We’re having a great time visiting the major attractions of Amsterdam. We purchased a Holland Pass (About $65 US each) which gives discounted admission to most attractions, and “free” admission to five. It saves some money and entitles the holder to priority admissions. We’ve visited three museums so far: the Rijksmueum, Van Gogh Museum, and Dutch Resistance Museum. Today we’ll talk about the museums. But first…
(Click on any image to see it larger, then click your back button to return to the text. See these and other museum pix by clicking the Art in Amsterdam Images link at the top of the page.)
You don’t really have to go to a museum to see art in Amsterdam. It’s all around you.
This one says something like “Year of Gold Fortune.”
Many streets, parks, and squares contain outdoor sculptures, from the very old to the very modern.
Old churches have beautiful art inside and out.
Some old houses have small courtyards in front, with beautiful landscaping and sculptures.
Of course, as in any big city, you will find graffiti of all degrees of artistic merit.
The Rijksmueum is the pride of the country, one of the finest art museums in the world. It recently re-opened after a 10-year, half-billion-dollar renovation. We never saw the old Rijks, but we found the new one stunning. It is a successful blend of old and new architecture.
Inside is a huge open atrium filled with light, accented by a large Calder sculpture. Until October 5, 14 Calders are exhibited, the second of four annual international sculpture displays. The blend of old and new architecture, old and new art, works surprisingly well.
The museum is overwhelming in size and scope, but, thanks to the renovation, the exhibits are now arranged chronologically. We lingered longest in the 1600s, the Golden Age of Dutch painting. We made quicker passes through some areas, and in seven satisfying hours we managed to see at least the highlights on all the main floors and rooms.
We ate lunch in the museum cafe, and took an afternoon break on the Museumplein, the park adjacent the museum.
However, more than 8,000 items are on display, including paintings, sculptures, and other objects from a wide variety of artists. Exhibits cover the time from the Middle Ages through the 1900s.
Despite this broad scope, very few works by other major famous painters are exhibited.
Madonna of Humility. Fra Angelico, Florence, 1440
Only one or two examples each of works are included by Van Gogh, Goya, Fra Angelico and other names that would be immediately recognized by non-academics. But the Golden Age works, and the early religious art, are worth the visit by themselves.
The Night Watch
The natural flow of the layout takes visitors first to the Hall of the Masters. Upon entering the hall, the eye is immediately drawn to Rembrandt’s famous painting, “The Night Watch.” It fills the back wall of a large chamber at the end of the grand hall. This painting is obviously the star of the show.
One is struck by the size of the painting: more than 14 feet wide. The people in it are approximately life sized. Standing close, you feel like you are there with them, heading out to fight the Spaniards. This is something no reproduction could ever convey.
Two security guards flank the work at all times, due not only to the priceless worth of the painting, but also because it was attacked by a vandal with a knife before the renovation. Most of the damage has been repaired, though at least one scar is permanent and visible if you look for it.
“The Night Watch” by Rembrandt
Seeing Art In Person
There are other things one does not get without seeing art in person. Subtleties of light and shading can never be reproduced precisely on a page, and only approximated in fine prints. Sometimes a work that you might have overlooked in a book captures your attention by the shapes and texture of the daubs of paint.
The texture of paint on canvas can not only bring a composition to life, it reminds us that this is the unique, original, actual object that an artist of such historical and artistic stature handled and created. When you see Vermeer’s name scratched into the paint, you can imagine the great man doing the act.
As a photographer, I appreciated the Rijksmuseum’s policy allowing flash-less photography. I especially liked photographing the sculptures. These were lighted very nicely. Perfect for showing shape and texture.
The Van Gogh Museum
The Van Gogh Museum is another special treasure that Amsterdam offers. We used our Holland Pass Gold vouchers, which are supposed to offer preferred admittance, but it still took 45 minutes in line to get in. And we were in the short line. The line to buy tickets at the museum that day was 10-times longer. When we left in the afternoon that line had grown even longer.
The museum is definitely worth the trouble to get in. They do not allow photography, so I do not have pictures from inside. I will describe it best I can.
More than 200 of his works, plus sketches, notes, and artifacts of his life are displayed. He produced a large variety of work: self-portraits, sunflowers, irises, still-lifes, landscapes, portraits, and more. (But no “Starry Night.” That painting lives in New York’s MOMA.) The museum did a good job of using the paintings and other exhibits to tell something of the story of his life. There are portraits done of Van Gogh by his artist friends, and artifacts like his easel, with daubs of his now-antique paint dried on it.
It’s amazing seeing the colors and thickness of the paint on Van Gogh’s canvases (or sometimes, on cheap burlap or kitchen linens). Reflections of the light falling on the shiny paint makes compositions appear completely different from flat prints of the same work. Like a 3-D image versus a flat image.
I was moved by the total experience. The pain and madness Van Gogh suffered is evident in many of his paintings, especially the later ones, and in many of his self-portraits. I came away not only with a new respect for the magnitude of his artistic contributions, but new sympathy for the man as well. His final two paintings, painted just days or hours before he took his own life, make powerful final statements about the torment in his mind. Click these titles to see Google images of the paintings: “Wheat Field With Crows” and “Tree Roots and Trunks.”
Later on in this adventure we’ll be staying in Paris and Provence. Van Gogh worked there during part of the 10 short years in which he produced all of his work. We will visit Arles and the other places he lived to look at the landscapes and other scenes he saw and painted. As a photographer, I want to see, and maybe capture, the famous light that drew Van Gogh and others to those areas.
More to come
We’re not done with Amsterdam’s museums and other sights. We will be visiting the Jewish Holocaust Memorial, so I will wait until after that to talk about the Dutch Resistance Museum. The scars of World War Two are much fresher in Europe, where the fighting and suffering took place. This is something we want to learn more about on this trip.
That’s all for this post. We hope to get one more done before we leave for France. For now, Proost!
Charlie (& Sarah)