I stared deep into the blue bedroom, my eyes shifting from the red comforter hastily peeking off the single bed to the portraits next to it and the landscape behind the headboard. The two chairs, single towel, water jug, heavily-stroked floorboards – all churning up deep emotion; sadness. I waited for the tour group to shift away and moved closer. For an amazing, brief moment in the space-time continuum, I was alone with it. Before the next group moved in to crowd the masterpiece, I had a flitting second sharing in the solitude.
The whole museum was wonderful, of course. Van Gogh’s words and paintings swirled around myself and other visitors during the early hours of a May Wednesday. His sunflowers – live and in person – filled me with the same joys they’ve imparted to countless others since 1889. And although my favorite lesser work will always be Rain – Auvers, which I stumbled upon at the National Museum of Wales, I was happy to add Head of a Skeleton with Cigarette, to that list. I’m sure it was just a anatomy study or something, but the ridiculousness of it, carried through history without much context, made me smile.
Besides the art, my most important takeaway from my museum visit was uncovering another buried female who shaped modern history. Did you know all of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings would have been lost if not for his sister-in-law? It’s true! Joanna van Gogh-Bonger became a widow and single mother when Vincent’s art dealer brother Theo died of syphilis just two months after the artist’s death, then dedicated her life to bringing the paintings and letters to the world. That’s pretty damn badass.
Thanks for a great morning in Amsterdam, Vincent and Joanna!