20 May 2022 - 04 Sep 2022

Colour as Language

Van Gogh Museum


Etel Adnan often took landscape as a starting point for her art. Like Van Gogh, she sought to convey the power of nature on the canvas with a colour palette and painting style all of her own.

Adnan felt, just like Vincent once again, that her paintings bridge the limitations of language. She found a visual idiom in her art that transcends cultural boundaries.

The emphasis in Colour as Language is on Adnan’s paintings. Her landscapes – frequently simplified and with intense colours and abstract forms – enter a dialogue with several works by Van Gogh. The exhibition also includes her ‘leporello’ works, the concertina-style books for which Adnan is known, as well as tapestries and literature.

Adnan’s unique life story features too. She moved between different cultures and languages for the best part of a century. The implications of growing up with a multicultural background are explored: how did it shape her life and resonate in her art?

Art, literature and poetry

Etel Adnan (1925–2021) was 87 when her paintings made their breakthrough, by which time she had also built an international reputation with her literary prose and poetry. Adnan was an unconventional, intriguing artist, philosopher, writer, painter and activist. She grew up in Beirut, studied in Paris and California, and spent years living and working in the two latter places.

Adnan died on 14 November 2021 at the age of 96, just as this retrospective at the Van Gogh Museum was being prepared.

Colour as Language video series

The Colour as Language video series explores the theme of the exhibition from four different perspectives. How do architect Afaina de Jong, master pâtissier Hidde de Brabander, fashion stylist Thomas Vermeer and ReFramer (Beeldbreker) Ahmed Batman use colour and language in their work? And how do the works and life stories of Etel Adnan and Vincent van Gogh inspire them in what they do?

Multimedia guide

Etel Adnan’s depiction of nature is colourful and personal. The special multimedia guide accompanying this exhibition invites you to discover more about her work and life. Find out how Adnan used art and colour to transcend the limitations of language. And discover what the art of Van Gogh and Adnan has in common.

In this multimedia guide, the Van Gogh Museum’s ReFramers offer their personal take on several works in the exhibition.

Book your multimedia guide for € 3 (€ 3.50 from 1 July 2022) while booking your ticket online.

Guided tour

Book a guided tour and discover the similarities between Etel Adnan and Vincent van Gogh (available until 4 September 2022).

Painting workshops

Get to work with paint and brush! Etel Adnan and Vincent van Gogh both had great admiration for nature. But they both painted nature in a different way. How does nature inspire you? Children’s workshops are on Saturdays, and workshops for adults are on Sundays.

Press release from Van Gogh Museum 

Amsterdam, Netherlands