a. Plaque at Hendrick Hamelstraat 8-22, location of Van Gogh’s studios at Schenkweg 136-138. 

b. Residential tower, on my way back to the centre.  

c. d. Royal Academy of Art. 


1. Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten, Nienke Bakker (eds.) (2009), Vincent van Gogh - The Letters. Version: January 2020. Amsterdam & The Hague: Van Gogh Museum & Huygens ING. Letter 741

2. Van Gogh Route, “Art Academy, The Hague, the Netherlands”,

3. Van Gogh Museum, “Hospitalization”, Van Gogh Museum.

012. THE HAGUE | THE NETHERLANDS | 23/11/20 

The Royal Academy

I stay, just for a moment, and look at the spot where Van Gogh’s studio once was. At the building that’s there now, the apartment block, the ground-floor ‘balconies’ with their plastic deckchairs and fake flowers, the radios, the empty water jugs, empty beer crates. The ghost of a very warm, very long summer. I imagine I can hear its echoes, the crack of cans opening, the chatter, music through tinny speakers, the flow of water into small inflatable pools.  

Today, I can only hear the vague timbre of a man’s voice, talking to someone on the phone, pauses in between the phrases. I squint and watch as a train passes in the distance, yellow and blue against the blue-white of the sky. I turn around and look again at the plaque affixed to the wall, right next to the front door. Van Gogh’s face against a backdrop of sunflowers.

Were the man alive today, and able to see how almost every homage to him is accompanied by the image of a sunflower, would he have grown tired of it, as I have at times? Not of the flower itself, which Van Gogh famously claimed as his own in a letter to Theo: ‘You know that Jeannin has the peony, Quost has the hollyhock, but I have the sunflower, in a way.’1 But would he, like me, get annoyed at the clichéd ease with which the two are put together constantly? 

I consult the list I’ve made, and walk back towards the centre of the city, the station. To my left, the skyscrapers resembling plastic blocks, bizarrely modern, and to my right, the tower, a cylinder with square windows. I can see curtains, closed and open, T-shirts, sheets of paper against the glass - children’s drawings? I remember the horror of even reading about it, a tower like this on fire.


I’m on my way to the Royal Academy of Art. Van Gogh went here several times to see works by artists such as Jozef Israëls, Anton Mauve, Jacob Maris, and Jan Hendrik Weissenbruch.2 A photograph of the building as it was then shows a classical portico, men in top hats and long coats posing at the front steps. That one was torn down in 1937, and in its place now stands a straight, square modernist building with what looks like students - all of them women - on the steps in front of the entrance. The canal’s the same, the water, but nothing else is.

It took me ten minutes to walk from Van Gogh’s studio to the academy. I imagine Van Gogh managed it in five, or even less: there’s a manic energy in his letters, emerging from every account of his life. It’s there in the bare statistics of his productivity: in the year he spent in the clinic in Saint-Rémy, when it might be reasonable to say that he was at his lowest, Van Gogh completed around 150 paintings.3

Christ, with everything that's been going on this past year, the virus most of all, I can just about manage one blog post a week, and my efforts on social media have been, at best, sporadic.

I check the clock, one of those square, old-fashioned, analogue ones that are a staple of Dutch train stations. A quarter to twelve. Time enough, then, to take a look at some of the shops where Van Gogh bought his drawing supplies. I walk on.

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© Viola van de Sandt, 2021.