The Rijksmuseum is one of the world’s most famous museums, housing more than 8,000 works of art inside one of the Netherlands’ grandest buildings. If you’re planning to visit the museum soon, read our insider's picks of unmissable artworks and interesting features.
1. The passageway
"After working at the Rijksmuseum for three years, since the official opening in 2013, it’s a piece of cake choosing which art pieces are unmissable for the visitors. When I arrived at the museum for the first time, the passageway caught my eye. The transparency, atmosphere, kind hosts and street musicians’ sounds make a great entrance. When entering the museum, most of the visitors rush to the Gallery of Honour to find the famous Night Watch (Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, 1642) and the Milkmaid (Johannes Vermeer, 1660)."
The Rijksmuseum underpass attracts regular buskers due to its magical acoustics
2. The Night Watch, Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, 1642
"The Night Watch is Rembrandt’s most famous (and largest) canvas, made for the Arquebusiers guild hall. He was the first to paint lively figures in a group portrait. For instance: the guardsmen are getting into formation and the captain – in the front – is telling his lieutenant to start the company marching. The young girl in the foreground was the company’s mascot. Rumour has it that Rembrandt painted her to look like his wife, who passed away during the making of The Night Watch. The painting survived its cutting to fit into the Town Hall in 1715. And during World War II, it was rolled into a cylinder form and moved out of Amsterdam. In the last 40 years there have been two attacks of vandalism on the painting: the first one happened with a butter knife in 1975, the second with sprayed acid in 1990."
3. The Milkmaid, Johannes Vermeer, 1660
"Vermeer’s famous work depicts a maidservant pouring milk, totally absorbed in her labour. The whole painting is still, except for the stream of milk; Vermeer knew how to use colors to make fluids appear lively. Every time I look at the painting, it makes me believe that the milk is actually real, instead of paint."
4. Self-portrait, Vincent Van Gogh, 1887
"Personally, I am an enormous fan of impressionism - and so also of Vincent’s paintings. But what really left an impression on me was his tragic story. After moving to France and moving in with his friend Gauguin in 1888, he experienced great creativity – but also tensions and dementia. When Gauguin started to think about leaving, Vincent threatened him with a knife – but ended up cutting his own (left) ear. He allegedly brought the ear to a nearby brothel. After the incident, he checked himself into a mental institution – where his further alternation of madness and creativity took place. He moved to Auvers-sur-Oise (near Paris) in 1890, where the despair and loneliness increased and he eventually committed suicide."
5. Cuypers looks around the corner
"The Rijksmuseum reopened on the 13th of April 2013, after a decade-long renovation. However the first official opening took place in 1885. The building’s architect was Pierre Cuypers, who received a lot of criticism for his design. The general opinion was that it was 'too much Renaissance and Gothic, not enough Dutch'. But after 130 years, the building is still standing strong. Just like Cuypers, who included himself in the design as a stone sculpture, peeking around the corner. He has been watching over the museum all this time."
Can you spot Rijksmuseum architect Pierre Cupers peeking around the corner?
6. Banquet at the Crossbowmen’s Guild in Celebration of the Treaty of Münster, Bartholomeus van der Helst, 1648
"Bartholomeus van der Helst painted his most famous work in 1648, depicting the signing of the Treaty of Münster (which marked an end to the war with Spain). The banquet takes place at the Amsterdam crossbowmen’s guild. It is a symbolic meal of peace, where Amsterdam's reconciliation politics are highlighted. The captains shake hands, the drinking horn (peace chalice) is passed, and the poem on the drum tells about the militia’s joy that their weapons can be laid to rest. This is a painting that dares you to stare at it for a long time: you keep discovering more details. For example, you can see a perfect reflection of the drinking men in one man’s armour."
7. The Singel Bridge at the Paleisstraat in Amsterdam, George Hendrik Breitner, 1896
"The way in which this woman walks in your direction and the way the painting is ‘cropped’, is very photographic. Breitner often took photos to prepare future paintings – a technological development that 19th century painters could benefit from. Along with the innovative painting’s perspective, I find its changed appearance interesting too. He initially painted the woman as a maid, but after negative reviews from his representing gallery, who said 'it would be better if he made her into an elegant lady', he changed the painting’s components."
The lady in the foreground was originally painted as a maid
8. The Battle of Waterloo, Jan Willem Pieneman, 1824
"This painting draws my attention. Not only because of its colossal size (the Night Watch can fit inside it at least three times), but the unrealistic – yet very realistic looking – portrayal of the scene. The Battle of Waterloo was an impetuous fight, but Pieneman apparently chose to give the soldiers a rather relaxed look. The painting was supposed to be displayed in the palace of Brussels, which might be an explanation."
9. Reception room from Haarlem, Abraham van der Hart, ca. 1793-1795
"Abraham made the room entirely classicistic: all the room’s components are coordinated and match each other, despite their origins – which was typical for the 18th century. The mantelpiece is from Italy, the carpet from Belgium, the furniture from Amsterdam, the silk stringing from France and the chandeliers from England. The room was designed for merchant and art collector Willem Philips Kops, and was used for big evening receptions. When looking into the reception room – and listening to the classical music – you can imagine yourself in the 18th century, and that is what makes it special for me."
The room was moved from Haarlem to Amsterdam in its original state
10. The Cuypers Library
"The Cuypers Library is the biggest and oldest historical art library in the Netherlands. After the ten year-renovation, it has been brought back to its original state: just as Cuypers had in mind. Every single visitor that enters the library has a 'jaw-drop moment', including myself, because of its impressive – but calm – look. Visitors, students and art historians are welcome to study here, and iPads are available to use."
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