The story of Van Gogh's life and art is the common theme of all floors of the museum; and his paintings, as well as his drawings and letters have now found a permanent place. All the myths surrounding Van Gogh – his suicide, illness and ear– will now be 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 will also be shown: the museum will demonstrate that Van Gogh has been a source of inspiration until this very day by presenting works on loan that will be regularly changed.
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) is one of the most famous artists of all times and he has become an icon, an almost mythical, larger than life figure. This underlying idea is the start through the spectacularly redesigned Van Gogh Museum. 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.
Now, for the first time, the museum focuses on the complete story: the artist, 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 will be given to the question why Van Gogh is such a universally attractive artist for many millions of admirers.
The main theme in the new presentation is Van Gogh's development into one of the greatest artists ever, a story 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. Sunflowers (1889) illustrates the "Heyday" section of the time when Van Gogh lived in the South of France, where the artist was struck by its clear light and bright colours, which inspired him to paint orchards in bloom, harvest and other nature scenes.
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.
Letters and drawings
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. The visitor thus enters the world of Van Gogh himself.
The museum will also, for the first time, pay attention to Van Gogh's drawings. Van Gogh was a great draughtsman and he made circa 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 circa eight drawings, some of his most ambitious pages, as well as special sketches and preparatory drawings will be 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. This way, the museum meets a great public demand.
Through Van Gogh's eyes
Van Gogh is often considered 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, the works by other artists were shown separately from those by Van Gogh. In the new presentation, the works by his examples and contemporaries are integrated in 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 that shows to be influenced and inspired by Van Gogh. From November 2014 this will be 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.
Touch Van Gogh
The new media make it possible to get to know even more about Van Gogh and his artworks. The showpiece 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 paged through and a completely new multi-media tour offers the visitor a new perspective on Van Gogh.
Also new: on three locations, young and old are encouraged in a playful manner to carefully look at a painting or object together. The works hang on a child-friendly height, accompanied by authentic objects and provided with 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 fervent 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 Theo Van Gogh) inherited his uncle's paintings and he was closely involved in the foundation of the Van Gogh Museum in 1973. 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.
Design by Schmalgemeijer & Tolenaar
“When the Van Gogh Museum commissioned me to design the new presentation of the best-known collection in the world, I immediately thought that things should be altered. I felt that in the current presentation the aesthetic experience did not receive the attention it deserves. Of course, the paintings offer visitors this experience, but it was important to me that the entire museum should be pervaded with a sense of aesthetics. It was my aim to make visitors feel that they enter the world of Van Gogh from the very first moment. We have been working very hard at the new presentation for the last two years. And now that the project is almost finished, I think that "Yes, we have succeeded!", according to Marcel Schmalgemeijer. Together with graphical designer Mariëlle Tolenaar, Marcel Schmalgemeijer is responsible for the design.