The New (Old) Rijksmuseum

This museum was founded in The Hague in 1800, mostly to hold the collections of the Dutch Stadtholders. By then it was known as the National Art Gallery. By 1808 King Louis Napoleon, indeed brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, moved the museum to Amsterdam. Paintings owned by the city, such as The Night Watch by Rembrandt became part of the collection.

In 1863, there was a design contest for a new building for the Rijksmuseum, but none of the submissions was considered to be of sufficient quality. Pierre Cuypers also participated in the contest and his submission reached the second place. In 1876 a new contest was held and this time Pierre Cuypers won. The design was a combination of gothic and renaissance elements. The construction began on October 1, 1876. On both the inside and the outside, the building was richly decorated with references to Dutch art history. Another contest was held for these decorations. The winners were B. van Hove and J.F. Vermeylen for the sculptures, G. Sturm for the tile tableaux and painting and W.F. Dixon for the stained glass. The museum was opened at its new location on July 13, 1885.

The front of the museum is located at Stadhouderskade, but on the other side it has a prominent position on the Museumplein, nowadays among the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam [modern art], and the world-famous Concertgebouw.

In 1890 a fragment building was added to the Rijksmuseum. This building was made out of fragments of demolished buildings that together give an overview of the Dutch history of architecture.

In 1906 the hall for the Night Watch was rebuilt. In the interior more changes were made, between the 1920s and 1950s most multi-colored wall decorations were painted over. In the 1960s exposition rooms and several floors were built into the two courtyards. The building had some minor renovations and restorations in 1984, 1995–1996 and 2000. From 2003 until 2013 the Rijksmuseum was restored and renovated based on a design by Spanish architects Antonio Cruz and Antonio Ortiz. Many of the old interior decorations are restored and the floors in the courtyards have been removed.

During the restoration and renovation process only about four hundred of the one-million piece permanent collection were on display in an exhibition called The Masterpieces in the already renovated “fragment building,” nowadays called the Philips wing.

Some 20 years ago I purchased a box about the Rijksmuseum with facsimile sketches and drawings from the period 1863-1908. Some of those are used as accompanying photos by this post.

The renewed Rijksmuseum will open its doors, after HRH Queen Beatrix has done the official opening, on April 13. I on the other hand, as a friend of the museum, can see the difference on April 7.

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