June 15, 2013

Amsterdam Diary: Visiting the newly opened Rijksmuseum is worth the stopover (and the day)

Inside the Rijksmuseum bike tunnel
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-chief

SUNDAY, Amsterdam - Saturday morning I avoided getting lost cycling through Amsterdam by using the Google maps I had printed out before I'd left home. I stopped by De Bakkerswinkel for thick buttered raisin bread and a latte for breakfast -- a crucial element as the newly renovated Rijksmuseum has only one cafe for food and drinks. A section inside is set aside for "picknicks" so visitors can bring in food and water (I never found any water fountains).

Crowd at Rembrandt's
 Night Watch extends all day
Visitors do have the option of leaving for outside venders and then re-entering the museum on the same ticket. I stopped for food and drink at about 1 p.m. after completing the 90-minute Multimedia Tour on the "Golden Age" of Dutch art (it took me twice the time since I looked at other works in passing). The line at the cafe was long, so I returned to the galleries for another audio tour that highlighted the collection. I spent another two hours looking at the art before returning to a less crowded cafe for a seat at a communal table and a recommended smoked mackerel tartare. The Rijksmuseum does accommodate long visits in the museum with plentiful sofas strategically placed in front of great art for relaxing views.

The crowd in front of the Vermeer paintings
The renovated Rijksmuseum offers improved lighting (large skylights augmented by lights by Phillips) and more room to display the collection. The crowds have increased in front of the four paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt's Night Watch, and three paintings by Van Gogh. A couple of years ago on a Sunday morning my family and I had found ourselves almost alone with these same paintings. However, the galleries are well ventilated and climate controlled and a visible force of smartly uniformed security guards manage the increased number of visitors. I did manage to sneak a few good photographs of the Vermeer paintings and Rembrandt's masterpiece in the last 15 minutes before the museum closed.

Jan Asselijn (1610-1652),
The Threatened Swan, 1650
The art is incredible. In Southern California we have numerous examples of Rembrandt's work from The Getty to the Timken Museum in San Diego, but the artist's work at the Rijksmuseum against other great Dutch work highlights his genius. It's worth the trip to Amsterdam to gain a greater understanding of why Rembrandt has endured -- even the few etchings displayed are impressive -- and influenced so many artists.

Biblioteek open to public
One of the benefits of the renovation is that lesser known works can again be displayed. For example, paintings by father and son Jozef and Isaac Israels can now be seen after years in storage. And the Gallery of Honour highlights paintings in the vast collection for easy viewing. For years my husband had remembered a painting from his last visit -- that of a large white swan with opened wings -- and I was able to show him the painting via Skype and the free Wi-Fi provided throughout the Rijksmuseum.

The multi-story library (biblioteek) is open to the public with available seating at tables for reading current art periodicals. 

The Multimedia tour is available for five euros at the Rijksmuseum or you can download it for free on your smartphone.

A distinguished gentleman and Rembrandt's Night Watch before closing.

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