I heard somewhere that Amsterdam has the highest number of museums per capita in Europe? The world? It is the reason I've always wanted to go there. I had a few days to myself before the Symposium started, so I spent a lot of time at the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum.
On my first day there, after my nap, I went to the Rijksmuseum and saw Rembrandt's Night Watch, which is in the process of being scanned while on view! They are starting a big research and conservation effort called Operation Night Watch, which makes it sound really exciting! It's kind of a spectacle with a big glass box built out around the painting and the scanner operating on sort of a conveyor belt thing (Google it - it's neat). It was pretty interesting to see the mechanics of it. But it was also great to see the painting itself! My eyes were drawn to the shadow on the main figure on the right - it's a very strong shadow cast by the hand of the main figure on the left. That's why I like to look at art in person.
This is another view of the top of the building across the canal. After my trip to the Rijksmuseum I met my dear friend Orling for dinner, but I was SO TIRED from traveling! After dinner I stopped at a market and got wine and (terrible) paprika chips, then back to my room where I sat at the window sketching this and waiting for the sun to go down so I could go to sleep. My room was west-facing and with the window open the sun was shining right on my pillow!
The next morning I stopped in a cafe for a lovely cup of coffee to plan my route for the day.
The Van Gogh Museum was amazing! I started on the first floor where they have dozens of his self-portraits on display, then went to the 3rd floor because I like starting at the top at museums. And I'm glad I did, because that meant I started with his final paintings. The wall text with the self-portraits had already reminded me that his career was only about a decade long, from 1880 to 1890 (and in that time he created about 2,100 artworks, per Wikipedia). The wall text in the room with his final paintings said that in the 70 days before his death he painted 75 paintings. And while we are the beneficiaries of that manic period, that is not healthy. It made it even clearer to me how ill he was.
So I was already pretty teary-eyed at the start. I looked at what is thought to be his last painting, Wheatfield with Crows, a slightly dark, slightly ominous painting of crows ascending from a wheat field into the night sky. But the museum had several other paintings on view that he painted after Wheatfield - lighter, cheerier paintings. And it was like a visual representation of something that I've heard before but that I don't have the documentation to back up - that people sometimes commit suicide not when they hit rock bottom but when they come back out of it a bit. So by then the tears were starting in earnest.
Then I saw what the museum considers his last painting - Tree Roots, which was unfinished on his easel when he died. In all of these last paintings everything is covered in his signature marks/visible paint strokes. But in Tree Roots there are areas that are painted with a flat color but without the build-up of paint strokes on top of them. And, I don't know... I felt like I saw him in those spaces. They were all of the things he had not done yet and would never get to do. So then I just sat down and cried really hard for several minutes.
But there was plenty more to see so I blew my nose and went to the next gallery. The museum is set up beautifully with different areas of focus - Van Gogh's contemporaries, the peasants he painted, his time in Paris. It's really one of the best museums I've been to.
I went to find lunch but only found heat and a relentless sun, so I stopped in the American Book Center for a bathroom break, some AC and some water. I found a spot in the cafe on the 2nd floor overlooking a plaza and a church and had a lovely time sketching it. The man working there suggested a seafood place across the plaza, and once I cooled down I walked over and sat in the shade and drank vinho verde and ate fish and chips but the fish was calamari! And I sketched.
After lunch I went back to the Rijksmuseum and discovered the landscapes of Weissenbruch.
I like sketching in museums with my Mitsubishi Prussian Blue/Vermillion colored pencil. I noticed a lot of Symposium goers posting their ink and watercolor sketches from the museums, but I just can't bring myself to use anything other than pencil most of the time! Such a rule-follower!
The sketch on the right is a thumbnail sketch for the sketch below.
After a lovely dinner with the Urban Sketchers board, my friends Uma and Suma and I sketched on the Blauwbrug, or Blue Bridge, over the Amstel River. The sun was setting beautifully, and we all captured it in different ways while chatting and listening to some young people talking sh*t.
On Wednesday the Symposium registration started in the late afternoon, so I had another almost full day for museums. First stop, Van Gogh museum to spend more time with the painting Almond Blossoms, which I decided is one of the most beautiful paintings I've ever seen in person. While I was spending time with it and sketching it (top right), I heard a woman behind me sobbing. I turned around and said, "I get it." She had someone with her to hold her as she wept. Then I heard her talking about something - it sounded like memories of a particular person. So this painting must have had a lot of meaning for her and that person. This is why I love art.
I popped back over to the Rijksmuseum for a bit to see the other floors, as I'd only visited two on my first two visits.
I mentioned the heat that drove me into the American Book Center the day before, but now it was getting even stronger. From where I was at the Museumplein, I knew I would have to walk through full sun in some spots to get to the Zuiderkerk where the Symposium was being held. So... I bought an umbrella! Instant shade! Very good decision.
The opening reception for the Symposium was lovely - representatives for the previous nine Symposiums (of which I attended seven!) were on hand to say a little bit about their turn hosting. Plus, it is always amazing to see all of my sketching buddies again!
The night ended with another nighttime sketching session with Suma and Uma. I wish I had put this sketch on its own page, but I also kind of like how this layout turned out.
(In case you're wondering, I bought museum memberships to both museums. I was glad I did because I could go to the Van Gogh museum at any time without having to buy a timed ticket. I could have gotten away with not buying one for the Rijksmuseum, but I didn't want to leave to chance having to wait in line. I needed to make the most of my three days of museums!)
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