The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has reopened after a seven-month renovation, kicking off with “Van Gogh At Work,” an exhibition that shows the famously tortured artist’s working methods right down to his paints, brushes and other tools.
Appropriately, the final painting curators hung this week was a self-portrait in which Vincent Van Gogh painted himself behind a canvas, brushes and palette in hand. Nearby, on loan from the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, are an actual palette and paints that Van Gogh used.
Marije Vellekoop, head of collections, said they were preserved by Dr. Paul-Ferdinand Gachet, the physician who treated the artist in the final months before his 1890 death.
Although Van Gogh received little acclaim during in his life and sold few paintings, Gachet decided to hold on to some of his patient’s tools.
“Van Gogh’s star was starting to rise, and there had been an exhibition of his work,” Vellekoop said. “Dr. Gachet saw his quality, or perhaps he had some vision of the future.”
In all, 145 paintings and sketches are on display, almost double the museum’s usual collection.
A highlight is the display of two versions of Van Gogh’s famed yellow “Sunflowers,” hung on either side of a green-dominated portrait he painted known as “La Berceuse.”
In a surviving letter, Van Gogh indicated that he intended the paintings, which usually hang in three different museums, to be displayed that way. The museum displays a replica of part of the letter, which shows sketches of the three paintings in miniature.
Other displays show how Van Gogh, rather than being a self-taught genius as is sometimes thought, was a late starter who worked extremely hard to master his craft in the decade before his death at age 37.
In many of his best-known works, he employed tools to help him render perspective correctly, with varying results.
Some displays show the progression from a sketched idea in Van Gogh’s notebook to larger study to completed painting _ such as the 1888 “Fishing Boats on the Beach of Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.”
Among the more surprising elements on display are copies that Van Gogh made of originals by other artists in order to practice different styles and techniques. One such piece is a large color replica of a Japanese print. It closely resembles the original on which it is based, but with Van Gogh’s trademark thick brush strokes.
The reopening of the museum is something of a milestone for Amsterdam’s cultural scene: with it, all three of the city’s biggest art museums are open for the first time in years.
The Stedelijk, or city museum, known for modernist art by Piet Mondrian, Gerrit Rietveld and Willem de Kooning, in addition to many of their non-Dutch contemporaries, opened in September after a lengthy expansion.
The Rijksmuseum, or national museum, which houses national treasures and many of the greatest masterpieces of painters such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer and Jan Steen, opened in April after an epic 10-year, top-to-bottom overhaul.
Alterations at the Van Gogh were more modest, with fire and safety improvements, new floors and new paint. But the museum, which receives a million visitors a year and is known for long lines, has also instituted a new Internet reservation system that aims to smooth the flow of traffic over the day.