Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Rijksmuseum Revisited

As my sister-in-law lives in Amsterdam, J and I have become regular visitors to the city. One of our favourite passtimes while there is visiting the many and varied museums. The first museum we visited, back in 2001, was the world renowned Rijksmuseum. I have only a vague recollection of that visit – a stunning collection of art and history, housed in an over-crowded (in terms of display cases and cabinets) maze of dark and dingy rooms. There was far too much to take in in one visit and a return was always on the cards but a year or so later the main part of the museum closed for renovation.

I’m not sure how long the renovation was expected to take but I do know that it has dragged on far longer than was originally planned – and cost considerably more! The project was delayed by one thing after another: building the new metro line caused problems; a prolonged argument over the passageway through the museum ensued (the citizens of Amsterdam won and the passage remains open to pedestrians and cyclists); and seemingly more mundane matters like the colour of paint used in the galleries delayed progress. Finally, in 2013, the renovated, restored Rijksmuseum re-opened to the public.

The Atrium
© Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum, which from the outside has a look of a fairy-tale castle about it, first opened in 1885. It was designed by the architect Pierre Cuypers. Over the course of 125 years much had been added or altered and the building was in need of a radical makeover. The head architects for the renovation were Antonio Cruz and Antonio Ortiz of Seville. Their brief was to strip out the later additions, restore Cuypers’ original layout and ensure that it was once again a coherent space. The challenge was to combine the grandeur of the building with the modern technology required to preserve and best display the art. What they delivered was a completely new and magnificent museum.

The Great Hall
© Rijksmuseum

Jean-Michel Wilmotte, who designed the interior of the Musée du Louvre, was responsible for decorating and furnishing the galleries. He designed display cases, lighting and plinths to fit naturally with the old building. The colour scheme, which was hotly debated, was inspired by Cuypers’ original palette. The interior has a very modern feel but one that blends beautifully with the fabric of the building.

The Library
© Rijksmuseum

A small annex of the museum has remained open while the rest of the building underwent its transformations and we have seen several 'special collections' but I have been eagerly anticipating the reopening of the main building. The reinvented Rijksmuseum is stunning. Two inner courtyards which were added post WWII have been transformed into a two-part atrium below and linked by the afore mentioned passageway. High above our heads a white metal ‘cage’ cleverly reduces the noise levels while letting light flood in from the glass roof and allows glimpses of the architecture. I felt a rising sense of excitement as we climbed the main staircase to the great hall. From here, there is an unbroken view (if you discount the hordes of visitors) through the double glass door and the 'Gallery of Honour' to Rembrandt’s "Night Watch" rehung in its original position at the centre of the building.

The Gallery of Honour
© Rijksmuseum

Given the crush in the main gallery, we followed the suggested route through the minor galleries before returning to view the paintings 'of honour' and finally pushing our way through the crowd to get a closer look at the "Night Watch". Information cards are provided throughout the museum to give a more in depth look at some of the key exhibits. One surprise for me was the library where the original design and ornaments have been preserved and, for the first time, is open to the general public.

Everyone wanted to see the Night Watch

The museum is still crowded but now it is with visitors enjoying the light and airy galleries. Only (only!) 8,000 of the museums 1,000,000 items are on permanent display tracing 800 years of Dutch history 1200-2000 AD in 80 rooms. It is a 1.5 km walk through all of the galleries but, giving the crush of visitors, don’t expect to go at more than snail’s pace. They anticipate between 1.5 and 2 million visitors per year and I think 1 million of them were visiting the same day that we were there. You still cannot take it all in in one visit but it is a museum that I will gladly revisit!


meri almeida said...

If you are still in Amsterdam don't miss a much smaller Museum but beautiful - I'm sure you would like it Tassen Museum Hendrikje / Museum of bags and Purses
in my bog:

Rachel said...

We saw some of it - as you say, much too big to take in in one visit! - before the renovations. It looks like it is well worth a return visit!