Masterpieces in Amsterdam

Statue of Rembrandt in Amsterdam

Statue of Rembrandt in Amsterdam

While husband attended a convention in Amsterdam this past week, I went along for the sightseeing, especially the art.  There are two museums in that city that you won’t want to miss, if you have an opportunity to travel there.  They are the Van Gogh Museum and just a short walk away, the Rijksmuseum.  You don’t have to stay near the museums.  Amsterdam has a wonderful tram system with the shortest wait times I’ve encountered anywhere.  And you don’t have to have exact change in foreign money.  You just buy a tram ticket that you can use anywhere during the time the ticket is good for.  We had four-day tickets.

Before visiting the museums, I visited the house where Rembrandt lived for a time at the height of his career.  Like many houses in Amsterdam, it is tall and narrow with steep stairs leading to the four floors.  Here Rembrandt lived, painted, taught pupils and sold his art.  He was quite successful as an artist but evidently not very good at managing money and he eventually lost the house.  The house has a wonderful collection of his lithographs.

The Van Gogh museum seems to be more popular with tourists than the much larger Rijismuseum.  I’ve been told there is nearly always a line but it moved fairly quickly when I was there.  The architecture of the museum is very modern, kind of like the head of a round mushroom.  The museum not only houses many of Van Gogh’s paintings but also those of artists he knew.  I think what appeals to people is his personal story.  No matter what was happening in his personal life (he suffered from mental illness), no matter that during his lifetime people didn’t want to buy his paintings, he kept on painting.  He didn’t have commissions but he always found something to paint.  He painted flowers, fields, the interior of his room, the house where he lived, the nearby cafe.  He painted portraits too, not of wealthy or prominent people, but simply the people he knew and saw in his daily life.  Occasionally he painted himself in the straw hat I suppose he wore when he painted outdoors.  Also, when looking at a Van Gogh painting you can see the actual colors that he used, unlike earlier painters who blended their color so carefully.

The Rijksmuseum is much larger with many smaller rooms that opened into each other  so that I wasn’t sure exactly where I was or what I might have missed.  This is the Netherlands national museum dedicated to the arts and history of Amsterdam.  Many different painters are featured here.  Before photography groups of people in the Netherlands prominent in a business or a military company might hire a painter to paint them as a group.  There are a lot of these paintings in the Rijksmuseum and they are huge.  They were painted a specific size to fit a particular place on the wall of the group’s headquarters.  This must have been quite a challenge to the painter.  You can’t simply put them in a couple of lines as one would do in a photograph.  But who should be the most prominent?  Who could one safely relegate to the background?  And their clothing was so fancy with satin and lace.  And of course each face must be a good likeness.  Rembrandt was a master at this and his “The Night Watch” is the painting anyone visiting the museum will want to see.  If you are visiting Amsterdam next year, the Rijksmuseum has scheduled a major retrospective of Rembrandt’s late work with more than 90 paintings, drawings and prints.  It will rum from February 12 to May 17, 2015.



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