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Rick Steves Classroom Europe™ is a free resource allowing teachers to share the best of European art, history, and culture with their students and fellow educators.

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Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum (2:47)

Amsterdam, Netherlands

The Van Gogh Museum is a fascinating walk through the artist’s life and work, from his early days in Holland (painting humble, dark scenes) to his time in Paris (color!), then the south of France (swirly, emotional scenes with surreal colors and twisted forms).

Complete Video Script

An entire museum is dedicated to the work of the great Dutch artist, Vincent van Gogh. The Van Gogh Museum — laid out as a stroll through the story of Vincent's life — shows how intimately his life and art were intertwined.

Van Gogh grew up in poor, rural Holland. From the start, he had an affinity for working people. In paintings like his Potato Eaters — a painting as dark and grainy as the soil itself — he gives these farm laborers the same dignity Rembrandt gave to merchants and aristocrats.

As a young man, Vincent was very religious. He studied to be a pastor and did church work in poor communities. But this wasn't his true calling. He decided to paint, to capture the world he felt so intensely on canvas.

He moved to Paris, and the City of Light opened up a whole new world of color. Vincent hobnobbed with the Impressionists. He studied their bright colors, rough brushwork, and everyday scenes.

He painted shimmering reflections like Monet…café snapshots like Degas…still-lifes like Cézanne…and self-portraits like nobody else. But Vincent longed to strike out on his own. In 1888, he headed for the south of France, arriving just as winter was turning to spring. Energized by the sun-drenched colors and the blue, blue sky, in just two years Vincent produced an explosion of canvases.

His unique style evolved beyond the Impressionists' — thicker paint, brighter colors, and swirling brushwork that made even inanimate objects pulse with life.

Vincent's ecstasy alternated with depression. Eventually, he was admitted to a local hospital. His letters home told of his great loneliness. While in the hospital, he found peace painting calm scenes of nature. But he also wrestled with his inner world, capturing spiritual scenes with surreal colors, twisted forms, and dark outlines.

In this, one of his last works, the canvas is a wall of thick paint, with roads leading nowhere, and ominous black crows taking flight. Overwhelmed with life, Vincent walked into a field like this one…and shot himself.