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In December, 1998 I was lucky enough to visit the incredible "Van Gogh's Van Goghs" exhibition in Washington, D.C. I'll never forget it.

Washington's National Gallery--working in co-operation with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam--did an outstanding job of putting together this remarkable exhibit of many of Van Gogh's most popular works (a full list of the works on display is available). It was a real treat for me to see some old favourites again: The Potato Eaters, for example, or Wheatfield with Crows. But I also found the exhibit to be extremely rewarding as an opportunity to see some of Van Gogh's lesser known, but no less beautifully executed works (be sure to take a long look at Flowerpot with Chives). Many compliments to the Van Gogh Museum, too, for choosing such an excellent range of works--it gives a comprehensive overview of Vincent's brief career as a painter.

Any complaints? Well, the crowds were--not surprisingly--a bit overwhelming. If you wanted to visit this exhibition and spend some quiet, contemplative time leisurely taking in the paintings, then you'll be disappointed. Most of the rooms were absolutely jammed with people--sometimes five or six rows deep before the more well-known works. This detracted from the overall experience, but at the same time I really was pleased to see so many Van Gogh enthusiasts, young and old, seeing these works in person for the first time.

Two stories:

In addition to the National Gallery exhibition, be sure to set aside some time to view the other Van Gogh paintings on display while you're in Washington. In the West Wing you'll find an impressive collection of Van Gogh works as part of the National Gallery's permanent collection (including the remarkable La Mousmé). Then, make a trip over to the East Wing where you'll find two more beautiful Van Gogh works: a Self Portrait (in the "Gift to the Nation" exhibit--from the Hay collection) and Bulb Fields (in the "Small French Paintings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon and Alisa Mellon Bruce"). In this latter work you'll find an incredible use of colour for such an early work in Vincent's career.

Finally, every Van Gogh enthusiast visiting Washington can't miss a trip to the Phillips Collection (1600 21st St. NW). You'll find three more Van Gogh works on display here along with an absolutely outstanding assortment of other artists--from Monet to Pissarro. While you're in the neighbourhood stop by and have lunch at Raku (1900 Q St. NW), an excellent restaurant with terrific food from the Far East and great service.

A non-Van Gogh recommendation: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2126 / 202-488-0400): Washington, D.C. has a wide range of attractions to interest any tourist--the wonderful museums of the Smithsonian, the various monuments (the new Franklin Delano Roosevelt monument is very well done). But if I had to recommend only one stop while on a trip to Washington, then it would have to be a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

There are no words to adequately decribe a visit to the Holocaust Museum. The museum itself and the displays are incredibly well done--a comprehensive and absolutely devastating overview of the Holocaust. The numbers are, of course, overwhelming--how can anyone actually conceive of six million dead? As a result, the Holocaust Museum does an excellent job of conveying the sheer numbers while at the same time giving each a human face. Especially moving was a three story display of photographs in a narrow chamber--a profoundly tragic photographic monument to the souls lost during this nightmarish time. The reality of "six million" is difficult to fathom, but the faces of the people in this moving display help. Family portraits, wedding pictures, the happy faces of children posing in the snow . . . . .

Upon entering the permanent displays you'll be "issued" an identification card. This card will detail the life of someone who actually lived during the Holocaust. To me this was one of the most effective aspects of the Museum. My own card focused on a young Austrian boy named Ossi Stojka and I felt compelled to share tragic story of his all too short life.

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