The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is the Netherland’s premier art museum. It is devoted to several national collections — and consists of Dutch art from the earliest moments to the 19th century.
The Museum, which first opened in 1885, recently underwent an extensive, 10-year renovation project in which the building was restored to its original splendor. The majestic building itself is worth the price of admission, we think. The grand re-opening took place in April, 2013.
Whereas countless earlier restorations and ‘improvements’ had turned the museum into a confusing, often overly dark labyrinth, the Rijksmuseum now is an inviting, welcoming place.
The best-known paintings — including Rembrandt’s Night Watch — are easily accessible, so even a quick visit to the museum will leave you suitably impressed.
Art Presented in Context
The museum also introduced a complete thematic change. Normally, museums organize their art collections by material: paintings, furniture, glass, silver, and so on. You’d view these collections in chronological order, starting anew with each type of art.
The Rijksmuseum instead has combined it collections, so that you as you walk from room to room you travel through one timeline in which the art objects are shown in context. You may see a painting of a family dining around a table, and matching dinnerware and silverware displayed right next to it. This gives the viewer an unmatched sense of time, place and beauty.
The collection focuses primarily on Dutch art from 1100 to modern times, with special attention paid to the Dutch Golden Age, which roughly spanned the 17th century.
The museum owns over 1 million art objects, but instead of overwhelming visitors with a sheer endless series of exhibits, at any given time only about 8.000 pieces are on show. Other works are rotated in special exhibitions, such as the upcoming show on the late works of Rembrandt.
This art-in-context and less-is-more approach is hugely satisfying because it leaves you in awe rather than bored and overwhelmed.
The museum has over 1.1 million objects in its collection. At any time some 8.000 are exhibited across 80 galleries.
Its gallery of prints (Dutch: prentencabinet) contains a further 850.000 works on paper.
The suggested walking route is 1500 meter (4921.25984 feet — close to a mile) long.
If you don’t want to walk that much, you can take a look online: about a quarter of the entire collection has been digitized.
Moreover, the Rijksstudio allows people to collect and share images, or even to use them to create posters, Ipad covers, and so on.
The collection was started when William V started acquiring pieces just for the hell of it, and has been growing ever since: it now includes Dutch paintings from the 15th century until around 1900, as well as decorative and Asian art.
But if you have only a limited amount of time, head for the Dutch Masters section on the top floor. Here’s where you’ll find Rembrandt’s Night watch, the jewel of the museum’s collection, and Johannes Vermeer’s The Kitchen Maid and Woman Reading a Letter, each capturing a moment in the life of a woman from a different background.
There are also excellent selections of works by the likes of Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Jacob van Ruysdael and Ferdinand Bol.
– Source: Time Out Amsterdam (Quoted from an earlier edition)
The Rijksmuseum also has fascinating collections of silverware, porcelain, 17th- and early 18th- century dolls’ houses, and furniture that shows what canal-house interiors looked like.
If you think the building looks familiar, that is because it bears a striking resemblance to the Central Station. Pierre Cuypers designed both. The Rijksmuseum opened in 1885, and Central Station opened just four years later.
The Rijksmuseum has recently undergone a ten-year long renovation during which much of the layout was re-designed. If you have ever visited the museum before – and got lost in its labyrinthine innards — you understand why this was necessary:
The New Rijksmuseum’s mission is to give visitors from all over the world a representative overview of Dutch art and history from the Middle Ages through the 20th century, and to present important aspects of European and Asiatic art. In order to meet this aim, a resolution to effect a comprehensive renovation of the Rijksmuseum was adopted by overwhelming majority in the Dutch parliament in 1999.
Since the opening in 1885, architect Pierre Cuypers’ monumental building has been adapted and extended many times, making this renovation a necessity. All these changes to the original structure — a richly decorated, open, inviting and easily navigable building — turned the Rijksmuseum into a labyrinth of galleries, which visitors found difficult to navigate and where the collection could not be exhibited under optimal conditions.
– Source: Rijksmuseum, Final Design
The result is a building — magnificent in its own rights — that is a pleasure to visit.
The Rijksmuseum says that it will have welcomed 2.200.000 visitors in 2016 — half of them from the Netherlands.
This marks the fourth year in a row that the museum has delighted over two million people.
After its re-opening, in 2013, the museum expected to see 1.7 million visitors a year.
2015 was a banner year: 2.350.000 visitors.
Controversy: Changing Racially-Charged Titles
In December 2015, news media reported that the Rijksmuseum is in the process of changing ‘racially-charged titles’ of works of art in its collection.
The New York Times said:
The Rijksmuseum is in the process of removing language that could be considered offensive from digitized titles and descriptions of some 220,000 artworks in its collection. Words that Europeans once routinely used to describe other cultures or peoples, like “negro,” “Indian” or “dwarf” will be replaced with less racially charged terminology.
“The point is not to use names given by whites to others,” Martine Gosselink, head of the history department at the Rijksmuseum, who initiated the project, said Thursday. For example, she said, “We Dutch are called kaas kops, or cheeseheads, sometimes, and we wouldn’t like it if we went to a museum in another country and saw descriptions of images of us as ‘kaas kop woman with kaas kop child,’ and that’s exactly the same as what’s happening here.” […]
“Some people are angry with us,” she said. “They say ‘Why this change, the Rijksmuseum is trying to be so politically correct.’ But in the Netherlands alone, there are a million people deriving from colonial roots, from Suriname, from the Antilles, from Indonesia, and so on that basis alone it’s important to change this.”
– Source: Nina Siegal, Rijksmuseum Removing Racially Charged Terms From Artworks’ Titles and Descriptions, The New York Times, December 10, 2015
Rijksmuseum Address & Contact Information
Jan Luijkenstraat 1 (Philips Wing) [Google Map]
1071 ZD Amsterdam
Tel: 020 674 7000 [Amsterdam phone info]
The Rijksmuseum is open every day from 9:00 to 17:00 (9 am to 5 pm) — Christmas and New Year’s Day included.
Busiest months and days at the Rijksmuseum
Busiest months: April, May and August — with a 20-30 minute line at the ticket office.
Busiest days: Friday, Saturday, Sunday — as well as on Dutch national vacation- and holidays.
Busiest times: 10 am until about 2.30 pm.
Purchase your Rijksmuseum tickets ahead of time.
You can also combine museum entrance with a canal cruise