The Hermitage Amsterdam: For a Limited Time, Two Museums in One

The Hermitage Amsterdam: For a Limited Time, Two Museums in One

I had the privilege of visiting the Hermitage in Amsterdam with someone who works at the Van Gogh Museum recently. Due to renovations, some of the world-famous Van Gogh Museum’s collection is being temporarily housed at the Hermitage, which is also showing a collection of Impressionist art at the same time. It really is a mega-exhibit, which shows not only the art of the most prestigious and renowned artists of that period, but also lesser known artists, pictures, maps, and descriptions of the life and times in which the artists were living.Hermitage Amsterdam Van Gogh Impressionist Exhibition

I had seen the Van Gogh Museum’s exhibits several times before, and didn’t expect much that would surprise me. However, the curators have created a special thematic exhibition (as opposed to chronological or geographical, as I’ve seen before), which added layers of interest and complexity. The seven themes, identified by Van Gogh himself in his voluminous correspondence as key in his work, are: 1) “Practice makes perfect”, 2) “A style of his own”, 3) “The effect of color”, 4) “Peasant painter, 5) “Looking to Japan”, 6) “The modern portrait”, and 7) “The wealth of nature”. Throughout the exhibition are original letters he wrote himself, often to his brother Theo, touching upon the themes highlighted.

The legendary paintings from the collection, such as “Sunflowers” and his several well-known self-portraits, are side-by-side with sketches and studies, showing his growth in confidence and skill as an artist. A particular favorite of mine were two canvases where he painted the front and the back, displayed in glass cases so you could see both sides. What was undoubtedly a necessity forced by his poverty is now quite a spectacular sight.

The other wonderful exhibition at the Hermitage is the Impressionist collection. The collection is being shown in part to kick off a year of celebrations of the connection between the Netherlands and Russia, and comes from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. What was interesting to me is that the well-known Impressionists were placed into context with predecessors, contemporaries, and successors.

It becomes clear when you look at the progression of the style how radical it really was, and how much it influenced 20th century art, culture, fashion, and design. The exhibition features sculpture (mostly Rodin), paintings, drawings, and also quite a bit of information about the world the artists lived in: the fashions, the cities, the technological developments (for example, just think of how electric light changed what artists could do in their studios!), and the people.

All in all, it was a wonderful experience, which I did in 3 hours without much effort. The restaurant in the Hermitage is quite expensive, but the food is fresh and good, and the room is filled with light and flowers. I recommend a visit before this double act ends, for residents and visitors alike!

The Impressionist exhibition will be showing at the Hermitage until January 27, 2013. More information can be found at http://www.hermitage.nl/en/. The Van Gogh Museum’s special exhibition will be housed at the Hermitage until April 25, 2013. More information can be found at http://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/vgm/index.jsp?page=252394&lang=en.