Saturday, 1 March 2014

Rijksmuseum Revisited

2013_NLD_F2_0625One of my favourite paintings is De Nachtwacht by Rembrandt, and it is on display at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Not surprisingly, I have probably visited the Rijksmuseum a half-a-dozen times over the years, just to see this painting. While the Rijksmuseum is not "new" to me, it was "new" on this trip, because after a 10-year long renovation, the full museum had just re-opened. Previously, only a small part of the museum was open to visitors, and only a portion of the collection was on display.

I wasn't the only one who wanted to get in to see what 10 years of work looked like. There were two lines queued for over an hour before the museum opened. These were not short lines, either; they wrapped back around the building and onto the main street! As with all of my blog posts, you can click on any image to see a better, higher resolution version of the photo.

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While waiting to get into the building, I noticed that the brickwork on the exterior walls was remarkably intricate. The colours were strong and crisp. With this sort of attention to detail, I can see why the renovations took so long.

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Once inside, I was surprised to see yet another line, this one for entrance tickets.

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With ticket in hand, I encountered yet a third line, this one for admission to the exhibits!

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It appeared that the increase in floor space was exceeded by the increase in visitors, so the "visitor density" was much, much higher than what I had previously experienced. I was now thinking about how hard it is to see the Mona Lisa in the Louvre - the painting is tiny and the large crowd that is always gathered around the painting makes it impossible to see. With this in mind, I was worried I wouldn't get to see my beloved Night Watch! I scurried upstairs to the room where it was hanging, and sure enough, there was a crowd in front of it.

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Unlike the Mona Lisa, the Night Watch is a huge painting, so I was able to get a full view of it, albeit from the side.

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The renovations added back a lot of exhibit space, so there were quite a few new (to me) paintings that I got to see, and not all of them had huge crowds around them. Like the Banquet of the Amsterdam Civic Guard in Celebration of the Peace of M√ľnster by Bartholomeus van der Helst. I also quite liked the paint that the renovators selected for the walls. I found it to be very complimentary to the exhibits.

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It was great to be able to get up close and look at the detail. In today's terms, we call this "pixel peeping".

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When you "pixel peep", you never know what you are going to find. In the details of another painting, I saw a small Dutch boy playing "hockey" on a canal. I suspect it wasn't hockey proper, but rather bandy, that the boy was playing.


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While the details in the paintings were stunning, the workmanship of the restoration was no less so. It is a work of art in its own right.

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The renovation project also restored the research library and the reading room. Stepping inside, I closed my eyes. I imagined the sounds I heard were no different than what I would have heard when the room was first opened in 1885: the soft sounds of people trying to be quiet. Hushed words; careful, measured steps; the sounds of a door being slowly opened and then closed equally carefully.

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I opened my eyes and was sharply back in the present. I saw a lot of bowed heads as people actively engaged their modern electronics-based information sources, while in the background, the old-fashioned paper-based sources of information were slowly succumbing to entropy.

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I was also struck by the fact that these were people of my own generation: people who grew up with libraries but not the smartphones they were now using. I suspect that a study of the noise in this room will reveal a large difference in behaviour between my generation and today's generation. The former were taught to be as quiet and as respectful of others as possible in a library, while the latter's idea of research is to swill hot beverages in a noisy coffee shop while pounding away on a phone or laptop and gossiping with their neighbor.


After the long wait to enter the museum, the ease and speed of leaving it was somewhat anticlimactic! But as I was walking out the back door, I saw a two-tone Iamsterdam sign, with people playing on it.

As if to support the idea that opposites attract, people wearing darker clothes seemed to hang around the light-toned letters, whereas people wearing lighter clothes seemed to hang off of the darker-toned letters. I also noticed that wearing thong underwear with low-rider jeans is not a good idea!

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I have always recommended that visitors to Amsterdam should go see the Rijksmuseum. Now that the museum is fully open, I will bump my recommendation up to a strongly recommended.


All the posts from my trip to the Netherlands are here:

House of Oranje
Koninginnedag
Postcards from Kuekenhof
Rijksmuseum
Train Stations
More Museums
Dutch (S)Treat
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