Report of the Board

Video report: Van Gogh Lives

2018 in short

We can reflect on another magnificent, successful year. In 2018, the Van Gogh Museum (hereinafter: VGM) welcomed 2,165,000 visitors. The majority of these visitors were Dutch. The percentage of visitors aged under 18 increased. Promoting the sale of online tickets with a start time helped us to ensure the best possible distribution of visitors throughout the day; 2018 was the year in which the infamous queues outside the VGM became a thing of the past. This resulted in a notable increase in visitor satisfaction; the Net Promotor Score rose from 58 in 2017 to 63 in 2018.

Japan was the focus of the first half of 2018. The unique exhibition Van Gogh & Japan, which featured loans from all around the world, offered an in-depth exploration of Vincent van Gogh’s fascination with a country that he never actually visited, but that he knew from his collection of prints. A detailed description of this collection and its history was presented both in a publication and on the museum website. Providing digital access to the collection of Japanese prints means that a new part of Van Gogh’s legacy is now accessible to a global audience.

2018 saw a renewed focus on Van Gogh’s letters, including in the Van Gogh Highlights – The Letters campaign. Visitors can browse through a selection of the best letters on the VGM website and listen to them in a podcast series. Such activities mean that, in addition to the local and global dimension, a digital dimension is increasingly being added to Van Gogh’s legacy – a dimension that will be further enhanced in the years ahead. The exponential growth in our social media fan base is proof of the progress being made in the digital sphere. The VGM has the most involved Facebook and Instagram followers in the international museum world.

Our Strategic Plan 2018-2020 outlines how we plan to fulfil other aspects of our mission and vision in the near future. There is still scope for us to continue growing; new areas of interest are constantly coming to light.


Van Gogh & Japan

The multifaceted, rich and compelling nature of Van Gogh’s art was once again revealed during Van Gogh & Japan (23 March to 24 June 2018), 2018’s blockbuster exhibition. This unique exhibition was officially opened by King Willem-Alexander during a celebratory event also attended by Ingrid van Engelshoven (Minister of Culture, Education and Science), Hiroshi Inomata (Ambassador of Japan to the Netherlands) and Jozias van Aartsen (Acting Mayor of Amsterdam). Van Gogh surrounded himself with Japanese prints, he copied them meticulously in his paintings and was inspired by their composition, form, colour, light and lines. He gradually succeeded in integrating the Japanese refinement into his distinctive style, a development that visitors could easily trace in the exhibition. A variety of Japanese prints was united with some 60 paintings by Van Gogh, including unique loans from museums and private collections all around the world. It was the first time that Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (1889, The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London) had gone on display in the Netherlands since 1930. Other highlights included Van Gogh’s Self-portrait (1888, Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Cambridge, MA) and Woman Rocking the Cradle (Augustine Roulin) (1889, The Art Institute of Chicago). Van Gogh & Japan received excellent reviews in the (inter)national press, and was even featured on the front page of The New York Times. The Dutch leg of the exhibition attracted approximately 430,000 visitors and secured one of the highest visitor ratings. The exhibition at the three locations in Japan (Tokyo, Kyoto and Sapporo) attracted a total of 750,000 visitors.

His Majesty the King, Senior Researcher Louis van Tilborgh and Director Axel Rüger | Photograph: Jan-Kees Steenman His Majesty the King, Senior Researcher Louis van Tilborgh and Director Axel Rüger | Photograph: Jan-Kees Steenman

Opening of Van Gogh & Japan | Photograph: Jan-Kees Steenman Opening of Van Gogh & Japan | Photograph: Jan-Kees Steenman

Gauguin & Laval in Martinique
This was the first time that the paintings made by Paul Gauguin and Charles Laval during their stay on the Caribbean island of Martinique were united in a single exhibition. The colourful work by the artist friends, contemporaries of Van Gogh, took centre stage in Gauguin & Laval in Martinique (5 October 2018 to 13 January 2019). The exhibition was complemented by three well-attended discussion evenings, in which themes associated with colonialism, language, colour and representation were debated. This series was part of Van Gogh Connects, a long-term learning pathway in which the museum explores how it can gain relevance to young adults (aged 18 to 30) with a migrant background.

Van Gogh Dreams
In the summer of 2018, the narrative installation Van Gogh Dreams: A journey through his mind opened at the museum (27 July 2018 to 13 January 2019). The installation transported visitors to Arles in the South of France, where Van Gogh stayed in 1888-1889. Combining light, audio and colour – including a field of 900 handmade glass sunflowers – the multimedia experience invites visitors to explore Van Gogh’s inner life. The installation offers visitors an emotionally-charged introduction to who Vincent was and how he experienced the world around him.

The Mesdag Collection
Coinciding with Van Gogh & Japan, the Mesdag Collection (hereinafter: TMC) presented Mesdag & Japan: Collecting the Far East (7 March to 17 June 2018). Located in The Hague, the museum – that is part of the Van Gogh Museum Foundation – displayed Hendrik Willem Mesdag and Sientje Mesdag-van Houten’s collection of Japanese decorative art, ranging from samurai swords to Satsuma earthenware vases. The exhibition also explored the influence of Japonism on art in The Hague.
In the autumn, TMC hosted The Sensation of the Sea: In honour of Bas Jan Ader (14 September 2018 to 6 January 2019), compiled by guest curator Joanna De Vos. The exhibition focused on the sea as a powerful imaginative force and the performance In Search of the Miraculous by Bas Jan Ader, who disappeared in 1975 during an attempt to sail cross the Atlantic Ocean. The Sensation of the Sea successfully proved how contemporary and 19th-century art can be combined and trigger fresh interpretations and perspectives.

2018 in numbers

Van Gogh Museum

2018 in numbers
2,161,160 visitors
66,644 schoolchildren
more than 6.7 million website visitors
4.7 million Facebook followers
more than 900,000 Instagram followers
456 new acquisitions in the Library
578 metres of books relocated
194 events and receptions for nearly 20,000 visitors
132 lessons on Van Gogh at schools in deprived neighbourhoods

The Sensation of the Sea | Photograph: Jan-Kees Steenman The Sensation of the Sea | Photograph: Jan-Kees Steenman

Collection and research

Van Gogh’s Japanese prints
The many Japanese prints that Van Gogh collected throughout his life are a key part of the VGM’s collection, but the account of this aspect of the artist’s legacy was in need of an update. In 2018, the MGIP Award-winning book Japanese Prints. The Collection of Vincent van Gogh was published, a fine addition to the catalogue accompanying Van Gogh & Japan. Authors Louis van Tilborgh, Chris Uhlenbeck and Shigeru Oikawa detail the composition of the collection, the influence of the prints on Van Gogh’s artistic development and his fascination with certain motifs, but also revised the traditional conception that Van Gogh collected the prints for pleasure. In fact, he acquired the highly popular prints with a view to trading them. High-quality images of the complete collection are available on

Following extensive scientific research conducted by the VGM, two drawings were added to Van Gogh’s oeuvre: The Hill of Montmartre with Stone Quarry (1886), in the collection of the Van Vlissingen Art Foundation, and The Hill of Montmartre (1886), a drawing in our own collection that was previously thought not to be by Van Gogh. The ascription was possible thanks to meticulous examination of the subject, style, technique and materials used, based on new reference material. Both drawings were on display in Impressionism & Beyond. A Wonderful Journey, an exhibition at Singer Laren (16 January to 27 May 2018).


The acquisition of 91 prints by Camille Pissarro was an outstanding addition to the VGM collection in the field of Impressionist printmaking. Pissarro was one of the most prominent, productive and inventive representatives of the genre. He put research and experimentation first and foremost, believing that the process of creating the prints was more important than the ultimate result. Pissarro created different versions of each composition, using a range of techniques and materials such as wire brushes, sandpaper and copper daguerreotype plates. The acquired collection, which offers a representative overview of Pissarro’s oeuvre, includes countless unique and sought-after works, including a self-portrait of the artist that is reminiscent of the self-portrait of the aged Rembrandt. To Van Gogh, Pissarro was ‘Père Pissarro’, a huge source of inspiration. The prints were acquired with support from the BankGiro Loterij, the Vincent van Gogh Foundation and the members of The Yellow House. A selection of the prints was exhibited at the museum from 1 March to 26 May 2019.

Marketing and public affairs

Fan base
2018, the VGM welcomed 2,161,160 visitors. The largest group (more than 15%) of visitors were Dutch. The percentage of visitors aged under 18 increased. Promoting the sale of online tickets with a start time ensured the best possible distribution of visitors throughout the day and meant that the queues outside the museum on Museumplein became a thing of the past. VGM enthusiasts are highly involved. Year after year, this is reflected not only in the visitor numbers, but also in the interest in our online activities – interest that grew exponentially in the past year.

The museum has the world’s most involved fan base on Facebook and Instagram. The number of followers on Instagram doubled to more than 900,000, and engagement increased dramatically from 4 to 9.1 million. The museum has more than 1.6 million fans on Twitter and our Facebook pages have a combined total of more than 4.7 million followers. The VGM website was visited more than 6.7 million times: a new record. Online interest was primarily focused on Van Gogh & Japan, the Van Gogh Highlights – The Letters campaign, the collaboration with fashion brand Vans and Van Gogh’s 165th birthday on 30 March 2018, which was celebrated with online activities including the #VanGoghCelebrates campaign and the creation of Van Gogh Inspires, an inspiration community on Facebook.
The VGM is in the international top-five of art museums in terms of social media reach, joined by the Museum of Modern Art, the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Saatchi Gallery. This dominant position was emphasised by #SunflowersLIVE, the captivating Facebook-based virtual exhibition of the five Sunflowers paintings spread all around the world – in Amsterdam, London, Munich, Philadelphia and Tokyo – being lauded as the most innovative social media project at The Best Social Awards.

Visitor waiting area, winter peak period 2017 | Photograph: Jort Slingerland Visitor waiting area, winter peak period 2017 | Photograph: Jort Slingerland

Visitor waiting area, summer peak period 2018 | Photograph: Jort Slingerland Visitor waiting area, summer peak period 2018 | Photograph: Jort Slingerland

Van Gogh’s legacy extends beyond his paintings and drawings. The artist’s impressive correspondence is also part of the museum’s collection. In the past year, a selection of 65 of the more than 800 letters, primarily written by Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo, have been published on our website in Dutch and English: In contrast to the academic variant, this site is designed for use by a wider audience: to browse, highlight passages and subsequently share them on social media. The letters are an important source for everyone looking to get better acquainted with Van Gogh, both the artist and the man behind the paintings. But considered more simply as letters, they are still worth a read: they are inspirational and moving, because they touch upon recognisable, universal themes.
The launch of the interactive website was promoted with the Van Gogh Highlights – The Letters campaign. The museum collaborated with Radiomakers Desmet to create a podcast series in which Dutch actors, authors and musicians (including Adriaan van Dis, Loes Luca, Akwasi and Nazmiye Oral) recited their favourite passages from the 140-year-old letters and explained how Van Gogh’s words move them. Quotes from the letters were projected on pavements throughout the Netherlands, on Museumplein and on streets bearing Van Gogh’s name. The podcast series is available for free on

Brand passport
All of our activities stem from our conviction that Van Gogh and his works are still very much full of life. This notion underpins the VGM’s global communications. The VGM is a universal brand, and all of the museum’s activities and communications contribute to strengthening the brand. It is for good reason that the words ‘personal’, ‘enterprising’, ‘authentic’ and ‘colourful’ characterise the VGM’s brand personality. We communicate this identity with a so-called Guiding Idea, in our case, through short, active tag lines such as Van Gogh Meets, Van Gogh Connects and Van Gogh Travels. These ‘hooks’ indicate what we think is important and what we do as an animated, contemporary museum that is always developing.
In the past year, we recorded these fundamentals in our Brand Passport, Van Gogh Lives. Every aspect of the Van Gogh Museum brand, as – despite our wide range of activities – we want to remain recognisable and comprehensible, both within the museum and to external parties. The Brand Passport explains to VGM staff who we are, what we stand for, and who we are here for, and contains clear guidelines for safeguarding and promoting our brand identity. The Brand Passport is published in the VGM’s corporate identity, thereby concluding the project linked to our new visual identity.


Loving Vincent

The renown of Van Gogh and his legacy reaches all around the world, even into Hollywood. Loving Vincent being nominated for an Oscar in the category of Best Animated Feature Film was certainly a memorable moment in the VGM’s history. Director Axel Rüger attended the celebratory Oscars ceremony in California on 4 March 2018, together with film directors Hugh Welchman and Dorota Kobiela. Although it did not win the Oscar, the world’s first fully-painted animated feature film proved to be a firm public favourite. Loving Vincent is an artwork in itself and an homage to an artist who will continue to inspire future generations.

Van Gogh Museum Enterprises

Pop-up tour
The VGM is constantly seeking new ways of introducing the life and work of Vincent van Gogh to people all around the world. 2018 saw the launch of the Van Gogh Museum Editions Pop-up tour. This interactive tour initially visited prominent shopping malls in the United States: in 2018, the tour was in Philadelphia and Short Hills; in 2019, it will be heading to Houston. The primary aim of the pop-up is to stimulate sales of the Van Gogh Museum Editions and merchandise, to generate revenue for the museum. The tour also introduces the American audience to Van Gogh’s oeuvre with the help of the Editions: high-quality 3D reproductions of Van Gogh’s paintings that are difficult to tell from the original with the naked eye. The colours, light and brushstrokes have been reproduced as accurately as possible. The Van Gogh Museum Editions Pop-up tour is supported by Samsung, Takii and Desso.

Vans x Van Gogh Museum
The VGM believes in the power of its brand and looks for opportunities to further enhance it through collaboration with inspirational partners: contemporary artists, strong brands and organisations that offer added value. The collaboration with iconic American brand Vans is a prime example of success in this field. The partnership generated an exclusive collection of shoes, shirts, hoodies and backpacks featuring images of a selection of Van Gogh masterpieces and lesser-known works. The Vans x Van Gogh Museum collection was a resounding success – most items sold out in no time. As a result of the collaboration, Vans’ slogan ‘Off the Wall’ was given fresh meaning. After all, Van Gogh’s paintings leap from the wall and make a contemporary, daring entrance into street culture.

Vans x Van Gogh Museum Vans x Van Gogh Museum


Strategic Plan
Van Gogh aspires. Strategic Plan 2018-2020 is the title of the Van Gogh Museum’s new Strategic Plan, which follows on from the Strategic Plan 2014-2017. The plan determines the direction in which the museum wishes to proceed, and guides the museum’s policy and activities. Our mission remains the guiding principle underpinning all that we (aspire to) do: ‘The Van Gogh Museum makes the life and work of Vincent van Gogh and the art of his time accessible and reaches as many people as possible in order to enrich and inspire them’.
The VGM is leading, strives for excellence and is inspiring. These core values are of paramount importance in the corporate culture, the positioning of the museum in the international art landscape, in fulfilling our primary objective, in business operations and in our relationships with each other, our visitors and our partners all around the world. On a day-to-day basis, the sectors of Museum Affairs, Public Affairs, Operations and Van Gogh Museum Enterprises BV (hereinafter: VGME) are jointly responsible for realising and implementing our primary objective.
Van Gogh aspires outlines the ambitions and areas of interest upon which the museum will focus in the years ahead, spread throughout the organisation, and covering social, art historical, technological, operational and commercial concerns. In the plan, the VGM’s activities and thought processes are consistently categorised in three marketing dimensions: local, global and digital.
This Strategic Plan covers the period up until 2020, but 2023 is another major point on the horizon – the year in which the VGM will celebrate its golden jubilee, a significant milestone for the museum.

Privacy legislation

The VGM is obliged to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (hereinafter: GDPR), which came into effect within the European Union on 25 May 2018. Roughly speaking, this new legislation bolsters and builds upon privacy rights while handing more responsibilities to organisations. The processing of personal data and digital information (IP addresses, cookies) is strictly regulated, partly to help prevent data leaks. Organisations are required to provide transparency regarding how they view, save, store, analyse, combine and delete data. The museum’s privacy statement applicable to visitors and other relations from whom we process personal data is available on TMC has its own privacy statement, which is available on The VGM is committed to fully complying with the GDPR. When collaborating with other parties, we always use a so-called processing agreement, drafted in accordance with official GDPR guidelines. In 2018, a Privacy Officer was appointed, and a Privacy Committee was established. The Data Driven Marketing Association (DDMA) has audited the VGM’s marketing activities, and awarded the museum its ‘Privacy Guarantee’.

Information security

It is not only important to treat third-party data with care, it is equally vital that we sufficiently protect our own corporate information and information systems. Rapid technological development and digitisation go hand in hand with numerous risks and new types of cyber criminality. In the past year, the VGM has invested in various means of improving its information security. Based on the ISO 27001 information security standard, (behavioural) controls were established and measures taken. Assisted by a feedback group, a staff awareness programme was launched. The museum has also established an Information Security Committee, which advises VGM colleagues and, where needed, investigates how information security can be improved.

New offices
In late January 2018, museum staff relocated to the new offices close to the VGM. The sympathetically restored building at Gabriël Metsustraat 8 was built in 1907 as a domestic science school and designed by J.H.W. Leliman. Many original elements of the building have been retained. The interior design – such as the colour scheme – has been used to link the building to the world of Van Gogh. The resulting building – which has been awarded BREEAM-NL sustainability certification – offers high-quality surroundings befitting of the status and character of the museum, and where our staff enjoy working.

Entrance to Gabriël Metsustraat 8 | Photograph: Jan-Kees Steenman Entrance to Gabriël Metsustraat 8 | Photograph: Jan-Kees Steenman

Relocation of the Library
The VGM Library also relocated to Gabriël Metsustraat 8, moving into the heart of our organisation – in line with the ideas of Vincent Willem van Gogh, Vincent van Gogh’s nephew and the founder of the VGM. The new building therefore also has a semi-public function. Located next to the entrance, the study room is open to the public. The reading room was realised with support from the Van Zadelhoff Fonds.



Seeing with a Japanese Eye (video) Museums in Short Award
Anita Vriend (Information Specialist) Kress Award to European Librarians from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation
Facebook live streams #SunflowersLIVE AVICOM award and The Best Social Award
Japanese Prints. The Collection of Vincent van Gogh (publication) MGIP award
Accessibility De Zonnebloem plaquette
Cas Boland (Head of Marketing) Digital Marketing Professional of the Year 2018
Loving Vincent (film) Oscar nomination
Van Gogh Blooms: seeing with a Japanese eye (sponsor case with Van Lanschot) SponsorRing (bronze)


Van Gogh Europe
Van Gogh aspires, inspires, illuminates, connects… In short: Van Gogh lives. All around the world, people of all ages are delving into his life and work. This undiminishing interest in Van Gogh underpins our existence and represents perpetual acknowledgement of our mission. However, the VGM does not stand alone: Van Gogh Europe is a network of some 30 partner institutions in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and England, working together to offer access to the many places where Van Gogh lived and worked. The network’s efforts allow travellers and holidaymakers to retrace Van Gogh’s footsteps. And they enjoy doing so, as was proved by the follow-up campaign to #FollowVanGogh on Facebook and Instagram.


It is impossible for us to overemphasise how important the generous contributions from private benefactors, sponsors, corporate partners, funds and foundations are to the museum and how grateful we are for their donations and commitment. They support the realisation of exhibitions such as Van Gogh & Japan, but also facilitate major acquisitions, unique educational activities and the Van Gogh Museum Editions Pop-up tour in the United States. We greatly appreciate the support of current main partners the BankGiro Loterij and Van Lanschot, but also of our other partners, both large and small.

In this respect, we would like to explicitly mention the generosity of the BankGiro Loterij. During the Goed Geld Gala 2018 at Singer Laren on 20 February, the VGM, Rijksmuseum, Mauritshuis and Kröller-Müller Museum were presented with a joint cheque for € 7,259,052. The VGM also received support totalling € 124,144 from designated contributions.

We reflect on another exciting and successful year for the museum, alive with enjoyable collaborations – both within the museum and with our valued partners. We would like to extend our special thanks to the members of the Vincent van Gogh Foundation, owner of the majority of the VGM collection, for their continued trust and support. We also thank the Supervisory Board and the Advisory Council for their involvement and dedication. And finally, we thank all VGM staff for their enthusiasm and commitment, which underpinned another inspirational year with countless successful activities.


Axel Rüger                             

Adriaan Dönszelmann
Managing Director