24 October 2002
The ferryhouse in Nieuw Amsterdam in the province of Drenthe, where the painter Vincent van Gogh stayed for two months in 1883, has been renovated and brought back in its old state.
He often must have been sitting here on a stool at his table where he used to work. Through the window enters the northern light, which is supposed to be very good for painters. And when he looked outside he saw the endless peat fields and, closer, the "peculiar bridge", which he would eternalize later.
Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890) stayed for two months in the Scholte lodgings/ferryhouse in the twin village Nieuw Amsterdam – Veenoord. His room has a stove, which was really uncommon in those days, and the original blue ceiling, the same wooden floor and a part of the timber walls. "I am stepping on the same floor as Van Gogh once did", says Trini van der Sluis. who took the initiative five years ago to change the old lodgings into a memorial house of Van Gogh. Very often the painter sat down in the kitchen downstairs, near the peat stove, watching the bar with the red backside. "In the hall the Scholte children were playing. When Van Gogh went upstairs they ran away" the old drawing teacher says. They thought he was a creep, a stranger."
At the amount of 1,5 million euro the ferryhouse has been brought back in its old state, mainly with the support of the province of Drenthe and other authorities. The inside of the building has been reconstructed based on the letters that Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo, data from the local register and advice from experts. Now it all looks practically the same as in those days when Van Gogh lived here. The original tile floor in the hall hasn't been put into place yet, but the mahogany closet with walnut panels in the livingroom of the ferryhouse is the same that Van Gogh must have looked at. "The interior was quite a puzzle", van der Sluis admitted. "Not everything in the bar and living is original, also because of practical considerations".
In 1883 Van Gogh came to Nieuw Amsterdam by boat from Hoogeveen. He was 30 years old and for the first time in his life he was alone and deliberately chose this desolate and empty area of the peat fields. Here he found the beauty of nature and the people that are a part of it. In his period in Drenthe Van Gogh made 41 watercolours, paintings, sketches and drawings of the landscapes and the people. This period has been underestimated for a long time, according to van der Sluis. "Van Gogh's career started here in Drenthe. Here he made up his mind to become an artist". This is clearly reflected in his letters. Slides with fragments from those letters are being projected on the walls on the floor where his room was. "Here I have found my destination", he wrote to his brother Theo. "At this very moment I find myself at the beginning of something better. Which isn't there yet, but in my work I see things that I never had before. Painting has become easier for me". He was impressed by the landscape of Drenthe. "Drenthe is so beautiful, (. . . .) it is hard to describe. This is a place where someone can grow. Here the real life takes place, hard, honest without any finery". He calls these "pitch-black peat fields" with their "springy soil" "mysterious", "dramatic and melancholic". "Here you walk with God. You can't find this in Barbizon". The only thing he complains about is the total lack of models. The people in Drenthe saw him as a stranger who really did not fit in.
The restored ferryhouse will be officially opened soon and included in a cultural tour next year, 150 years after Van Gogh's birthdate, that leads among others to the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. The lodging in Drenthe is the only building in Holland open to the public where the famous painter lived for a short time. After the opening the bar will have a professional bartender. Coffee will be served in white cups decorated with a line from one of Van Gogh's letters: "Het is hier zo gansch en al wat ik mooi vind" ("It is so full here and I feel surrounded by beauty"). Van der Sluis: "Yes, Van Gogh was the first ambassador of Drenthe."
Source: NRC Handelsblad (The Netherlands)
(Translated into English by Jan Geerling.)