A Night at the Rijksmuseum

I’ve taped a few art programmes over the past few weeks so over the weekend I caught up with them.

The first was the BBC Four behind the scenes programme about the re-opening of the Rijksmuseum presented by Andrew Graham-Dixon his enthusiasm for his subject is infectious especially when he was shown the 3D scans of a Rembrandt and Van gogh Sunflowers.

The Rijksmuseum was built to tell the story of the Dutch past and to bring it to life.  The galleries were traditionally layed out along academic lines i.e glass, ceramics and painting but now they are set out chronologically.

It was supposed to be closed for 3 years for renovation but a dispute over bicycle access meant it was closed for longer.  The Rijksmuseum was built in the 19th century in a neo-gothic style which is unique in the city.  The architect was a catholic and Holland a Protestant country, William III refused to set foot in side the building.

In the 19th century it held 700 painting but this had risen to 6,000 and the original decoration of the building had disappeared but now it has been restored so that it is in harmony with the objects.

The new minimalist courtyard which was under water originally combines with the original building to give a large open area.

I was shocked when he went in to the newly restored Great Hall and said that in the 1950’s the Public Director of Works decided that it was giving people the wrong idea about Holland and ordered it to be whitewashed and even worse ordered the Principal Conservator of Paintings to destroy the paintings on the walls, thankfully she disobeyed him and hid them.

The Rijksmuseum is a unique National Museum of Art, it is built around one painting ‘The Night Watch’ by Rembrandt – the painting was always on display in a smaller wing and as the presenter said it was rather surreal when it was  hanging from a crane then slowly making its way back to the main building with crowds cheering it on its way.

A fascinating insight into the renovation of a 19th century building to one suitable for the 21st century and beyond.


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