Back in November both I and my mum finally got the chance to visit Amsterdam. I’ve adored Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890) since I was a teenager, and his paintings were the start of my adventures in modern art. Naturally, the Van Gogh Museum had been on my list of ‘must-see’ places for quite some time. Similarly, my mum, Lyn, also has an interest in history and wanted to visit the Anne Frank House. Along with these two museums, we managed to visit the Stedelijk Museum, Oude Kerk, and the Rijks Museum.
This post will give a short summary of each and hopefully inspire some who read this to visit! I plan to follow these summaries in the future with some more in-depth reviews which will be published on my blog, The Museum Inspector and Mainly Museums.
Home to both modern and contemporary art, the museum houses a permanent collection split into three sections. The first, Yesterday Today details the history of art and design from 1880 to 1950. It examines the impact of Expressionist works as well as the Amsterdam School and Bauhaus, looking at how they were influenced by the social and political contexts in which they were birthed. This exhibition also gives an analysis of the impact of colonialism on European art in the 19th century.
Every day, Someday, and Other Stories encompasses works that were made between 1950 and 1980. A highlight from this collection was the Protest and Revolution room which showed how posters became a popular medium for protest. The final part of the collection, entitled Tomorrow is a Different Day exhibits work made from the 1980s onwards. This section hosts several contemporary works which engage audiences in more unconventional ways.
Highlights: Marc Chagall (1887 – 1985), Self Portrait with Seven Fingers, Protest and Revolution Room.
Location: Museumplein 10, 1071 DJ Amsterdam, Netherlands.
This was not on our list of initial places to visit but it caught our attention. Located in the red-light district and founded in the 13th century, the Medieval Church is the oldest building in Amsterdam.
Despite being the oldest building, it does not shy away from mixing the old with the new, dedicating its space to displaying contemporary art. Its current exhibition, Garden of Scars by Ibrahim Mahama (5th November 2022 – 19th March 2023), looks at the history of the church, setting it in a wider historical context. Throughout the church are sculptures made from casts of tombstones located in the Oude Kerk and Fort Elmina (Ghana). Fort Elmina was initially created as a trade settlement in 1482 but was later used as a post in the Atlantic Slave Trade.
I would recommend using the audio guide to explore the church as it really enriched the experience for us.
Highlights: Stained Glass Windows, Vater-Müller-organ (18th Century)
Location: Oudekerksplein 23, 1012 GX Amsterdam, Netherlands
Anne Frank House
Located in the Anne Frank House is the annex where she and her family hid for two years following the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. The Frank family went into hiding in 1942, only to be discovered two years later. The house has several floors which explore the families’ life, the writing of Anne’s diary, the occupation of the Netherlands, and the persecution of Jewish people. Audiences are guided through the floors of the house by an audio tour which paints an intimate portrait of the Frank family and the friends that helped them. The last two floors contain the annex where they stayed which is explored in silence. The audio tour resumes after leaving the annex.
Highlights: Seeing Anne’s diary on show.
Location: Westermarkt 20, 1016 GV Amsterdam, Netherlands
Van Gogh Museum
The museum houses the work of Van Gogh and his contemporaries but also has an exhibition wing for temporary retrospectives. Van Gogh’s work spans four floors, starting with his self-portraits and a timeline of his life. The first floor dips into his early work, particularly the years 1883 – 1885 when he lived in Nuenen. It also explores his time in Antwerp and Paris. This floor is also home to some of my favourite paintings inspired by Japanese Woodcuts.
The second floor explores his correspondence with his family, particularly his brother Theo Van Gogh (1857 – 1891), and relationships with other artists. Once arriving on the third floor, there is an option to take a break and explore the bookshop. The remainder of the floor looks at the last few years of Vincent’s life as well as the longevity of his work and how it inspired both contemporaries and future generations of artists.
We were also lucky enough to catch the Gustav Klimt temporary exhibition (7 October 2022 – 8 January 2023)
Highlights: The Potato Eaters (1885), Almond Blossom (1890)
Location: Museumplein 6, 1071 DJ Amsterdam, Netherlands
This was the last museum on our adventure. The collections span from the 12th century to the present day. We needed an entire day dedicated to exploring them. We started in the special collections which had an impressive array of model ships, weaponry, musical instruments, and magic lanterns, before making our way around the 1100-1600 floor which hosted mainly religious iconography.
The first floor is split into two sections that showcase works from both the 18th centuries and 19th centuries. The second floor is entirely dedicated to the 17th century with the central section being composed of The Gallery of Honour, The Night Watch Gallery, the Great Hall, and the Sculpture Gallery. The Gallery of Honour holds paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer whilst The Night Watch Gallery is named after Rembrandt’s painting Night Watch (1642). The painting itself has been contained in a glass chamber whilst the canvas is examined as part of an ongoing research project. The third floor looks at the developments of the 20th century, however, it was a little difficult to access.
Highlights: The Great Hall.
Location: Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX Amsterdam, Netherlands
I hope to write some more in-depth articles about each of these museums but I hope these short summaries may act as a guide to anyone interested in visiting!
Side Note: I would recommend pre-booking these museums before visiting.
About the Author
Paige Worrall is a BA history graduate and has recently completed her MA in Museum Studies which specialises in making use of co-productive practice within institutions. She currently works as a library assistant and freelance exhibition technician. Her passion for history of art has led her to set up her own blog, The Museum Inspector, where writing on her various interests can be found. She also has an Instagram dedicated to promoting some of her favourite cultural institutions. When she isn’t visiting museums, Paige can probably be found in a bookshop or curling up with a novel or two!
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