Thoughts on Life, Art, Photography, Technology, Teaching and Travel…..

Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Bicycles and Beer!

I arrived in Amsterdam this past Friday afternoon jet lagged and fatigued from the overnight flight and then navigating my way from the Airport to the Hotel Vivalid here in the City Centre.

It was no easy feat finding my way to the train from the airport and then figuring out what Tram to take to my hotel. Between my printed out Google map and asking a great many amiable people directions, I finally made it to my cozy little room in the heart of Amsterdam. I chilled out (that means slept) the remainder of my travel day in preparation for a weekend of site seeing, photographing and museum visiting.

So far I’ve scribbled over 25 pages of notes documenting my observations about the great art and sites I’ve encountered in my little memo pad that I keep with me as I walk through the museums. The galleries at the Hermitage Museum were filled with Van Gogh’s best and most important paintings, in addition to a cross section of the great Impressionists works as well. I was in heaven!

Today at the Rijksmuseum  I viewed the Dutch Master’s including the ultimate Master himself…Rembrandt. My plan was to transcribe my notes into this blog post, but for now I’m just going to use them as a reference.

First Impressions…

My first impressions of Amsterdam are very positive. The people all seem very friendly and the city is clean, upbeat and very cosmopolitan. I have never seen so many people on bicycles before in my life. They are everywhere you go and you have to be careful not to wander into a bike path or you are going to get run down.

Two days into my visit to Amsterdam my personal observations are as follows….  Great food! Great beer! Thousands of bikes!… Lots of sites to see, friendly people to meet and things to do.

Most people I’ve encountered speak English and are very accommodating and cordial to Americans. This is certainly the city of bicycles! I must reiterate…this is a great and friendly city to visit if you don’t mind sporadic rain throughout the day.

The Hermitage Museum – Van Gogh Chronological Exhibition and Impressionism Show

Long Lines in the Rain for Van Gogh Exhibition

Viewing art at a museum or gallery is a completely different aesthetic experience than looking at it in a book or online.  You can’t truly experience and/or appreciate the wide array of textures, colors and expressive characteristics of a Van Gogh landscape or portrait for example in a coffee table book like you can up close and personal standing  in front of it under the proper lighting / viewing conditions.

Van Gogh stated that to give direction to our lives we all have to make choices. His deepest longing was to make a difference for his fellow human beings. I believe his art has made a difference – at least it has for me.  I was a sophomore in college when I was introduced to Van Gogh during my Humanities class.  I had to write a paper on him and after doing my research I knew from that point on art would play a role in my life and career. Van Gogh is one of my all time favorite artists along with Giotto, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Monet and Jackson Pollock.

Van Gogh never stopped practicing his art. It didn’t come natural to him like some artists. He had to work at it and practice until he got better at drawing and then painting.  The Van Gogh exhibit at the Hermitage in Amsterdam is displayed in chronological order so you can literally see how Van Gogh evolved as an artist from initially creating a great deal of unsophisticated and awkward drawings to highly expressive and technically proficient work. He was a prolific artist and painted about one painting a day through his short lifetime.

There is a rhythm in his repetitive and highly expressive brush strokes. His application of thick, textured colors and jagged diagonal lines unifies his compositions and is a signature to his intense and emotional style of art.  There is a deep spirituality in his emotionally charged paintings especially his earlier peasant paintings such as The Potato Eaters which reveals their raw and humble humanity under the glow of a single hanging lantern.

I never truly realized just how much his thick application of paint (a technique called impasto) played in Van Gogh communicating such a wide range of emotions in his art and subjects he depicted. He believed that color in itself has powerful expressive and symbolic connotations and used it to convey his feelings about life and his various subjects such as peasants and even the landscape.

Lastly Van Gogh like many other artists of his era was influenced by Japanese prints especially his later work.  You can see this influence by his abrupt cropping, high horizontals and diagonal compositions in addition to flat areas of color.

All I can say is I was inspired during my 5 hours meandering through the many galleries of the Hermitage Museum soaking up and savoring all the great Van Gogh and other Impressionist Masterpieces.  It was a great way to kick-off my weekend in Amsterdam.

Day #2 Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

I woke up early the next morning in order to get to the The Dutch Masters paintings at the Rijksmuseum before the crowds.  Good thing I did because the lines were around the block an hour after I arrived.  Purchasing my tickets online saved me a great deal of wait time.

Where as the Impressionistic paintings lacked precise detail the Dutch Masters relished it in their genre / domestic scenes and landscapes.

Great art has a way of informing our present about the past. That is what I find so fascinating about the Dutch paintings. Artists like Franz Halls, Jan Vermeer and Rembrandt give us a glimpse into what it was like during another time and place Their paintings depicts people and places in the 15th and 16th century like ice skating, drinking in taverns, playing music,  enjoying picnics,  cooking, sailing, farming and domestic life.

I’m sitting in a large gallery filled with Rembrandt’s as I jot these observations down. What an incredible master he was!  His art speaks to you and touches you on a variety of emotional, spiritual and intellectual levels.  As much as I love Impressionism and artists like Van Gogh I am also in awe of Rembrandt and his technical virtuosity.

One of the highlights for me at the Rijksmuseum was seeing Rembrandt’s masterpiece The Night Watch.  What an incredible and monumental work of art painted on a grande scale. I have lectured about this painting in class for many years and today for the first time in my life I am seeing it in person.

As I gazed upon The Niight Watch I thought about the time I was in Rome and got to see the Sistine Chapel fresco by Michelangelo. This was that kind of experience for me.

Seeing this amazing painting is one of the highlights of visiting Amsterdam for me.  This painting has it all! Drama, mystery, visual impact, emotion, historical significance and a highly detailed series of portraits of a National Guard unit in action.

Around the town…..

When I wasn’t the haunting museums here in Amsterdam I was taking in the sites, walking around the bustling city composing photographs, stopping at an outdoor cafe for a cold beer and enjoying being in this unique cosmopolitan European town.

As I mentioned earlier in this post…people young and old love their bicycles here in Amsterdam.  I have never seen so many different types of bikes in one place in all my life.  I also love how the children are snuggled into a variety of different enclosed bike seats and carriers kept dry from the almost certain rain or drizzle on any given day here in the Netherlands.

I am checking out of this quaint hotel in an an hour after I post this update and pack my bags.  Its almost time to meet up with my colleague Professor Roberto Muffoletto and spend a day with him at his apartment a few hours from the city. From their we set off for Berlin, Germany by train to participate in the European Festival of Photography, in addition to enjoying Oktoberfest and seeing and photographing in and around Berlin.  Stay tuned for the next update from Berlin and beyond!

Oh…did I mention my hotel was right next to the Heineken Brewery. My research tells me the Heineken is much smoother and tastier here in Amsterdam just like Guinness is so much better in Dublin than in the states. Just saying….


6 comments on “Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Bicycles and Beer!

  1. keoughp
    October 15, 2012

    Reblogged this on Transmedia and commented:

    Update from Amsterdam…

  2. frustratedfoodie
    October 15, 2012

    Great food really??! I generally find it’s terrible in NL!

    • keoughp
      October 16, 2012

      I must admit I didn’t eat much of the food besides a ham and cheese toastie and some pub grub and that was ok so lets just say the beer was good and cold and the food was eatable.

  3. pkirk
    October 16, 2012

    I’m jealous! Say hi to Roberto for me. Best, (the other) PK

    • keoughp
      October 16, 2012

      Will do Perry! Hope all is well with you! Off to Berlin tomorrow!

  4. Pingback: My European Journey Ends in Budapest | KeO BLoG

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