Rijksmuseum opens on 13 April

Carol Vogel
Glories Restored, Rijksmuseum Is Reopening After 10 Years

The New York Times


Since it opened in 1885, the Rijksmuseum here has been the greatest treasure house of the Dutch Golden Age, brimming with paintings by masters like Rembrandt, Vermeer, Jan Steen and Franz Hals. A hulking building designed by Pierre Cuypers, it is an eccentric melding of Gothic and Renaissance architecture that expanded over the years as nondescript additions and courtyards were built to create more space. The result was an antiquated and inefficient structure that could not handle the museum’s growing collection and attendance, so in 2003 it closed for a much-needed makeover.

Now the Rijksmuseum is poised to reopen on April 13, after a renovation that took five years longer than expected. Still, the museum has regained much of its 19th-century grandeur, paired with 21st-century lighting and technology. Asked why the job took so long, Wim Pijbes, the Rijksmuseum’s director, said the project proved far more complicated than expected.

“The museum is monumental, and this was a complete transformation,” he said in an interview in his commodious office, housed in a red brick villa with views of the museum. “Amsterdam is a city of canals, and you cannot dig a hole in the ground without getting wet. It’s also a national museum, and since we’re dealing with the government, things take time.”

The Spanish architects Cruz y Ortiz, who won an architectural competition to renovate the museum, undid years of renovations, restoring Cuypers’s original layout of the galleries, along with ornamental details that had been obliterated over the years. That straightforward design and faithfulness to tradition struck a chord with museum officials.

“We didn’t need to build an extension,” Mr. Pijbes said. “Big is big enough. It’s the same size as it was before. I’m a foodie, but I don’t like too many courses. I want us to focus and only have the best of the best. I believe in the strength of simplicity.” The redone Rijksmuseum has a new entrance, an Asian pavilion, an outdoor exhibition space, shops, restaurants, educational facilities and a renovated library.

Mr. Pijbes said he expected the renovated museum to attract 1.75 million to 2 million visitors annually, which could vault the Rijksmuseum to roughly 20th among museums worldwide. In its last fully open year in 2002, it drew 1.3 million people. (The museum’s Phillips wing did remain open during the renovation, displaying a selection of greatest hits — including Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” and “Jewish Bride,” and Vermeer’s “Milkmaid” — and nearly one million visitors flocked there last year, according to The Art Newspaper’s annual attendance report.

On a recent chilly afternoon, the museum was buzzing with curators and installers. Taco Dibbits, the director of collections, said that curators were seeking to tell a story through the installation.

“Instead of fighting the building, we have embraced it and accepted its eccentricities,” he said. “This was built as a national museum, not just an art museum, and we want the public to get a sense of history, seeing the paintings, furniture and applied arts that were all conceived around the same time.”

So rather than separate paintings from, say, tapestries or furniture or silver, as they had before, the curators have decided to tell the history of Dutch art from the Middle Ages to the 21st century through some 8,000 works on four floors.

“See how beautiful a 17th-century cabinet made at the same time as a painting by Rembrandt and a silver platter by Lutma look,” Mr. Dibbits said, referring to a prominent 17th-century silversmith. “These artists were friends, and it’s a way for people to really get a sense of the period.” Every work is labeled in both Dutch and English.

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