Chasing Van Gogh September 11 2016, 0 Comments

Over the years I have learned that plans seldom play out exactly as I might like them too. Such was the case with a long anticipated work trip this summer. For reasons too involved to mention here, the trip fell apart just weeks before departure and I found myself on a new path that began in New York and ended in Amsterdam, with England and Scotland sandwiched in between.

With all of the enthusiasm of a five year old, I decided to chase Van Gogh. Of all of the artists in the world, he is the one I love the most. There is something completely consuming about Van Gogh in every brush stroke, and vibrant color in his paintings; in his more than 600 letters to his brother Theo and friends; and in his desperation to “…complete one significant work in my life.”

The artist sees what the layman cannot and sometimes sees what other artists miss. This was true of Van Gogh, hence ridiculed by artists and art critics alike. His own mother, a social climber, was deeply embarrassed by Vincent and his inability to hold down a job. Vincent in an effort to gain her approval, would give his mother paintings, which she promptly stored in the attic of the family home. He remained the outcast, the black sheep to all in his family except his younger brother Theo, who not only represented Vincent and his work, but bought paints and canvas’s for him.

I have long admired those who forge a path lined with uncertainty but filled with hope because they were born to “do it”, if for nothing more than food money. And so, the chase was on!

Arriving in New York the day before my flight to London, I decided to walk over to the MET. I hadn’t been there in years. The MET houses fourteen Van Gogh’s in their permanent collection including: Wheat Field with Cypresses 1889, Cypresses 1889, Self-Portrait 1887, Road to Etten 1881, Olive Trees 1889, some of my favorites. Rushing up the stairs, I found my way to the impressionists and within minutes I was standing face to face with some of Vincent’s most significant works. Crowds hovered around his paintings, five and six people deep. From there, after arriving in London, I took the underground to the British Museum. His work was easy to find, not just because Vincent holds a prominent place among their works but because that is where the crowds were. I couldn’t stop grinning as I walked through the streets of London and across the Millennium Bridge.

As luck would have it, I came upon the Tate Gallery and on special exhibit, the largest collection of Georgia O’Keeffe in Europe. Awesome! After several days in London, the train took me through the countryside into Scotland where we pulled into Waverley Station in Edinburgh. The international festival was in full swing, some 3000 performances of music, plays and comedy during the month of August. Walking down Princess Street I encountered the Scottish Museum. A large banner was draped across the front of the building, Impressionists: Daubigny, Monet, Van Gogh. Once again, I stood face to face with Van Gogh’s Wheatfield’s near Auvers, 1890,  Daubigny’s Garden 1890, Landscape at Twilight 1890, White Orchard 1888, Orchard in Blossom 1889, Poppy Field 1890,  Wheatfield Under the Clouds 1890, Wheat Fields After the Rain 1890, Wheat Fields with Reaper, Auvers 1890, Wheat Fields with Cornflowers 1890 and Rain 1890.

In between Lattes, I plotted my visit to the creme de la creme, the crowning jewel of the trip…the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. As I mentioned, this trip was put together rather late so I had no flight or accommodations that reached any further than Edinburgh. This proved to be no problem for Heather Welsh and Holly Gordon at the Hilton Grosvenor. With both on individual computers they helped me plot my course. My flight was booked. A thorough check of the Hotels revealed that the Hotel Fita was but a 100 yards away from Vincent’s masterpieces and I booked the last room available.

I hardly slept. The Olympics were on television so I watched the day’s events through the night. I prepaid at the hotel, so I could just slip out quickly in the morning. By 8:00 am I was off again on the great chase to a place I had dreamed of going for years. When the museum authenticated a Van Gogh nearly three years ago, a piece privately owned, I became quietly obsessed about going to see the great works of a man who simply wanted to “complete one significant work” in his life.

From the airport I grabbed the bus which took me to the hotel. The hotel worker asked me about my plans while in Amsterdam, “Will you need help planning your stay?”

“I have come for a very important date.”

“Really?”

“Oh yes. I have been waiting for many years. I have a date with Mr. Vincent Van Gogh.”

“That is special indeed.” We have tickets here so that you so not have to wait in the que to see him. Be sure you are ready first thing. If you are there when the museum first opens you will have him more to yourself. You see about 7000 people also have dates with Mr. Van Gogh every day. You will also want to get a ticket for the Rijksmuseum. While they are known for their Rembrandts, you will find that Van Gogh has made a permanent appearance there.”

I dropped my bags in the room and walked around the corner of the hotel. The lines into the museum wrapped around and around. I would wait as advised one more afternoon, one more night. I walked through museum square and glancing up, I began to laugh as I read the banner on a small gallery, Warhol.

The next morning, I felt like a child being let into Disney World. Three floors of pure perfection; paintings, letters and facts about my beloved Vincent Van Gogh. Much of Vincent’s work is a documentary of the peasants life, some a recording of the great beauty of our landscapes and some a record of his age. “For things to grow old is proof enough that they are intended to live.” (R.O.H.) His letters all heart-felt and filled with his living in real time. It was difficult to pry myself away after more than half the day. But it was time to go. And after seeing nearly 300 Van Gogh’s along this journey I was ready to come home and get back to chasing some of my own work.