Day 16: Getting To Know Van Gogh

Tuesday July 12, 2016 – Amsterdam, The Netherlands – Mormon Tabernacle Choir European Tour Journal ~

Welcome to Amsterdam! We arrived by bus from Brussels to Amsterdam at 2:00 am. Our hotel is located on a very narrow cobblestone street and our tour bus drivers had to do some fancy maneuvers getting us to the door. But, they did a marvelous job, as ever. Here is what it looks like to check into a hotel when the MoTab arrives! [Note the cute “warm welcome” sign the hotel made us?] 🙂

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Hotel Check-in on Tour is always an adventure!

We collapsed into bed and slept until about 09:00. Our room was stifling hot, but we assumed this hotel simply didn’t have any air conditioning and we didn’t want to complain [eventually, the next day we did finally call maintenance, and they discovered a faulty wire had switched our room to heating instead of cooling! ah ha!! They fixed it for us, but it took about 12 hours to finally cool off]

Despite our sauna, we had a lovely little view!

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Welcome To Amsterdam

The Amsterdam Renaissance Hotel provided a buffet breakfast for us in an old round church they have converted into a convention center across the street [there is also a tunnel connecting the hotel to the church]. They have carefully preserved the building – the organ, original chandelier and hand crafted circular staircase are just lovely!

Today is a “Rest and Recovery Day”. Our hotel is situated on a tree-lined cobblestone street, and we are excited to go exploring this amazing city! We pre-purchased metro and art museum tickets from our concierge and joined a small group of Choir members for a “Shipley Tour.” [Choir tenor Shipley Munson is a historian, art buff & world traveler who always has fascinating information to share. He is legendary for his “tours” during MoTab Tours].

The Gallery Of Honour

Today we are visiting the world famous Rijksmuseum – home to a vast collection of Dutch masterworks, including the Rembrandt collection.

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The majestic Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam was built in 1885

Shipley wisely advised that we head directly to the 2nd Floor where we could devote our attention to the Dutch Master paintings today. These paintings are all found in the Gallery of Honour (Eregalierij) which is a long gallery with side alcoves filled with beautiful paintings of Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals and Jan Steen. Oh, I just fell in love with these paintings!! The museum provides large info sheets on each painting [in multiple languages] so that you can learn about the details.

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Some of my favorite masterworks at the Rijksmuseum of Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals and Jan Steen.

The highlight piece of the museum is undoubtedly Rembrandt’s The Night Watch (Nachtwacht). This iconic HUGE AS A HOUSE portrait of the civic guard is found at the end of the The Gallery of Honour. It has it’s very own room.

The Night Watch - by Rembrandt

The Night Watch – by Rembrandt

It is worth noting that the Rijksmuseum is a work of art in and of itself. With it’s high vaulted ceilings, intricate woodworking and design details, and the large stained glass windows as seen in the Great Hall (Voorhal).

Like the Metropolitan Museum in New York, or the Louvre in Paris, it is impossible to try to see the entire Rijksmuseum in one day. We are grateful that we chose to focus on some of the most significant collection. We left feeling enriched, and inspired.

An Artful Lunch

At this point it had been several hours and we were weary and hungry. We fortuitously discovered the nearby Rijks Restaurant, which turned out to be a truly exceptional dining experience! The meal was incredible, and everything was so artfully displayed!


Dining in Europe is very different than in the USA. In Europe, eating a meal is a special experience to be savored and lingered over in the same way you would spend time at the museum, or a hike, or a river cruise. You have to plan that when you enter a restaurant it will take at least 2 hours. Nothing is rushed here. It’s a chance to completely wind down, talk with the people you are with, and take slow, unhurried bites of each course, which are carefully prepared and delivered very gradually throughout your dining experience.

After that delicious and rejuvenating dining experience, we were now mentally and physically ready to experience the Van Gogh Museum!

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Go to the Van Gogh Museum!

The Legacy Of Vincent

Today, the painter Vincent Van Gogh is considered the most famous Dutch painter of all time. But Vincent Van Gogh was not famous during his lifetime. He only sold one painting. Vincent was touched with a brilliant madness. I do not believe that his art would ever have reached its extreme heights without the extreme depths that his soul had to travel. Perhaps the beauty and innovation of his art is loved by so many because of the powerful emotion that was invested in each painting.

“Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.” 

Vincent Van Gogh

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I have always felt a special kinship with Van Gogh. A part of my deepest soul understands him, celebrates him, and aches for him. Vincent struggled with mental illness. Although it is heavily debated what his actual diagnosis is, he showed many signs of what we now call Bi-polar Disorder – before it ever had a name, or proper medical treatment. I have blogged before about my own journey with bi-polar here and here. I was not diagnosed and medicated until I was 30 years old. From the age of 10 I experienced agonizing mood swings, sleepless manias and depression – my saving grace was writing in a journal and singing. Vincent’s saving grace was writing to his brother, and painting.

He never stopped learning and growing. He never stopped trying new ways of expression, and improving his art. Each time he created a new painting technique, he would paint a self portrait using that technique. During a three year period from 1886 – 1889 he created over 30 Self Portraits! Imagine that – creating and mastering 30 Different Art Techniques within just 3 years!

One entire floor of the museum is dedicated to his self-portraits.

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Just some of Van Gogh’s many self-portraits

It is nothing short of miraculous how much output of work Vincent produced during his short lifetime. He only began earnestly painting at age 27 and died at 37. In those ten years he produced 900 paintings and made an additional 1,100 drawings and sketches. He regularly completed one of his masterful paintings in one day. But of course, he had that “brilliant madness” and the mania that drove his gift at breakneck speed. Unless his illness took a depressive turn, and then he was debilitated from painting. Van Gogh was to painting what Mozart was to music [and yes, Mozart was also bi-polar].

Vincent was financially and emotionally supported by his devoted brother Theo. The year 1890 held unbearable tragedy for their family. Vincent Van Gogh died at the age of 37 from a what is believed a self-inflicted gunshot wound, on 29 July, 1890. Theo was inconsolable. In another twist of tragedy, Theo himself died six months later succumbing to an infection, 25 January 1891 – at the age of 33. They are buried side by side at D’Auvers cemetery in Paris, France.

It is thanks to Theo’s wife Johanna (Jo) that the world has Vincent’s work.

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Jo Van Gogh and infant son Vincent William Van Gogh, 1890

Left as a young grieving widow with her new baby boy [named Vincent] – to preserve all of Vincent Van Gogh’s legacy. She worked tirelessly to share it with the world – including having all of his letters to Theo published, as well as protecting all of his sketches and paintings.

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Samples of Vincent’s letters and sketches

Our “Shipley Tour” focused on the spirituality of Van Gogh. This is something that is rarely – if ever – discussed and explored in Art classes. Vincent’s father was a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, thus Vincent was raised in a very religious home, where scripture study was an important part of daily life. His father was actively involved in helping the needing and running a food pantry. When Vincent was in his early 20’s he desired to enter the ministry and he studied Theology. However, he didn’t pass the seminary entrance exam. He secured a mission assignment to the coal miners in Belgium. He was devoted to the people, and actually gave up his bed to the indigent and slept on hay, and shared his clothing and food with the poor. Ironically, he was fired for his efforts because his superiors thought his actions were not “dignified”.

“I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.” – Vincent Van Gogh

An excellent in-depth article about Vincent Van Gogh’s faith can be read here.

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Still Life With Bible, Van Gogh, 1885

The Bible is open in this painting to Isaiah 53 which describes a servant of God as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief . . . he was despised and we esteemed him not.” This is the first but not the last time that Vincent makes reference to Christ’s sorrows and grief as an internal expression of how he himself was feeling.

One of my personal favorite paintings that I discovered at the museum today was “The Sower With Setting Sun“. The figure is bent over, diligently planting the seeds, with urgency to get as many seeds planted as possible before the very last ray of light is gone. The parable of the Sower is clearly evident here – depicted in such a personal, emotional way to me. In his letters to Theo, Vincent often speaks of the “divine spark” he sees within every human being. There are multiple paintings that captures this – but here we can actually see how the sun is forming a halo behind the head of the diligent field worker, who continues to push forward though they are facing into the dark, and their path is in shadow. The Light is behind them. The Light is empowering and sustaining them. This is so symbolic to me.

“[I] paint men and women with that something of the eternal which the halo used to symbolize, and which we seek to convey by the actual radiance and vibration of our coloring.” – Vincent Van Gogh

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The Sower at Sunset, Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

Even when Vincent’s life was marked by disappointment and pain – even when he felt so incredibly lonely and misunderstood – his art is radiant and vibrant with hope!

I believe that Vincent understood deeply – with a “perfect brightness of hope” that there was much more to his existence than just this mortal life. He would have been very familiar with 1 Corinthians 15:40-43 which speaks of the resurrection – and compares the human body to a seed which is sown [buried] in corruption to be raised incorruptible; “It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power”. 

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The Raising of Lazarus (after Rembrandt), Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

Vincent had hope that his art would live on, and that he would live on. He had hope that one day his pain would end. That he would be understood, and even loved. And that has happened – in a manner beyond his wildest dreams. And his art – sown in weakness, has now been raised in power for the world to enjoy and be inspired by.

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The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix), Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

During the final 18 months of his life, Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings became ever more religious in nature, addressing the topics of death, resurrection and salvation.

‘In my very suffering, religious thoughts sometimes console me a great deal’ – Vincent writes to Theo, 1889

In these final months of his life he painted the “Raising of Lazarus,” “The Sheaf Binder,” “The Good Samaritan,” “The Sower” and others. However, perhaps the most moving and symbolic painting of all was of the Pieta– with the face of the martyred Christ symbolically becoming his final self portrait.

“a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief . . . he was despised and we esteemed him not.”

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Pieta, by Van Gogh

Shipley wanted to end our tour in front of the Pieta painting. But, sadly it it had been taken to the new exhibit area [we miss the opening by just 3 days!]. It is called  ‘On the Verge of Insanity’ – and it’s the Van Gogh Museum’s first exhibition focusing specifically on Van Gogh’s illness. Oh, how I would have loved to see that!

[Note: The museum now provides a free online walk-through]

So, we went to the gift shoppe to find a post card with the painting Pieta. Shipley told us about this painting, and talked about how symbolic it was of Vincent to express his faith and hope of the resurrection – within his deep agony. The hostess of the gift shoppe quietly joined our group and listened intensely. She was moved to tears – as were all of us.  She was so touched by how Shipley bore his testimony of life after death, and by how much we all loved Vincent, she actually presented each one of us a postcard of the Pieta as a gift!

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The “Shipley Tour” at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam

What a special day. It is hard for me to even put into words properly how tender and meaningful this museum tour experience was for me. First, to get to see the Dutch Masters in the Rijksmuseum – so educational and enlightening, and then to see Vincent Van Gogh’s amazing paintings up close and personal for the first time. I feel I got to know him on a personal level – and to think about how his faith and hope sustained him was just tremendously inspiring. I am  deeply humbled by Vincent’s courage to keep striving forward in the face of so much adversity – to keep creating and giving of his gifts and talents – even when he had no way of knowing he was making a difference – he had hope.

Vincent inspires me to continue to move forward, like The Sower At Sunset – to trust in the Light that shines behind me, the Light that created each of us, that loves us and will always magnify our efforts.  – MoSop

Tomorrow is our final tour performance in Rotterdam!

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This is part of a 3-week series sharing my experience during the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s European Tour from June 28-July 16, 2016. Due to security concerns, tour participants were not allowed to share anything on social media until we returned.

Check back each day for a new installment!

4 thoughts on “Day 16: Getting To Know Van Gogh

  1. Where to start. This post has moved me on so many levels. VanGogh is my very favorite artist. I was fortunate enough to get to go to the Metropolitan Museum in NYC in 1984 to see the VanGogh Exhibit. I was so inspired by the colors and the movement of the brush strokes. His paintings are large, too, and you almost feel like you’re in the painting while you’re standing there looking at each brush stroke.

    I knew quite a bit about VanGogh, from Art History classes and my own readings. I often wonder, had he been treated for his illness would he have lived longer, but on the flip side, would he have produced this amazing artwork.

    I know that Revelation tells us that one day the Earth will be destroyed with fire and there will be a new Heaven and a new Earth. It makes me wonder if these priceless works of art will be destroyed or somehow taken out before it happens. And, will those who have a talent for art be practicing it in Heaven. I have a lot of questions which won’t be answered in this lifetime.

    Thank you so much for this “tour”. You could have just written about each concert, but you have gone above and beyond what was the “basic tour”. I have so appreciated it. Love you, Lynne

    • Great observations and interesting questions, Lynne!

      Lots of exciting things to consider. I certainly don’t know all the answers, but I do know that the act of “Creating” something is a divine attribute that each of us have within us. God is the most talented at creating something stunning out of raw materials. He is what we could call the Master Artist of this Universe. And, we – as his children – have each inherited those divine talents to be able to create beautiful things out of raw materials. I definitely believe that we will continue to practice all of our God-given gifts after this life – including our artistic abilities! I certainly want to keep creating music. And if there is music in heaven, then there has to be every kind of brilliant art form imaginable.

      A great quote to support this comes from President Uchtdorf – and I will link his full talk below because I think you will enjoy it:

      “The more you trust and rely upon the Spirit, the greater your capacity to create. That is your opportunity in this life and your destiny in the life to come.” —Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Happiness, Your Heritage,”

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