At the invitation of Thierry Baudet, my wife and I visited the Netherlands in October 2023 and, while we were there, had the pleasure of being taken on a private tour of the Van Gogh Museum by art historian Florentine Mol.

Looking at Van Gogh's 'The Potato Eaters'
Looking at Van Gogh’s ‘The Potato Eaters’

Van Gogh – whom many affectionately refer to as Vincent – was born in 1853 in the pastoral Netherlands. His formative years were shaped by farm life, yet he did not pursue formal art education, instead stumbling upon his passion for painting after a series of unsuccessful jobs.

His dedication to art was bolstered by his brother Theo’s unwavering belief in him.

In fact, Theo was the patron of Vincent’s art, providing financial support throughout his tumultuous career in which, unbelievably he only sold one painting.

Amazing museum tour

Van Gogh Museum
Standing outside the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam

Getting a ticket to the Van Gogh Museum proved challenging, as it was completely booked for the coming months.

Fortunately, my wife stumbled upon the details of Florentine Mol, an art historian who offers private tours of the museum. (If you’re in Amsterdam, then contact her.)

We were impressed by her extensive knowledge and engaging style, which transformed our journey through Vincent’s life into an exceptionally interesting experience. Simply looking at his art, without context – a common approach for many – means missing out on so much.

And, yes, this insight holds true for all art.

Getting too close to ‘Sunflowers’ before being asked to step back

He created a lot of art

Over the course of his ten-year career, Vincent produced approximately 2,100 artworks, with around 860 being oil paintings.

While many artists, such as Pablo Picasso, have a more extensive portfolio, what distinguishes Vincent’s oeuvre is that the majority of his work was created in the final two years of his life.

While the Van Gogh Museum is home to the largest collection of his works in the world, it does not house all of it. Some of his pieces are scattered across a few countries, held by various private collectors and public institutions. Some works are in other museums, such as the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

For example, The Starry Night has been in the MoMA since 1941.

The Starry Night, by Vincent van Gogh
‘The Starry Night’ is one of the most famous paintings in history

Part of the reason some of Vincent’s art is not in Amsterdam stems from his obscurity during his lifetime.

Some of his art was sold or given away before it become famous.

Additionally, the ongoing efforts of art historians and collectors to preserve and share his work with a broader audience mean that some pieces are constantly on loan to exhibitions around the world.

‘The Bedroom’ is probably my favourite painting by Vincent

Controversial death

On 27 July 1890, Vincent shot himself in the chest with a revolver. He survived the initial injury but died two days later.

That’s the official story.

Interestingly, the museum recognises an alternative theory, which is the possibility that Vincent’s death might have been accidental.

However, as Florentine notes, the likelihood of suicide seems greater when one considers the story of his life.

Adding to the tragedy, Vincent’s brother, Theo, died a few months later and was buried beside Vincent. Neither brother lived to witness the future fame that Vincent’s art would eventually garner.

He is now one of the most prolific artists in history.

I would rather die of passion than of boredom.

Vincent van Gogh

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