While my husband and I were staying in The Hague we took a daytrip up to Amsterdam. It was a beautiful day spent at the famous Rijksmuseum bookended by some beautiful spots we found for lunch and dinner.
The Rijksmuseum was closed for about 10 years in the early 2000’s for major renovations, and during that time a lot of its collection was sent out to exhibitions all over the world. Back in 2007 I took a trip up to Portland, Oregon to see an exhibition of Rembrandts from the Rijksmuseum. It was in that exhibition that I saw Dutch still lifes up close in person, and was first inspired to try more detailed and realistic still lifes in my own studio. So I have known of the Rijksmuseum and have been wanting to visit it for many, many years.
We arrived late morning by train. It was raining and the tourist-heavy area right outside the train station was a bit seedy. Amsterdam is of course known for it’s less… highbrow entertainment, but Nowell and I are happy to focus on food and art for our travel thrills. I felt like maybe getting a higher view of the city would help us get our bearings.
A quick Google search for lunch spots with a view lead us to Cafe Blue, a fantastic lunch and brunch restaurant with 360-degree views. The Google maps address lead us to a blank wall though, and it was a bit confusing to find the entrance until we figured out that we had to circle the block and go into a shopping mall and ride the elevator to the top. By the time we got up there and ordered lunch the rain had stopped and the skies cleared, and we were cheered up by seeing beauty of Amsterdam’s rooftops and steeples.
In a better mood we walked to the Rijksmuseum, and once inside one if the very first works we saw stopped me in my tracks:
Gerard ter Borch’s “Gallant Conversation” is a painting I have a framed print of in my studio, because the satin drapery of the skirt is just mesmerizing. It was such a thrill to see in person a painting I look at every day!
I just love how modern cell phones can get close-up shots in very low light. These are two still lifes I know well from reproduction, and seeing the textures and transparency are even more enthralling in person:
Willem Kalf, Still Life with Silver Ewer and Rachel Ruysch, Flowers in a Glass Vase
Of course whenever I see work by the rare woman artist in a historical museum it’s especially meaningful to me. Historically it was nearly impossible for women artists to receive serious training or be allowed to work as professional artists. For a woman to become a successful professional artist required a special combination of supportive parents, access to instruction, and living in a society that valued “feminine” subjects considered appropriate for a woman to paint. Rachel Ruysch’s father was a botanist and amateur painter and she drew from his collection of natural artifacts as a child. She was allowed to apprentice with a painter starting at age 15. Later she married a painter, and she continued to paint throughout her life, even though she had TEN children. Her commissions helped pay for childcare.
Rembrandt did so many self-portraits that it seems like every major collection of Baroque painting has at least one… but it’s a rare treat to be able to compare one of his earliest self-portraits to one of his later ones. Rembrandt lived from 1606 to 1669, 63 years. These two portraits are from 1628 and 1661: Ages 22 and 55, respectively.
I love this Franz Hals Marriage Portrait. The relaxed informality of the couple is so endearing, especially because so many marriage portraits of this era are posed are so formally. Franz Hals though is well-known for his jovial characters partying in the local tavern, so he is the artist to hire if you want to show that you have a happy life.
The Rijksmuseum has an incredible collection of the same vessels and dinnerware so often depicted in Dutch still life. These objects are so elaborately designed that when seen in a painting they look almost otherworldly, as if they come from the imagination of the artist more than anything anyone ever put on a table. I felt like a fan of science fiction suddenly seeing an actual space ship!
Looking at art and walking those hard museum floors is exhausting, so we are always grateful for a good museum cafe, and Rijksmuseum’s was efficient and delicious. Signage instructed us to seat ourselves and order on our phones through a QR code link, so we had this beautiful lunch served to us within 10 minutes!
After a quick lunch we were back in the museum, up to the grand exhibition hall lined with some of the greatest masterpieces of art history.
Rembrandt’s Night Watch is mounted in a glass room while it is being re-lined and studied by conservators. The original canvas has been glued by conservators to a newer canvas, and the new canvas is currently stretched onto a metal tension-frame.
The Rijksmuseum has an online presentation documenting their conservation process for this painting called Operation Nightwatch that is fascinating. It includes a new super-high-res photograph of the painting.
One artist I am more aware of now since our travels through Holland is Jacob Jordaens. I knew of the artist before, but it seems like every time I passed a painting that seemed to jump off the wall it turned out to be by Jordaens. These three portraits hung together just grab your attention with their incredible design.
For a quieter view of life, there’s always Vermeer and his fellow painters of Dutch interior scenes. They always look so peaceful at first, but upon closer inspection there is always some sort of small drama happening, like a surprise note from an admirer being delivered, or an indecent proposal being made. Metsu’s The Hunter’s Present below looks innocent enough, but the image is full of sexual innuendo, including that fact that he is handing the woman a bird, because “to bird” is a spicy Dutch slang word.
Vermeer’s Milkmaid, Vermeer’s Love Letter, Pieter de Hooch’ At the Linen Closet, Metsu’s The Hunter’s Present
An interesting technical note about Vermeer’s Milkmaid: For years in the 20th century art historians were confounded by the odd perspective on the table. Since Vermeer is usually a master of perspective, it was a mystery as to how he made a rectangular tabletop look so wrong. Turns out, the table itself is an unusual 5-sided shape. It was a common sideboard design in his time, but strange to us today. So his perspective is just as true as always… it’s our assumption about the table shape that was wrong!
I just love this Vermeer called The Little Street. The view of the woman cleaning the little alleyway that punches back through space, with that cool sliver of white wall just behind her back, just makes the whole composition sing. Just like with View of Delft which I saw the day before in the Hague, I was again amazed by the tiny pointillism used to described the masonry and textures.
Vermeer’s The Little Street
I love seeing portraits of artists! The portrait of flower painter Maria van Oosterwijk is a portrait by another artist, Wallerant Vaillant, where strangely she is depicted holding a Bible and a palette at the same time. The other two are self-portraits.
Wallerant Vaillant’s portrait of Maria van Oosterwijk; self-portriats by Adrian van der Werff and Karel du Jardin
A few more portraits and details that also caught my eye:
Frans Hals, Van Dyck, Van den Valkert, more Franz Hals, Rembrandt
Jacob Jordaens, Caesar Boëtius van Everdingen, Ferdinand Bol, Lan Lievans
This dark little painting below caught my eye because of the fragments of statuary in the corner: Sure enough, on closer examination the scene is a traditional teaching atelier, with students drawing and painting from ancient sculptures and a live art model. It’s hard to tell if the statuary is plaster casts or originals, but either way it hurts my heart a bit to see them piled on the floor! The artist apparently went to Rome to study, and painted this scene of his art school.
Michael Sweerts, A Painter’s Studio
After a day of museum-ing we were ready for dinner so we picked this place with great reviews a few blocks away. The sun had come out and everyone was enjoying a beautiful sunny evening admiring the canals of Amsterdam in early October! Beers and a huge plate of mussels fueled us up for the walk to the station and the one-hour train ride back to our hotel in The Hague. Our final destination on this trip was Vienna, so watch for my final blog post in the next week or so!
This post is part of a series about our recent European tour through Paris, Antwerp, The Hague, Amsterdam, and Vienna. If you have not yet, sign up for my newsletter so you never miss one of my information-packed blog posts. Also, I am currently working on a new painting video to be released by the end of this year. “Glazing and Scumbling a Still Life with Roses” will be a follow-up to my original “Glazing and Scumbling” online course, so I recommend getting that if you have not yet, to get the most out of my next release!