Charles Darwent on the Rijksmuseum reopening: At last, the Dutch really do go Dutch

4.00

There's a very national flavour to the triumphant and long overdue relaunch of Holland's great museum. Just watch out for the bikes ....

To the ill-disguised joy of galleries the world over, the revamping of Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum has run years and many euros over budget. Now it is almost done. On Saturday, Queen Beatrix, in her last major act as Dutch monarch, will declare the remodelled museum open. As Head of the House of Oranje-Nassau, she will walk on an orange carpet; there will be a dozen fanfares to greet her, one from each province of the Netherlands. The Rijksmuseum is central to Dutch life, to the country's cultural imagining of herself, as no equivalent institution is in Britain.

So what will eager Hollanders find when the captains and the queens depart? Unexpectedly, perhaps, they will find a deal of Dutchness. When the museum closed for refurbishment in 2003, Amsterdammers were enraged that the cycle route under it was shut as well. Cycling is encoded in the Dutch genome: even Beatrix's mother rode a bike. So Hollanders are gripped by the thought that they will soon be able to ride through, rather than under, the Rijksmuseum, in a glassed-in roadway between its two new atriums. The importance of bicycles to the Dutch had, it seems, to be patiently spelled out to the Spanish architects of the museum's transformation, Messrs Cruz and Ortiz. The glazed cycle path is their transcultural masterstroke.

But the new Rijksmuseum will be Holland-centric in other, equally symbolic ways. The building houses the country's collections of fine and decorative arts, rather as if the National Gallery and the V&A were under one roof. Unlike those institutions, though, the Rijksmuseum's collections are nationally based.

Museums are both purveyors of historical objects and themselves objects of history, shaped by the fashions of their day. So, given the Rijksmuseum's Spanish architects and the fact that Wim Pijbes, its director, is young, has a background in film and theatre and was given carte blanche over what he would show and how he would show it, you might have expected a fashionably global slant to the museum's new hang.

This worry is dispelled as you walk towards The Night Watch. As before 2003, Rembrandt's masterpiece has the feel of an altar to Dutch genius at which the world is invited to worship. As before, the picture sits at the end of the sequence of rooms known as the Eregalerij, roughly translated as the Hall of Fame. As before, the occupants of this hall – Vermeer, Frans Hals, Jan Steen – are Golden Age Dutchmen.

At least as notable as the handsome storm-grey in which the Eregalerij's walls have been painted are the restored Neo-Gothic decorations of its original architect, Pierre Cuypers. Thought of as too Catholic for Protestant Holland when they were unveiled in 1876 – Cuypers was Holland's answer to Pugin – these were painted over in international whitewash in the mid-20th century. Now they are back, in a quiet reassertion of Dutch history.

If the new Rijksmuseum's national emphasis is a pleasant surprise, then so, too, is its hang. Press rumours had suggested that the broadly chronological organisation of this would be made up of a series of stijlkamers, re-creations of period rooms complete with ersatz wallpaper and dummies in ruffs. In fact, Pijbes's curators have interspersed occasional objects among the paintings in an entirely intelligent way.

Thus, in a room given over to pictures of Holland's 17th-century naval history, are the exquisite, contemporaneous scale model of a Dutch warship and a carved wooden coat of arms hacked from the stern of an British man-of-war by happy Dutch sailors during their raid on Chatham in 1667. Another room places gilt-framed portraits among inlaid marble tabletops, silverware and porcelain, locating paintings as luxury objects for the rich of mercantile Holland. Which, by and large, they were.

Are there any problems with the new Rijksmuseum? In a project of this scale, there would have to be. Ortiz and Cruz suffer from the unfortunate Spanish taste for grey marble; their twin atriums look like an abattoir, with the sound-baffling chandeliers as humane killers. The new hang is intended to bring the story of Dutch genius up to date, taking us from Rembrandt via Van Gogh and Mondrian to CoBrA. The newer the art, though, the more far-flung the gallery in which it is hung, which suggests an unfortunate falling-off in value. In any case, the Stedelijk and Van Gogh museums are metres away across the Museumplein, and do these things better.

But the new Rijksmuseum is a triumph for all that, and not simply for the Dutch and Dutchness. It shows that museums can reinvent themselves without stooping to cheap showmanship, can make their collections accessible without patronising the people who see them. Drie keer hoera – three cheers – to that.

Critic's Choice

The Courtauld Gallery, London, stages an exhibition dedicated to a single year in Picasso's life, when he launched his career in Paris before radically changing his style. Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901 brings together many of the major works from that time for a tightly focused, illuminating show (till 27 May). At Manchester Art Gallery for a year, Radical Figures: Post-war British Figurative Painting brings together Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, David Hockney and others (to 16 Mar 2014).

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect