Did I go to the Vincent Van Gogh museum to see art? No, I met Van Gogh.

It was a crisp August afternoon in Amsterdam. Summer hadn’t completely left Holland, but the brisk air justified a light jacket and a cup of hot chocolate. Like many of the tourists waiting outside the Van Gogh museum, I thought I knew the Dutch artist. I’ve seen Starry Night a multitude of times at the MoMA in New York, his self portraits at the Chicago Art Institute, and have studied his artwork in classes. This wasn’t an introduction, it was a reunion.

Little did I know, I had only scratched the surface of one of the most famous artists to have ever lived. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam takes the visitor through the painter’s heart, mind, and soul and does so in such a compelling way. When you enter the building, you are introduced to Vincent in the best way possible- through his self portraits. It is here where I learned that much of what was going on in his mind was never truly reflected on the canvas. Behind each painting, the viewer gains a more comprehensive glimpse into the life of this incredibly complex man.

On the first floor, we see Vincent’s first stabs at creating art. These are not the Van Goghs we’re used to. Idyllic landscapes and vibrant colors are replaced by bleak, somber tones depicting impoverished life in the most honest way possible. The Potato Eaters stands out from the crowd. The audience becomes a fly on the wall of a destitute family in the Dutch countryside. In the next few rooms, we are allowed to witness Van Gogh’s evolution, which was inspired by Impressionists like Monet and Renoir. His view of the world dramatically shifted. His new mission was to capture nature’s beauty and vibrancy through elegant strokes of the paintbrush. His mantra: a study in color.

As you ascend the galleries, you begin to know the real Van Gogh. Despite the stunning artwork that adorns the wall, his emotional and psychological baggage clings on to you. When you learn about his eventual suicide, you can’t help but cry. Someone so brilliant and passionate was suddenly ripped out of my life.

I entered the museum that chilly August day hoping to see Van Gogh. Instead, I met Vincent.

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