For the last decade, visitors to Amsterdam have been unable to explore one of the city’s greatest treasures. The Rijksmuseum, one of the world’s foremost art museums, has been closed for renovations, with only a few hundred of its masterpieces available for viewing in a small satellite gallery.
The massive restoration project is nearing completion, though. On April 13, 2013, the Rijksmuseum will again open its doors, allowing visitors to explore more than 200 years of history and art.
In 1800, The Hague decreed that a new state museum be created to house the art collections of the Dutch stadtholders, or leaders. The National Art Gallery housed priceless works of art from the Dutch masters as well as important historical relics.
In 1806, though, Napoleon Bonaparte installed his younger brother, Louis, as the King of Holland — a role that had never previously existed. Louis, who reportedly battled mental illness, moved the Dutch capital multiple times to various cities around Holland. When he decreed Amsterdam was to be the nation’s capital in 1808, he ordered the National Art Gallery — then known as the Royal Museum — move to the city as well. Although King Louis changed his mind about the capital city several more times, the museum stayed put and expanded to include masterpieces owned by the city of Amsterdam, such as Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch.”
In 1815, the museum received its current name, Rijksmuseum, or State Museum, from King Willem I. In addition to its multiple name changes, the building that houses the art and artifacts collection has undergone significant changes in 200-plus years, including a move to a new building in the late 19th century. After an 1863 design competition for a new building design failed to produce any acceptable results, a second competition in 1876 brought forth a design by the architect Pierre Cuypers that, thanks to its combination of Gothic and Renaissance elements, was deemed acceptable. Nine years later, on July 13, 1885, the new Rijksmuseum opened.
As the Rijksmuseum’s collections grew, so did the need for additional space. For more than 100 years, the building was renovated and expanded. One of the most notable additions was the fragment building, constructed from materials salvaged after the demolition of notable Dutch buildings, providing a visual overview of Dutch architecture over several hundred years.
Another notable addition was the construction of floors in the original courtyards, creating extra gallery space at the expense of natural light and Cuypers original design. The building changes weren’t only structural though: The original interiors of the building, adorned with brightly colored paintings depicting scenes from Dutch life, were painted over to create additional gallery space. The overall effect detracted from the original design, largely obscuring the vision of Cuypers and the original museum directors.
In 2003, the city of Amsterdam began an ambitious project to expand and restore the Rijksmuseum. The collection of more than one million pieces had outgrown its original space, and preservationists were intent on returning the building to form, including removing the floors added to the courtyards and restoring the original decorations. The museum was also expanded and modernized, under the watchful eye of Spanish architects Antonio Ortiz and Antonio Cruz, to include a new Asian pavilion and public spaces.
While a small portion of the museum’s large collection has remained on display during the project in the fragment building, much of the museum has been closed for construction over the last decade. However, on March 18, 2013, the Rijksmuseum will close completely for about a month, opening again on April 13.
After 10 years of renovation, the art world is anxious to see the renewed Rijksmuseum, and the many treasures that have remained under wraps during the project. The museum is home to many masterworks of Dutch art, including paintings by Van Dyck, Vermeer and Jan Steen, as well as Rembrandt, and one of the world’s foremost collections of Asian art.
In the days leading up to the grand re-opening of this world-class art museum, visitors can see a preview of its art and artifacts. Each day before the opening, the Rijksmuseum website is revealing another of the 8000 objects on display in the new museum, along with a fact about the art or artist.
Once the museum reopens to the public, visitors can explore more than 80 galleries. Only Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” has been returned to its original museum location, as a nod to the heritage of the Rijksmuseum and the 200 years of the collection’s history. However, because the museum will be open 365 days a year, visitors will have plenty of time to explore more than 800 years of Dutch history.
About the Author: Olivia Thibeault visited Amsterdam and the Rijksmuseum shortly before the renovation project began, and is anxious to return and see the new museum. A writer and photographer, she is currently doing research to find a bed & breakfast in Amsterdam for her next trip.