On and off the beaten track
From famous Van Gogh Museum to fancy Huis Marseille — and more.
Written by Craig Berry
Designer & Writer
In one of my previous blog posts I visited a bunch of museums in Amsterdam with my friends (Stedelijk, FOAM & Eye) but at that time I didn’t have a Museumkaart. Now I do and it’s certainly being used to my advantage, allowing me to visit lots of museums in the city easily and over 2 weekends I visited another 4 very different museums — for the first time — to broaden my mind and hopefully be inspired by what I saw.
Firstly, a place I always wanted to visit and check out but was always put off by the enormous queue — the Van Gogh Museum. They have a special Museumkaart/group entrance at the back where you can just waltz in and use the cloakroom without waiting. Vincent van Gogh is obviously a huge name in western art and needs no introduction; at the museum you can see a large range of his paintings in his short life. It was really cool to be able to see such famous post-impressionist paintings up close such as ‘The Bedroom’, ‘Almond Blossom’, numerous self-portraits and my personal favourite of his — ‘Head of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette’. Although, as good as these are to see, the popularity of the artist’s work is almost its own demise as the museum was unbelievably busy with people eager to see these masterpieces — in this regard I plan on returning at a later date at a better time (i.e. not the middle of the day on a Saturday).
What was really nice though I thought was the museum’s graphic design identity. I had never paid so much attention to it but the soft rounded Gotham works well I think, especially when paired with the rich corporate colours of yellow (Sunflowers) and blue (Almond Blossom) along with the swirly brushstroke style pattern they are contained in.
Strangely the other section of the museum/gallery which contained the new exhibition ‘Prints in Paris 1900’ was a lot less busy which was surprising as it was the opening weekend for this — not that I am complaining, maybe tourists just want to see Van Gogh. Here was a whole load of fin de siècle prints and posters. Traditionally Parisian advertising posters for famous establishments such as Le Moulin Rouge and Le Chat Noir adorned the walls alongside smaller posters, magazine covers, illustrations and drawings made for a great exhibition as well as a section dedicated to documenting the printing processes at the time i.e. litho-printing, woodcut, etching etc. The artworks on show are supposedly very fragile and delicate so they are rarely displayed so it’s a real treat to see them.
From art to architecture: Museum Het Schip. This is somewhere I recently discovered having grown an interest in the brick expressionist architecture style of the Amsterdamse School of 1910–1930. I’ve written another article about this subject — why it appeals to me, what buildings stand out, why it exists etc. but this is about the museum at Het Schip in the Spaarndammerbuurt district of Amsterdam, inside the Schip (ship) building itself. As a very niche subject I was surprised how that there were quite a few people here (not as many as the Van Gogh), and also the amount of stuff dedicated to this style of building which is essentially using bricks as a building material but in a complicated, complex and highly decorative way — architects of the time such as Piet Kramer and Jan Wils saw architecture as art not building hence the stunning designs. The museum covers the style and movement but not just focusing on the buildings but also the poster/book design, interior design, furniture, sculpture and pottery/ceramics.
It’s certainly worth visiting if you want to find out something new about a building style that is very apparent in the outskirts of the city.
Now from one ship to many ships — Het Scheepvaartmuseum (National Maritime Museum). I wasn’t sure about this place, as I’m not really that into sea-faring ships and yachts of yesteryear but this museum was fascinating. Inside the vast 17th century ‘s Lands Zeemagazijn building are several sections which each documents the rich and prolific history of the Dutch at sea from present day as a huge international port and hub back to the golden age of exploration. It was really fascinating to see these 2 extremes and everything in between, what really stuck with me were the 17th century paintings depicting conflicts at sea with galleons and warships firing at one-another, usually in the setting of a vicious storm and huge waves. The scale of these paintings is huge and standing in front of them you really get a sense of what it might’ve been like onboard one of the ships. It was also strange to see so many British flags in the paintings also, apparently the Dutch and British didn’t get on so well 400 or so years ago.
What is also really cool here is a replica of ‘The Amsterdam’ VOC ship, which is moored next to the museum which you can board and walk around the whole boat from the cargo room to the captains wheel (I don’t know my ship terminology very well). I’ve seen the — what me and my girlfriend call it — pirate ship from the other side of the harbor many times and always wondered why it was there and now I know along with a wider knowledge of Dutch maritime history. The image below, I took on film was back in the summer of 2015 during my first visit to Amsterdam.
Finally from naval vessels to contemporary photography and a place I had never heard of before until someone from VBAT (Maarten) showed me — Huis Marseille. I had no idea this place existed and I must’ve cycled past it multiple times, nestled on the Keizersgracht with minimal branding is the fancy photography museum/gallery. It is similar to FOAM in that it is inside a skinny canal-house which are deceptively huge and maze-like but that’s where the similarities end. The interior of FOAM is quite modern and contemporary/clean whereas inside Huis Marseille feels like walking into a royal palace with marble floors, gold and glass chandeliers spread around the building. The work on show (which I think was the last day for) was that of Chrystel Lebas — Regarding Nature. The images here are based on a collection of anonymous negatives of the British landscape in the 20th century; they are predominantly landscapes but also close shots of flora. Stunning images of Great British countryside, coasts, forests and highlands.
What stuck with me a lot was how she spoke about her affinity with the colour blue; choosing to shoot at dusk and twilight for the intense blue that arises at this time. “At twilight our own perceptions also undergo a change as we gradually move from wakefulness to sleep, while our surroundings slowly transform from the visible and the tangible into the invisible and intangible. Nature, which in the daytime seems so domestic and familiar, suddenly takes on a wilder and more frightening aspect.” This is so apparent in these photographs, the blue is beautifully rich and you really feel what she feels. Overall it was a nice experience but somewhat confusing as she was re-tracing anonymous photographers and their anonymous works but it was still inspiring.
A very broad range of museums and subjects with one overriding connection which is me getting soaked by the spring rain whilst cycling from one to the next, but that’s all part of the fun. Fortunately for me there is no shortage of museums in Amsterdam and they regularly update their collections and exhibitions so I look forward to where else my museumkaart can take me.
P.S. Number of times I used the word ‘museum’ in this article: 22 times.
Read more blog posts on craig-berry.co.uk or my Medium page.