Saturday, 12 July 2014

The 'new' Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Even though we had visited the Rijksmuseum many years ago we had not been able to do so again for a long time, as it was closed for ten years while renovations were being carried out. The result is stunning: the museum has been entirely re-thought and re-invented and the re-modelling is very ambitious and adventurous; the new social courtyard is a minimal space which complements the extravagance of the old building; it's a perfect marriage of old and new; a real cathedral of art  - 'Art is our Temple' comments the museum's director.

The building is a mixture of Gothic and Renaissance architecture, designed by Pierre Cuypers. The 375 euro rebuilding project was led by Spanish architects Cruz y Ortiz.

Sculptures by Alexander Calder were exhibited around the grounds while we were there.

Looking closer

Another Calder sculpture

One of the reasons why the renovation took twice as long as was initially thought was because of a plan to block the above tunnel, a  path that runs right through the museum, separating its east and west wings and which has allowed pedestrians and cyclists a shortcut across the city ever since the museum was built. The Dutch Cyclists' Union objected to the loss of the path and won. They felt that 'the bicycle is folkloric in the Netherlands. Touch the bicycle, and you touch freedom'.

The museum's two halves have been united by an undercroft that joins its two courtyards transforming them into a single atrium by sinking them below ground level. The result is a 24,000 foot light-filled space with glass roofs and polished Portuguese stone floors which has become the public face of the museum, consisting of an entrance hall, auditorium, café and shop.

The café was packed when we visited

another Calder sculpture in the middle of the space


the imposing ceiling

one more view - the space is so vast that it could not fit in one single photograph

The museum is now a perfect marriage of the old and the new.

The gallery housing 17th century Dutch art

In the 1950s it was decided that the ornate character of the interior did not give a good impression of Holland so the whole interior was whitewashed. The curator was also instructed to destroy many of the paintings, but horrified by this instruction, she hid them instead. Today, the interior has been painstakingly restored and the paintings hang back on the walls.

A view of the gardens with yet another Calder sculpture

and another one in the pond.


Moving through the tunnel, you come to the back of the museum which overlooks the Museumplein.

A neon sign which spells Art is Therapy has been erected above the tunnel, part of Alan de Botton's 'intervention' in the museum which consists of giant labels that look like post-it notes outlining de Botton's views on art and on some of the paintings.


  1. It does look splendid, but oh all those people! In theory I am delighted that so many people flock to galleries and are exposed to the art; but I suspect that too many ignore the art and care only about having been to a must-visit destination. A permanent block buster as Tate Modern has become. I'm afraid that my thoughts are probably deplorably elitist.

    1. The museum is stunning, Olga, but far too many people as you have pointed out, making it impossible to see the paintings at times. The Night Watch - impossible. I lingered around the painting for ages, but there was no point where I was able to get a good look at it: as usual, it was the groups and their guides that created most of the difficulty.

      I don't think your comment is elitist: it's good that so many people go to art galleries, but when it's a question of caring about having been to a must-visit destination, or being more interested in taking a selfie in front of the painting, then it gets irritating. But, I guess, on the whole, it's a good thing.