Arts and design

Night with Van Gogh in Amsterdam

As we await the start, in October, of the year of festivities to celebrate Amsterdam’s 750th anniversary, the city’s five-star hotels are upping their game. None more so than the venerable De L’Europe, which stands at the confluence of the Amstel river and two canals since 1896 and has just undergone a five-year renovation.

If the original building still has a timeless look and feel – quiet, elegant, palm-filled and still pleasingly beautiful, thanks to a serious plan made by the center of Amsterdam fashion studio Nicemakers – its new wing is close to design with a capital D. In fact, this transformation of the old bank is so different that it has been given its name, ‘t Huys, the old spelling Dutch for house.

Each of its 14 suites is a collaboration with an Amsterdam designer or brand, among them furniture designers Kokke House (whose pieces can be found in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and New York’s Museum of Modern Art), the Ravestijn photography studio, and the Dutch publication Harper’s. Bazaar.

De L’Europe watershed, where the Amstel river and two canals meet © Andy Tan

For example, champion couturier and performance support Ronald van der Kemp – whose label RVDK is worn by Celine Dion, Lady Gaga and Michelle Obama, among others – has created a house that wants white with an undeniable wow factor: a small bedroom dominated by a large room. a bed made of textiles and a living room painted in pictures of her dresses and hung with real models.

On the other hand, two sisters born in Curaçao, Tisja and Ziarah Janssen, together with their pottery mother and furniture maker father, have built a red room that feels like something in between of the outgoing set. Barbarella and the womb.

GM200410_24X HH Amsterdam map

Subscribe to some of them, and you’ll be given an “experience” too. For example, stay in an artful, daylight riverfront apartment named after jeweler Bibi van der Velden, and be invited to visit her studio or, even better, have her staff come to you, as well as a selection of his charming and cleverly designed works of art to try.

However, I was assigned to the Van Gogh Museum Suite. “It will be like being inside his head,” said one member of the hospitality team, not encouraging at all. (Inside the door of the suite hangs a picture of his oil painting “Vestibule in Asylum”, made at the Saint-Rémy hospital where he entered the year before he committed suicide.)

‘Wheatfield with Reaper’ is displayed on the ceiling of the Van Gogh Museum Suite. . . © James Stokes
. . . one of several copies of the artist’s works and letters dotted around the suite © James Stokes

But then “immersion” is what the world’s most famous 19th century artist is talking about these days. More than 5mn people have paid to lose them Van Gogh: An Immersive Experiencea digital “extravaganza” that includes 360-degree projections of his paintings on 1,000 sq m of screens and VR headsets, which has been touring the world since 2017 and continues in 17 cities, from Atlanta to Seoul.

Even London’s normally reticent National Gallery will mark its 200th anniversary this year with a Van Gogh exhibition that promises “swirling clouds”, “moving” trees and the chance to “walk under ‘a starry night”.

However, the room is sombre, its gray walls hung with illustrated letters to his art dealer brother and patron Theo, and a painting (“Landscape with Houses and Woman with Spade”) , all written like they belong in a museum. .

The living room is filled with a yellow carved desk inspired by the furniture of Dutch Modernist Gerrit Rietveld, architect of Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum. This was opened in 1973 and contains 205 paintings, over 500 paintings and 800 letters, most of them donated by Theo’s son. His dream was “to share them with the world”, the current family members, Vincent Willem van Gogh, museum consultant, writes in a letter that wishes to “live in an inspiring way”.

The Flore, the hotel’s two Michelin star restaurant

The museum has been closely involved in the decoration of the institution, not least by providing letters and pictures from “print copies” certified by the curator. To the untrained eye, these are indistinguishable from the real thing. Perhaps the greatest privilege that comes with living here is the opportunity to scrutinize them, especially the facsimiles, every stain, tear and loose thread as they are in the original, of the books. The remaining four of the artist, the set sells for €. 22,750, including a special Rietveld-inspired walnut-and-aluminum cuboid cabinet that houses them.

Elsewhere there is a modern desk with a stack of Van Gogh books, and a table on which are placed two bottles of Absente Absinthe 55 and four glasses.

There is little hint that the gift shop has been raided: the coffee maker’s cups are printed with Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” and there is an “Almond Blossom” rug in the bathroom. But a knock on the door signaled the arrival of several white-gloved workers who proceeded to hang – very low – a full-sized, convincing copy of “Sunflowers ” on the wall behind the desk.

Visitors are offered “Landscape at Twilight” or “The Bedroom” as alternatives, but I wanted to test the artist’s statement that “it gets bigger the more you look at it”. (It does: Theo had a point when he likened it to “satin and gold”.)

Put a clever pattern on the Van Gogh-inspired wallpaper, which is almost blue on the walls of the “Bedroom”, there are no pictures in the bedroom until you get far from the bed,’ and you turn on the “Wheat Field with the Reaper” that appears on the ceiling.

Lasting for a few minutes, it slowly fades into an absinthe-green landscape, purple-headed hills and golden grains swirling very close to Remko Kühne’s distorted piano solo.

De L’Europe Guest Houses. . .
. . . convey the splendor of the original 19th century building

Briefly change to lying down and looking up. But I wondered about the choice of painting, because as Van Gogh wrote to Theo, the vision is what he saw “through the iron bars of the isolation cell” in the Saint-Rémy asylum. “For Vincent,” reads what is written in the catalog of the museum, “it was the image of death, whose humanity was symbolized by the wheat being reaped.” Sweet dreams then!

However, I didn’t learn that much that night at the hotel. And the remaining “bedtime story” card was about Helene Kröller-Möller, who collected 88 Van Gogh paintings, which are now housed in a museum called Otterlo, 80km east of Amsterdam.

I haven’t eaten at the hotel’s two-star restaurant Flore, but I really enjoyed dinner at its Brasserie Marie, a local favorite, thanks to its affordable menu (hors d’oeuvres from €5, mains from €24), strong on seafood (sea urchin with mussels and mushrooms; skate with artichoke, mussels, oysters and shrimps; lamb with razor clams), and the waterfront that surrounds the building.

Tisja and Ziarah Janssen’s all-red-womb-style ‘Barbarella’-style suite © James Stokes
The minimalist almost all-white suite designed by Ronald van der Kemp © James Stokes

Its location, too, is something of an institution. Named after Freddy’s, by Alfred Heineken, who bought the hotel in the 1950s and whose descendants of the brewery continue to own it, it has also been changed, although it still feels that way. in an old Dutch brown bar serving croquettes and Heineken. (Maybe it’s a setup, but I swear it tastes better than the one brewed in the UK.)

And it is in this sense that the hotel is still family-owned and operates independently which gives the ability to create unusual relationships and take risks.

On my way out, I wandered into t’s Huys’s new concept store, IN-HUYS, a storehouse of beautiful things by Dutch designers, including several with suites named after them. My eye was caught by a display of hats. Called Akavi, it was created by Nicola Vignini, an employee of the bustling trattoria downstairs in ‘t Huys who also makes clothes and sews on the side. It makes me happy that the hotel encourages and supports its employees like this.

But then a happy, appreciative team – and the staff, many of whom have worked here for decades, are good – that’s what makes a good hotel, and De L’Europe is one I always enjoy staying at. it. Memories of Van Gogh’s psychosis, however, is a fun and exciting place to be.


Claire Wrathall was a Eurostar passenger ( and Hotel De L’Europe ( Doubles at De L’Europe start from €459; The Van Gogh Suite starts at €1,499, including two entry tickets to the Van Gogh Museum.

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