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


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

Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?