Rijksmuseum – Part 1

This blog will be in two parts as there’s so much to say about this incredible museum that I felt that was the only way to write my review.

I recently visited the Rijksmuseum during a trip to Amsterdam and discovered a fantastic museum which houses the Dutch national collection of art and objects. The collection was originally housed in The Hague and moved to Amsterdam in 1808 when it was housed in the Royal Palace at Dam Square. The building you see today was designed by the Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers and it opened in 1885 specifically to house this collection. It was not universally loved when it opened and many people thought it too medieval in design and not Dutch enough. Following many changes and additions to the building over the years it recently underwent a ten year refurbishment and reopened in 2013. You now enter via a 21st century entrance hall with state of the art shops, café, audio tour hire and free wifi throughput the building. A mobile phone charging station was also available – impressive and useful.

The collection covers 800 years of Dutch art and history, spread around 80 rooms, and you enter the collection on the second floor through the impressive Cuypers designed Great Hall with its stained glass windows. This leads into the Hall of Honour and that is a truly impressive space. Fabulous paintings by artists including Vermeer, Hals and Steen on either side lead down to the iconic painting by Rembrandt now known as Night Watch. Although the Museum was very busy it was always possible to view the most famous paintings after a short wait. Nothing quite prepares you for how large The Night Watch itself is. It is intelligently displayed and surrounded by similar paintings of similar subjects by Rembrandt’s contemporaries. This allows you to see how innovative Rembrandt’s work was, how his painting was full of movement and more dynamic than the static portrayals by other artists.

This second floor showcases the Dutch Golden Age of the seventeenth century when the Netherlands broke away from Spanish rule following the Eighty Years’ War and began to circumnavigate the world, excelling in trade, science and art. You pass through galleries containing Dutch paintings, many of which you will recognise including the portrait of Gerard Bicker, the son of a wealthy trader who is extremely overweight. There is a comprehensive look at Dutch maritime history, including ship models, as well as furniture and Delftware – the recognisable blue and white pottery made in and around Delft in the Netherlands. On the other side of the Hall of Honour you find smaller galleries with small intimate portraits by artists including Gerard Dou, Gerard Ter Borch and Gabriel Metsu.

Returning down to the first floor the timeline continues with Dutch art from the eighteenth century which shows the influences of the French court at Versailles as well as still lifes by artists including Rachel Ruysch and Jan Van Huysum. There is also a beautiful portrait of his wife by the artist Jean Etienne Liotard, who currently has an exhibition which is touring the UK.

The timeline then takes you to the nineteenth century with some fine examples of paintings by The Hague School including works by Maris, Mauve and Jozef Israels. The Hague School consisted of a group of Dutch painters who worked in and around The Hague towards the end of the nineteenth century and specialised in producing realistic images of local landscapes and people as opposed to the romantic idealised images of the past. Their work is similar in style to the French Barbizon School and the Glasgow Boys. Also look out for a stunning self portrait of Vincent Van Gogh on this floor.

On this first floor you will also see signs for a library which, if you are a book lover like myself, you should definitely take a peek into. It is one of the most beautiful rooms in the museum and is available for visitors to use for research and information on the collections. This floor also holds the Asian Pavilion which contains art and objects from China, Japan, India and Indonesia, reflecting the global reach of the Dutch in this period.

Heading down to the ground floor I found the Medieval and Renaissance art, my favourite period of art history. Here I discovered a beautiful portrait of Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579) accompanied by a portrait of his wife, and both by the Dutch artist Anthonis Mor. I had never come across either Gresham or the artist but it turns out that Gresham was a leading English merchant who was based in Antwerp for much of his career and, influenced by the Bourse in Antwerp, set up the first trading house in London, now known as the Royal Exchange which also incorporated the first shopping mall with stalls selling goods also housed within the building. The artist Mor was a much in demand portraitist and court painter to the Spanish king. This portrait is technically brilliant, almost photographic in quality, and Sir Thomas looks as though he may stand up from his chair and leave the painting. You get a real sense of his wealth and self-assurance. I would definitely recommend this portrait as a highlight of the Museum. For me, one of the exciting things about museums and galleries is discovering something or someone new which makes you want to find out more. The Thomas Gresham portrait was one of those things. I’m also grateful to some of my Twitter followers who provided me with links to further information on Gresham.

In Part 2 I’ll cover the remainder of the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries, the upper floors and the fabulous exhibition of Miro sculpture in the outside gardens.

Don’t Miss

  • Night Watch by Rembrandt
  • The Milkmaid by Vermeer
  • Portrait of Thomas Gresham by Mor

Insider Information

  • Download the App before you go. It’s free and a comprehensive tour of the building which sits nicely alongside your guide book. If you don’t have access to Apps you can hire the App when you arrive.
  • The shop and café stay open for an hour after the museum closes so you can view art until closing time knowing you can satisfy those museum shop cravings for a whole extra hour!