In all good conscience, one can’t very well visit in Amsterdam without paying one’s respects to the Old Dutch Masters. The only problem is, everybody does it and the lines at all the museums are long, very long. Especially this week, as we already had Monday, Konigsdag, as a national holiday and Friday is the first of May, International Workers’ Day, another holiday. Thus, considerable multitudes decided to invest just three workdays in a lovely nine-day vacation. We read online that the best time to visit the Rijks Museum is at 3 PM. That leaves only two hours to look at all the treasures housed in this vast national museum, but at our advanced ages we can’t stay upright looking at stuff for much longer than that anyway. Besides, I mostly wanted to discover the newly bright, shiny and colorful Rembrandt paintings, which used to be dingy and dark with barely discernable figures, before they were restored to their original glory in decade-long cleaning procedures and the installation of modern LED lighting during a museum renovation.
We took the #2 tram right to the museum’s front door, saving all walking energy for the actual event. During the trip to the Rijks Museum, the tram passes the van Gogh museum, where we noticed a long line outside. That didn’t bode well for our late afternoon scheme! But the Rijks Museum is so huge that I doubt there are ever lines outside. So we walked right into its mammoth maw to check out the condition inside.
The museum was purpose built in 1885 to house all the Dutch national treasures and it is quite overwhelmingly impressive in an over-the-top kind of a way, inside and out. We saw the line for the ticket counter as soon as we entered the vast, glass-domed reception courtyard. I queued obediently while my more inquisitive better half ferreted out the welcome news that we could approach a different ticket counter directly, just as long as we also purchased a pass for the “Late Rembrandt” special exhibit. Sure! Therefore, we bypassed the longish line and marched directly toward the works created by the mature master during the last 18 years of his life.
To reach the first room displaying three of the over eighty portraits and sketches Rembrandt made of himself, we climbed to an upper floor of one of the building’s wings. It was a wide, old wooden staircase with a carved banister curving gently through a stark white staircase, opening to a rotunda with an elaborately decorated ceiling of delicate plaster work and moldings. To my great surprise, this elegant landing was home to a charming contemporary installation of jellyfish. See for yourself, watch the medusae swim …. Contemporary Palier Installation. This permanent installation is a project of Studio Drift a Dutch lighting/sculpture design studio.
Immediately past this contemporary work we came eye to eye with the Old Man himself.
Chapter & verse have been written about the man and about his self-portraits, I don’t need to add to the expert analysis of learned personages, other than expressing my deepest gratitude that I was privileged to see this self-portrait of Rembrandt in person. This painting, like van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ and many more, of course, must be seen in the original to catch a glimpse of the genius that created them. These paintings are alive, they speak to you and mesmerize you, so you will never forget the experience.
These two portraits of society ladies represent beautiful examples of Rembrandt’s work for me. Strong texture, fine details, incredible depth and brutal honesty. And the following sketch of a lion is just as sweet. It is not only a superb drawing, it actually shows a Barbary or Atlas lion (Panthera leo leo), a species now extinct in the wild, which were very popular in the menageries of his time.
And then we encountered a painting that, as my husband told me, every American recognizes from the Dutch Masters brand of cigars, first launched in 1911 with a picture of ‘The Syndics’ decorating the box. The painting shows the quality assessors of the Drapers’ Guild as they settle down to judge the cloths brought before them. I like this tableau:
Leaving Rembrandt’s geriatric work behind, we had to hustle through the building’s hallways and staircases
to find the Hall of Honor before closing, so that we could also view Rembrandt’s most celebrated work, the ‘Nightwatch’. Along the way, I was briefly sidetracked by the most incredible, amazing, mind boggling and gobsmacking image ever. A tiny silver daguerreotype of ethereal beauty. I only wish I could show it to you more clearly in all its glory. But the surface is so shiny and reflective that you have to steady your gaze toward the image of a gentleman at a very narrow, precise angle to have the pleasure of detecting his crystal clear likeness. The daguerreotype is so crisp and sharp you can see the fine lines under the eyes of the middle-aged subject. Unfortunately the highly reflective surface itself plus the glass case protecting it made it impossible for me to catch its uniqueness properly with my cell phone.
But onward to the Nightwatch we go!
Just like the huge Seurat painting ‘Un Dimanche Après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte’ in the Chicago Art Institute, this oversized Rembrandt has been installed to be seen from the greatest possible distance. As you approach, the awe factor increases with every step – at least it would if there weren’t so many visitors milling about – until you finally stand in front of it.
I was struggling to write a little chapter about Rembrandt’s ‘Nightwatch’, it’s actual name being ‘The Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenhurch’, when I came across this excerpt from the book ‘The World of Rembrandt: 1606-1669’ by Walter Wallace, NY 1968. It’s truly worth reading! Just click here: The Legend and the Man.
Soon after, it was time for us to leave this extraordinary place and head for a comfortable chair and a refreshing Dutch pilsner. Lastly a couple impressions of the courtyard with its unusual and unusually large contemporary lighting cages.