Art in Amsterdam
Amsterdam has a bewildering range of options for gallery-goers, including the Van Gogh Museum, Rembrandt’s house and the Stedelijk Museum of modern and contemporary art. But it is hard to beat the 80-room Rijksmuseum, which re-opened in 2013 after a decade of renovation. The problem with the Rijksmuseum is that there is so much to see: a whole day isn’t nearly enough. If you go early, it’s a good idea to start with the Gallery of Honour on the second floor, where you’ll find some of the greatest paintings from Netherlands’ 17th century Golden Age, as it gets busy later. Jan Steen’s paintings of the Dutch behaving badly are a riot, while Vermeer’s paintings including his Little Street are beautifully calm. The gallery culminates in Rembrandt’s Night Watch, Amsterdam’s pictorial equivalent of a city anthem, where it is fun to watch the people watching the painting’s people – they almost seem to be part of the picture.
After that, it pays to be selective. Room 2.15 (turn right at the Night Watch) is particularly interesting for Britons raised to believe the UK hasn’t been invaded since 1066: it features paintings and souvenirs of the successful 1667 Dutch raid on the Medway, nowadays crossed by the Eurostar line, including the royal crest from the Royal Navy’s captured flagship the Royal Charles.
Elsewhere in the building, the basement collection of medieval art includes two panels of the Saint Elizabeth Flood, which inundated more than 60 villages in 1421 – it appears to be a typically calm Dutch landscape, until you notice desperate people and animals trying to save themselves. Room 1.18 showcases the Dutch take on Impressionism, with horse-riders on beaches and Breitner’s bustling Amsterdam bridge.
While the Rijksmuseum is famous, the Six Collection is less well-known but is an amazing experience. The Six family have been collecting Dutch art since the 17th century, and their grand home on the Amstel is packed with treasures. It is worth visiting purely to see Rembrandt’s portrait of his friend, the first Jan Six: while parts of the picture are daubed by thumb, the thoughtful, enquiring face is detailed and entrancing.
But there are many more pictures to see, including Paulus Potter’s giant portrait of Diederik Tulp. In the early 20th century, the Six family built a room on top of an indoor stable just large enough to house the picture, before realising the calculations had not included the picture’s frame. So they bought seven centimetres of the neighbouring courtyard, extended the room and hung the picture, as you do.
Jan Six X and his son Jan Six XI allow pre-booked visitors – and you must pre-book – to visit on weekday mornings. Apply online as early as you can, ideally with a range of dates. If successful, you will be invited to join a small group tour, lasting about an hour and led by knowledgeable staff. Seeing wonderful paintings in a grand Amsterdam home is an absolute treat – and free of charge.