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Van Gogh dazzles in lesser-known Netherlands museum

AMSTERDAM -- With the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam closed for renovations until April, the world's second-largest collection of the tortured Dutch master's work is stepping into the limelight.

The Kröller-Müller museum in the eastern Netherlands is not as well-known but is still considered a jewel among connoisseurs. It has revamped the layout of its central rooms, giving more space and more focus to its very best works.

"Van Gogh really stands central now, both physically in the museum and in the collection as a whole," director Lisette Pelsers said in a telephone interview.

Last week the museum announced "Vincent is Back," because after a time in which many of its 91 Vincent Van Gogh paintings, 180 drawings and other works have been on loan, they are set to return in style.

It has opened "Native Soil," the first of a two-part exhibition looking at the spectacular changes that Van Gogh underwent in his artistic career, which took place almost entirely in the decade from 1880 to 1890. The appropriately wintry exhibit focuses on Van Gogh's formative years in the Netherlands, with a dark palette and simple, somber subjects.

"Native Soil" culminates in what is widely regarded as Van Gogh's first great masterpiece, 1885's "The Potato Eaters." It also shows smaller works that presage the colorful brilliance to come, such as the 1885 "Head of a Woman Wearing a White Hat," which may have been part of Van Gogh's preparations for "Potato Eaters," and the emotive 1882 study "Sorrowful Old Man" in black chalk.

"You can really see him struggling to find his style as an artist," Pelsers said.

Beginning in April, the "Land of Light" exhibition will show off the incredible range of color and energy in Van Gogh's late works. Much of the collection from both periods will remain on display throughout the year, including later masterworks such as his 1888 "Terrace of a Café at Night." Also remaining on display are a series of excellent portraits, including a famous 1887 self-portrait, and others such as the 1889 "Portrait of Joseph Roulin."

Although the Kröller-Müller Museum has decided to more actively promote its Van Gogh works, its collection ranges well beyond that with important paintings by Georges Seurat, Pablo Picasso, Fernand Leger, Piet Mondrian, Paul Gauguin, Giorgio de Chirico and dozens of others. It also features one of Europe's best sculpture gardens, with works by Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Niki de Saint Phalle and many more.

The museum is in Otterlo, Netherlands, not far from the German border.

For the more adventurous, one of the museum's special attractions is the option to begin a visit at one of three park entrances rather than the museum itself. It's easy to borrow one of hundreds of free bicycles and cycle several kilometers on well-marked paths through the park's gentle dunes and pine trees to the museum.

KRÖLLER-MÜLLER MUSEUM: Otterlo, Netherlands; www.kmm.nl. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adult admission 16.80 euros; 8.40 euros for children 6-12.

GETTING THERE: The museum is a two-hour drive from Amsterdam; access by public transportation is possible but requires a combination of trains and buses.


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