Overview of the year

Public Affairs

Outline of the sector

The activities of the Public Affairs sector are focused on disseminating the VGM’s artistic treasures and expertise to a wide range of target groups, both Dutch and international, and on improving access to everything that the museum has to offer. This sector comprises the following departments: Marketing, Press, Development, Visitor Services, Publications, Events and Digital Communication.

Visitors to Gauguin & Laval in Martinique | Photograph: Randy Da-Costa Visitors to Gauguin & Laval in Martinique | Photograph: Randy Da-Costa

Visitors – physical and online

Visitor ratings

The average visitor left the museum more satisfied in 2018 than in 2017, as revealed by the HappyOrNot terminal at the exit. Visitor satisfaction regarding crowding also improved in 2018: from 24% to 27%, a significant increase. This progress is primarily down to excellent results in this area in the second quarter, during Van Gogh & Japan. The museum’s Net Promotor Score rose significantly from 58 points in 2017 to 63 points in 2018.

Van Gogh Personalises

The Van Gogh Personalises project is focused on optimising (primarily digital) contact with our visitors and customers. How can we improve the relevance of communications with our (potential) audience, how can we inspire them more often and secure their loyalty? As part of this project, five inspirational masterclasses were organised for various VGM staff members throughout 2018, held by acclaimed lecturers from Beeckestijn Business School.

Customer Life Cycle Model

In 2018, the Van Gogh Personalises project resulted in the creation of a Customer Life Cycle Model for the VGM. This model identifies various ‘customers’: physical museum visitors, visitors to our website and visitors to our Museum Shop (online and/or in the physical shop). Campaigns and KPIs were formulated for each phase of this model. We now assess 24 KPIs on a structural basis, several for each phase of the model.

Also as part of Van Gogh Personalises, the museum drafted an RFP for the purchase of a Customer Data Platform and a BI reporting and visualisation tool. This platform allows the museum to improve the personalisation of communications with its visitors, which will result in higher retention and conversion levels. The BI tool will also facilitate self-service reporting for museum staff.

Own media and channels

The museum saw newsletter traffic to the website rise from 1.93% in 2017 to 3.78% in 2018.

In March 2018, we began sending visitors who purchased their tickets online a welcome video in advance of their visit. The aim of the video is to offer important practical information, while also adding an additional element to the museum experience. The video is personalised with e.g. a welcome greeting and specific information about the current exhibition; everything in the language of the booking.

VGM: the most engaging art museum

The museum’s online fan base on social media also grew exponentially. The number of followers on Instagram doubled to more than 900,000. Engagement on Instagram increased from 4 million in 2017 to 9.1 million in 2018. Partly thanks to this growth, the VGM was by far the world’s most engaging art museum in 2018. After several years of effectively managing the Vincent Willem van Gogh Facebook account (which has more than 2.6 million followers), we became the official owner in 2018.

Following Google Street View’s visit to the museum in January 2018, visitors are now able to explore the Van Gogh Museum virtually with Google Arts & Culture. Later in the year, a new section of our website was launched, where visitors can browse highlights from Van Gogh’s letters and listen to a podcast series.

In 2018, #SunflowersLIVE, in which the five versions of Sunflowers were reunited online, won an AVICOM Award and a Best Social Award.

Social Media

4,773,797 Facebook followers
1,636,163 Twitter followers          
936,927 Instagram followers


Van Gogh & Japan

The official opening of the exhibition Van Gogh & Japan was a royal affair: with King Willem-Alexander in attendance, there was a captivating programme including a performance by musician Wouter Hamel and an exclusive preview of the Japanese-Dutch opera Dejima by Rijndert van Woudenberg. To the backdrop of keen press interest, the exhibition was subsequently officially opened by special guests including the King, who cut a ribbon to declare the exhibition open (a Japanese ceremonial tradition). In the days following the opening, the generated interest from national and international media for all aspects of this exhibition was enormous.

Presentation of the publication of Japanese prints during the symposium | Photograph: Jan-Kees Steenman Presentation of the publication of Japanese prints during the symposium | Photograph: Jan-Kees Steenman

The exhibition was accompanied by an in-depth, richly illustrated catalogue. Another new book exploring the Japanese print collection was presented during the Van Gogh & Japan symposium: Japanese Prints. The Collection of Vincent van Gogh. In October, this publication received the MGIP Book Award 2018 in the Art & Photography category.

With regard to marketing, a sweeping, unequivocal campaign was implemented to promote the exhibition Van Gogh & Japan. A range of approaches were used to relate the story of the enormous influence of Japan on the work of Van Gogh. A surprising series of videos was launched all around the world, in which Van Gogh’s signature played a central role. Closer to home, public activation focused on several outdoor activities, with highlights including ferry-side advertising and Van Gogh Blooms on Museumplein, in collaboration with our partner Van Lanschot. The promotion and campaign contributed to the outstanding (visitor-related) results achieved.

Highlights of Van Gogh & Japan

  • 20% of visitors are Dutch, 35% growth compared to Q2 2017.
  • Reason for visit extremely high in the case of Van Gogh & Japan: 53% of Dutch visitors came to the museum explicitly for the exhibition.
  • 23% of visitors were repeat visitors: 43% more than in Q2 2017.
  • Van Gogh Blooms, in collaboration with Van Lanschot, was awarded a SponsorRing 2018.
  • Visitor numbers for Van Gogh & Japan were higher than forecast, with very high visitor satisfaction.

Gauguin & Laval in Martinique

After travelling to Martinique especially for the exhibition Gauguin & Laval in Martinique, VGM curators shared their experiences in the multimedia guide and films on social media. The exhibition was accompanied by a catalogue in which VGM curators united all known Martinican paintings and drawings by Gauguin and Laval, complemented with numerous sketchbook drawings and contributions from Gauguin experts.

This exhibition saw a successful focus on additional coverage in the French media, in light of the huge popularity of the artists – particularly Gauguin – with the French public.

Family Days

In 2018, the Family Days were planned for the first two weeks of the autumn school holidays. An extensive national campaign featured specially-made StoryZoo films, including a promotional film aired on RTL8 during the two weeks of the Family Days, a social media campaign and bus shelter advertising in Amsterdam.

Painting studio during the Family Days | Photograph: Brenda Roos Painting studio during the Family Days | Photograph: Brenda Roos


We once again participated in the Uitmarkt in 2018 to present our programme for the cultural year ahead. The VGM stand was popular with visitors, who were welcomed to an Almond Blossom tunnel where they were invited to view the world through the eyes of Vincent van Gogh.

Museum Night

The action went on deep into the night during Museum Night at the museum, with an extensive educational programme and entertainment including a silent disco. A total of 8,622 revellers visited our museum, all guided tours and workshops were fully booked, and a record number of photographs were snapped in the Aura photobooth.

Vincent on Friday & ‘failure’ | Photograph: Les Adu Vincent on Friday & ‘failure’ | Photograph: Les Adu

Silent disco during Vincent on Friday | Photograph: Les Adu Silent disco during Vincent on Friday | Photograph: Les Adu

Vincent on Friday

We can reflect on another successful year of popular Vincent on Friday evenings, attended by large numbers of young adults from Amsterdam. 2018 saw plenty of notable collaborations, such as with illustrator Emiel Steenhuizen, word artists Ray Fuego, Ellen Deckwitz and Sef, and event agency WINK. Themes such as failure, Japan, Van Gogh’s ear and ‘roots’ were all on this year’s menu.


The Van Gogh Museum publications present the results of the latest research into the collection, provide enthusiasts with information about the life and work of Van Gogh to inspire and enrich them, support the programme of exhibitions and introduce children to Van Gogh’s famous artworks. All publications are written by Van Gogh Museum specialists or by experts commissioned by the museum.

For the complete list of publications, please see the Museum Publications appendix.

Events and receptions

In 2018, a plethora of successful events and receptions were organised at the VGM, ranging from exclusive VIP functions to major openings of new exhibitions and mass public events such as Museum Night. Samsonite and Vans product launches were also held at the museum, after both brands developed a product line in collaboration with the VGM.

We also organised successful relation and sponsor events, such as the annual The Yellow House Dinner, which was held in the self-portrait gallery and organised in collaboration with Hotel De L’Europe for the fourth year running, and the celebrations for National Korea Day, initiated by Hyundai and realised in collaboration with the Embassy of the Republic of Korea to the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

In December, the museum welcomed the President of Cape Verde and his wife, during a state visit to the Netherlands. We also invited all of our sponsors, supporters, relations and partners to our annual Gala Dinner. The theme of this year’s Gala Dinner was the exhibition Gauguin & Laval in Martinique.

Visual identity

2018 saw the publication of Van Gogh Lives. Every aspect of the Van Gogh Museum brand, our brand passport containing clear guidelines for safeguarding and promoting the museum’s brand identity. The revamped corporate identity was fully rolled out in 2018. Over the past year, a great deal of the museum’s communication and educational resources were updated or reprinted in the new corporate identity.   

Campaigns, collaborations and press

Van Gogh Highlights | Photograph: Jan-Kees Steenman Van Gogh Highlights | Photograph: Jan-Kees Steenman

Van Gogh Highlights

Van Gogh Highlights was launched in November, a national campaign featuring various activities to introduce Van Gogh’s letters to the Dutch public. The launch of the podcast series associated with this campaign featured a special performance in which Adriaan van Dis, Loes Luca, Ellen Deckwitz, Akwasi, Nazmiye Oral, Janne Schra, Kees van Kooten, Lucky Fonz III and Ted van Lieshout recited a Van Gogh letter.

On a special letters platform on the website, visitors were invited to highlight their favourite passages from Van Gogh’s letters and share them online. The best highlighted quotes were collected and projected on ‘Van Gogh streets’ throughout the country. To mark the start of this ‘highlights exhibition’, quotes selected by various Dutch celebrities illuminated the pavement under the street lights on Museumplein.

Vans x Van Gogh Museum

For our successful collaboration with licensing partner Vans, we combined iconic Van Gogh artworks with iconic Vans items. The Vans x Van Gogh Museum collection therefore took Van Gogh’s art ‘Off The Wall’ and allowed us to reach and inspire a new audience outside the museum’s walls.

The launch of the Vans collection in August resulted in significant growth in visitor numbers to the VGM site, record sales in the webstore, the most viewed Instagram posts ever in terms of reach and engagement, and 20,000 new Instagram followers. And in Google Trends, the search term most often combined with ‘Van Gogh’ in the past year was ‘Vans’ and ‘Vans Collection’. In fact, the collaboration with Vans filled the complete top-5 of searches with ‘Van Gogh’.

The collaboration with Vans also resulted in an overwhelming amount of media attention, much of which was also in alternative media that generally do not focus on art and culture.

Van Gogh Europe

Working together under the banner of Van Gogh Europe, the VGM collaborates with some 30 institutions in the Netherlands, Belgium, England and France to make the many locations where Van Gogh lived and worked accessible. Following the success of #FollowVanGogh, we presented a follow-up campaign in 2018 featuring 30 different videos and photographs on Facebook and Instagram, inviting travellers to trace Van Gogh’s footsteps.

In the past year, Van Gogh Europe welcomed two new partners to the network: the Drents Museum in Assen and the Van Gogh House on Hackford Road in London.

Van Gogh Museum in the press

The VGM media presence increased considerably in 2018, as did the quality of the Dutch and international coverage. The majority of the highlights were linked to the additional focus on the VGM as a knowledge institute. The discovery of the two new Van Gogh drawings (The Hill of Montmartre with Stone Quarry (1886) and The Hill of Montmartre (1886)) early in the year received a warm reception, and the acquisition of a work by Edvard Munch (Felix Auerbach (1906)) was covered widely. Another notable news item was Director Axel Rüger’s visit to the Oscars ceremony together with the crew of the film Loving Vincent, which had been nominated for the prestigious award.

The exhibition The Sensation of the Sea at TMC achieved a record generated media value. For Gauguin & Laval in Martinique, we successfully focused on additional coverage in the French media, in light of the enormous popularity of the artists – particularly Gauguin – with the French public.

We used the new facsimile edition of Van Gogh’s sketchbooks, the renewed focus on Van Gogh’s letters (including the podcast campaign) and the auction of a David Hockney painting in New York to draw attention to the museum’s less obvious activities and the blockbuster exhibition featuring Hockney’s paintings.

Sponsors and partners

It is thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and partners that we are able to dedicate ourselves to our mission of enriching and inspiring as many people as possible with the life and work of Vincent van Gogh. In 2018, we successfully secured the support of even more private benefactors, companies, funds and foundations. The year was brought to a fitting end with a special Gala Dinner for all supporters.   

For a complete overview of our supporters, please see the appendices.

Corporate partnerships

We are grateful for the support we receive from our long-term corporate partners, sponsors and the members of the Van Gogh Museum Global Circle. Notable new partners joined the museum in 2018, and we signed new agreements with significant existing partners. At a well-attended press event in Tokyo, a new three-year partnership deal was signed with Takii. In 2018, Heineken announced its intention to extend the partnership with the VGM for a three-year period.

2018 saw the VGM part ways with Shell. During the past 18 years, Shell had an enormous impact on the museum and its research activities.

As part of the exhibition Van Gogh & Japan, the VGM collaborated with Van Lanschot to present the interactive installation Van Gogh Blooms: seeing with a Japanese eye. The activation performed well at the annual SponsorRing awards, winning a bronze SponsorRing for the collaboration with Van Lanschot in the Art & Culture category. The presentation of the new Hyundai KONA, wrapped in the motif from Van Gogh’s Irises, was another striking activation. The vlog of a trip to Auvers-sur-Oise in the fully-electric car was watched more than 200,000 times online. On 21 June, the VGM handed out sunflowers to passers-by and visitors to the museum, in collaboration with Takii.

Tarkett and Takii USA both contributed to the Van Gogh Museum Editions Pop-up tour USA, and Tarkett contributed significantly to the sponsorship of the carpet in the museum’s new offices on Gabriël Metsustraat. Dümmen Orange sponsored the flowers during Van Gogh & JapanIn collaboration with partner SRC Reizen, a successful edition of the annual art trip was organised for members of The Yellow House to Essen, Hagen and Düsseldorf. SRC also organised a trip for members of The Sunflower Collection, who traced Vincent van Gogh’s footsteps when they visited Arles and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. The annual The Yellow House Dinner was organised in collaboration with Hotel De L’Europe and Bord’Eau Restaurant Gastronomique for the fourth year running. Hotel Okura Amsterdam provided the catering for the VIP opening of Van Gogh & Japan.

Funds and foundations

In 2018, the museum was once again generously supported by a range of funds and foundations. We are especially pleased with the extension of our partnership with the BankGiro Loterij. For the five years ahead, the BankGiro Loterij and the VGM will work towards further enhancing the museum collection. The Vincent van Gogh Foundation contributed generously to the acquisition of the prints by Pissarro. In 2017, Fonds 21 and the VGM launched a unique five-year collaboration to improve the diversity of VGM visitors. In a four-year learning pathway entitled Van Gogh Connects, we are exploring how the museum can become more relevant to young Amsterdam residents with a migrant background. The STU Foundation supported the museum in the Van Gogh Goes to School project, which aims to improve contact with schoolchildren in deprived neighbourhoods. For Van Gogh Meets: museum visits with activities and extra guidance (70+), the museum received support from Fonds Sluyterman van Loo and RCOAK. For Feeling Van Gogh, an interactive programme specially developed for blind and visually-impaired visitors and their sighted friends, family and companions, the museum received support from the Bartiméus Fonds. Through the Rembrandt Association and the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, the museum received curatorial grants for various research positions. Thanks to the AXA Research Fund, doctoral research is being conducted into discolouration in Van Gogh’s paintings. The PACCAR Foundation structurally supports technological aspects of the conservation studio.
The FIL Foundation contributed to research into the optimisation of the museum’s visitor capacity. The Van Gogh Museum is delighted with the support it received for the exhibition Van Gogh & Japan in 2018. The Blockbuster Fonds, the Turing Foundation and the Japan Foundation all supported this exhibition. At the Mesdag Collection, the exhibition Mesdag & Japan was supported by the Elise Mathilde Fonds. The exhibition The Sensation of the Sea was supported by the M.A.O.C. Gravin van Bylandt Foundation and the Van Ommeren-de Voogt Foundation.

Circles of friends

The museum is pleased to see its circles of friends thriving. Particularly The Sunflower Collective and The Yellow House made significant progress in 2018.

The Yellow House grew considerably, also on the international stage; the growth in member numbers was especially notable in Asia. The reading room in the new offices on Gabriël Metsustraat was supported by a gift from the Van Zadelhoff Fonds. In 2018, the members of The Yellow House contributed to the acquisition of 91 prints by Camille Pissarro. This year, the members of The Yellow House headed to Essen, Hagen and Düsseldorf, where they sought out German expressionism under the inspirational guidance of Axel Rüger and Edwin Becker.

Thanks to a successful Meet The Sunflower Collective event, held at the home of one of our benefactors, the collective welcomed several new members. The members of The Sunflower Collective contributed to the exhibition Van Gogh & Japan. The members of The Sunflower Collective followed in Van Gogh’s footsteps in Arles and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

During the exhibition Van Gogh & Japan, we witnessed notable growth in the number of Dutch members of Vincent’s Friends. We organised activities and events for our friends including a special Friends’ Evening and a day trip to Nuenen.