11 March 2015

Also Observed in Amsterdam

Previous posts here have been about the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum’s current exhibition, Late Rembrandt, Rembrandt’s House and the Van Gogh Museum. This post covers a few other bits and pieces that might be helpful or of interest.

There is much to see at the Rijksmuseum outside the exhibition including a large selection of works on the second floor by painters of the Dutch Golden Age (1600-1700). Rembrandt’s The Night Watch (see below) and Vermeer’s The Milkmaid are probably the two most famous. Memorable by way of contrast with the exhibition was the early Rembrandt Self Portrait (1628, below left) and I couldn’t help but like Franz Hals’ Portrait of a couple (1622, below right):

The first floor of the Rijksmuseum covers the later periods of 1700-1800 and 1800-1900. There is a very large canvas of the Battle of Waterloo (1824) by Jan Willem Pieneman. It will be interesting to see if in the UK the Dutch contribution to Napoleon’s defeat gets due credit this year, the 200th anniversary of the battle. There were some 19th century pictures, new to me, from The Hague School, Jacob Maris’ The Arrival of the Boats (1884, below top), reminiscent of the Newlyn painters, and from the Amsterdam Impressionists, works by George Hendrick Breitner including The Bridge over the Singel at the Paleisstraat, Amsterdam (1896-98, below lower):

More as might be expected were a fine Monet landscape, La Corniche near Monaco (1884, below left) and an 1887 van Gogh Self Portrait. It was surprising to learn that the British artist Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956) had donated 270 etchings and lithographs to the Rijksmuseum in 1927 (“at the height of his fame” but who “fell into oblivion soon after his death”) – perhaps he thought they should be near Rembrandt’s – one on display was The Bridge of Sighs, Venice (1911, below right):

The relatively small third floor of the Rijksmuseum has some 20th century material, two works by Mondrian, some art nouveau and De Stijl furniture, and, from 1940, a grim item, the Nazi chess set (below). This was probably a gift from Heinrich Himmler to the leader of the Dutch National Socialists. The ceramic pieces are weapons and the border lists Nazi expansion starting: 1939 SCHACH-MATT (checkmate) 1940 POLEN DENEMARK NORWEGEN HOLLAND BELGIEN FRANKREICH ending ominously with ENGLAND U / W presumably unterwegs (on its way), although Operation Sea Lion was postponed indefinitely on 17 September 1940 (quite by coincidence relevant to the next post on this blog).

General Notes

This is, as I have said before, not a travel blog but here are some thoughts for anyone art-minded who may be going to Amsterdam. Even at the end of February, the museums and galleries were busy – I was told it gets worse from now on. So if you want to see The Night Watch like this:

and not like this:

get there early – staying at a hotel nearby and walking to the Museumplein is a good idea. The Rijksmuseum is open every day of the year, but only open for tickets from 09:00 to 16:30. It makes sense to buy tickets online beforehand. The Van Gogh Museum is open longer and has some late nights but has 1.5 million visitors a year, an average of over 4000 a day, so again advance ticketing is advisable – otherwise Sunflowers may look like this:

Once inside, things are easy for an English-speaker – everything is captioned in Dutch and English, the de facto second language of the Netherlands. Walking in Amsterdam is easy – as long as it isn’t raining - but be aware that on the streets, bridges and canal-sides there is a pecking order: trams first, then cyclists and cars, then finally pedestrians, who consequently need to keep their eyes open in all directions. But on foot they are the best-placed to enjoy the unique cityscape of Amsterdam!

UPDATE 17 MAY 2015

Parts one and two of an interesting article about some architectural aspects of the new Rijksmuseum.

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