and took a canal boat for the last leg of the trip. It travelled down a narrow waterway for six hours until it got to the end of the canal, right in the centre of Nieuw Amsterdam. Van Gogh, who couldn’t be bothered to travel any further, looked up from the boat and saw an inn with spare rooms for rent. He took one of them straight away and ended up staying in it for the next two months.
This inn has been protected and today is a museum called the Van Gogh House. It is the only place Van Gogh lived in the Netherlands that is accessible to the public.
I arrive at the Van Gogh House in the afternoon and it’s easy to spot on the main road. The entrance is in the adjacent building and there is a small modern museum explaining more about the life of Van Gogh and the works he created while he was here.
Each visitor to the house gets a personal tour of the building. It is small and doesn’t take long but it’s a nice opportunity to ask questions of the volunteer guides, who are experts on the history of the artist. The old common room of the inn is now a restaurant. Upstairs, Van Gogh’s room has been preserved and looks just how it would have in 1883, complete with a straw bed and a desk for painting and writing.
I end up sitting downstairs and having a cup of coffee with the two volunteers who are working today. We chat about the artist and I’m able to ask for a few clarifications about things that have confused me. My understanding of the artist becomes crisper in my mind.
I then ask about the artworks that Van Gogh created while he was here in Drenthe. It turns out there are three that he did just nearby in Nieuw Amsterdam and it’s possible to go and see the spots that inspired him. I decide to do just that.
The first is easy because it’s directly in front of the Van Gogh Museum and it’s likely he painted it from his room or from the downstairs area. It is of an old bridge over the canal, which has now been demolished and replaced with a much more modern version.
Just down a side road is an old building that was included in a drawing Van Gogh did of peasant life. The scene looks completely different now, as you would expect more than 130 years later, but there is one house that’s still standing from the time. It’s easy to identify amongst the more modern houses on the street.
Another ten minutes down the road and there is a spot on the canal that hasn’t changed much over the years. The green grass still reaches down to the calm little waterway and sheep graze above it. Van Gogh captured a moment where a man was loading goods onto a boat here. It’s quiet when I get to the spot and I don’t imagine many people – if any – would travel by boat along this part now. With little urban development here, though, it’s the easiest place to imagine looking through the eyes of the artist himself.
These scenes are certainly not dramatic starry nights or perfect bunches of sunflowers. They may not be the first images that come to mind when you think of Van Gogh. As I said, most people think of the mania. But this study in the Dutch countryside and the attention to detail in capturing the moods of this region – that was the other side to Van Gogh which is much more interesting from an artistic perspective.
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Time Travel Turtle was supported by Expedia UK but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.