The Rijksmuseum, opened in 1885, is the emblematic building of Amsterdam’s Museumplein square. And the museum's collection is easily as impressive as the building itself. The main highlight is work by Dutch masters of the Golden Age, with Rembrandt van Rijn’s The Night Watch as the pièce de résistance.
One could spend weeks getting lost in the Rijksmuseum and see something new every day. Designed by the architect P.J.H. Cuypers, the building houses thousands of historical objects illustrating the history of the Netherlands. The various halls in the museum are classified by era. Uniquely, paintings from a given period are grouped with other art forms from the same time, giving a good chronological overview. The Dutch Golden Age occupies pride of place, with the museum’s Hall of Fame devoted to this century.
Rembrandt van Rijn was one of the greatest Dutch Masters. Born in Leiden, he moved to Amsterdam in 1631 where he painted most of his famous works. The Rijksmuseum collection contains many of these masterpieces, including The Jewish Bride and several self-portraits such as Self-Portrait as the Apostle Paul. The highlight of any visit to the Rijksmuseum is, naturally, The Night Watch from 1642, which is displayed at the end of the Hall of Fame. The most interesting aspect of this painting is the fact that Rembrandt drew the figures in the group portrait in action, which had never been done before at the time. This is also the largest and most famous canvas painted by him.
The work of Johannes Vermeer is also richly represented in the Rijksmuseum. While he is world-famous today, in the seventeenth century and the subsequent period the painter’s work was deemed of little significance. This is remarkable as Vermeer had a unique capacity to portray light falling onto his objects. There are numerous paintings in which light shines in from a window on the left, in particular. The Milkmaid is undoubtedly the best known example of this. In addition to this masterpiece, the Rijksmuseum has three other paintings by Vermeer in its collection, including the famous The Little Street (also known as View of Houses in Delft).
No tour of seventeenth-century Dutch Masters is complete without the striking portraits by Frans Hals, including The Jolly Drinker and Couple in a Garden. Hals was especially famous for his loose way of painting, which was called the ‘rough style’ by his contemporaries.
Also loose, albeit in a different way, are the paintings of Jan Steen. This painter was known above all for his genre paintings, with cheerful and exuberant companies such as A Couple Drinking and Familietafereel. There is even an expression in Dutch which refers to the painter: “It's a Jan Steen household” – which roughly translates into “this place is a mess.”
Tip: Every year in November Amsterdam hosts the Museum Night during which many museums and galleries in Amsterdam are open, including the Rijksmuseum. Events include music, fashion and special tours.
Address: Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX Amsterdam
More information on: www.rijksmuseum.nl