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Great art museums: Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum is the national gallery of the Netherlands dedicated to arts and history. With the Van Gogh and Stedelijk art museums close by, it focuses on Dutch masters like Rembrandt and Vermeer, alongside over 8000 other display objects from the year 1200 onwards. It was established by the then-ruling Batavian Republic Government after it saw the success of The Louvre in Paris, with encouragement from the finance minister at the time. Opened in 1800 as the National Art Gallery in The Hague, it switched location to Amsterdam after Napoleon established the Kingdom of Holland in 1808.

Initially located at the Royal Palace, it moved to the Trippenhuis, but this proved unsuitable and the collection was divided between the Mauritshuis and the King’s summer palace. It took 40 years for a suitable design for a new building to be found, and construction began at the current location in 1876, with rich décor celebrating Dutch history that ensured it took nearly a decade to complete. Over the last century the museum has enjoyed numerous developments and expansions, with a major renovation finished in 2012.

Pre-pandemic the Rijksmuseum was regularly attracting over a million visitors a year, which boosted to 2.5 million after the 2012 renovation expanded the capacity of the art gallery, and reinvigorated interest in it’s collections.

The Rijksmuseum collections; home of the Dutch Masters

Today’s Rijksmuseum collection extends to over a million original artworks and objects, including some unusual Dutch historical items, such as the stern of a British gunship captured in the Anglo-Dutch war of 1667. Other objects represent furniture and interiors, sculpture, art prints, a small collection of Asian objects in it’s own pavilion, and an extensive art history library full of books and other reference materials.

The collection of paintings covers styles such as Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Mannerism, Baroque, Caravaggism, Rococo, Classicism, Romanticism, Impressionism, Art Nouveau, and the Hague School; modern and contempoary art is mostly covered by the nearby Stedelijk art museums. The flagship collection is represented by over 2000 Dutch Golden Age paintings by artists like Vermeer, Jan Steen, Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and Jacob van Ruisdael. The gallery is marketed as “the home of the Dutch Masters” and always has a good selection on display, and a range of special exhibitions focusing on the individual artists and their work.

The Rijksmuseum also has a regular range of temporary and special exhibitions, often highlighting elements of the collection, such as the work of individual masters, or “best of” collections. One of the most celebrated recent exhibitions looked at the history of slavery in the Dutch colonial empire, including a wide range of historical items as well as paintings and archive materials. Accompanied by an online exhibition, an area where this art gallery is also strong, offering images of around 700,000 items in an online Rijksstudio so that people can explore and build personal selections from all of the museum’s objects.

Still a well kept secret amongst more famous art museums

Whilst the Rijksmuseum is well known, it is far from the visitor numbers, scale of collection, and worldwide fame as other great art galleries such as in London or Paris, but it does it’s job exceptionally well. A recent study interviewing 12,000 visitors to galleries around the world rated the Rijksmuseum the third best art gallery experience in the world, admired especially for finding constant relevance and innovation in it’s exhibitions and display collections.

Located next door to the number two placed Van Gogh Art Museum, and the excellent Stedelijk Modern Art gallery, it’s clear that Amsterdam’s Museum Quarter is one of the best places in the world to visit if you want to look at art.

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