Simon Stephens

Dutch master

Simon Stephens, 29.10.2014
A visit to Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum
I visited Amsterdam last week to see the opening of the Rijksmuseum's Philips Wing, which completes the 10-year redevelopment of this hugely impressive museum.

It chose to open the Philips Wing with an exhibition, Modern Times, which showcases its collection of 20th-century photography. It has added 20,000 works since deciding in 1994 to extend its photographic holdings beyond the 19th century.

Walking around the rest of the museum, which reopened in April 2013, modern times feels like an appropriate name for this forward-looking institution. There doesn't seem to be any of the hushed reverence you get in some art museums – instead, visitors are noisily engaging with each other and the works of art. This hubbub of activity might not be to everyone's taste but I found it refreshing.

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The museum itself has done a lot to encourage this informal atmosphere, which is particularly apparent in the gallery dedicated to Rembrandt’s largest, most famous canvas, the Night Watch. In this room you can see people on guided tours, visitors taking photos of the paintings and each other, while others are using the free Wi-Fi.

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Gallery text in the museum is informative, but conversational and relaxed. A map of the museum with handdrawn elements adds to the air of informality.

Sure, this is a big museum with a big budget, but at least it uses its resources to be ambitious and experimental.

Its interactive website, the Rijksstudio, has allowed more than 170,000 members of the public to create their own online galleries by downloading images of artworks. The high-resolution images of works from the collection can be freely downloaded and are copyright-free.

The queues round the block show the popularity of the Rijksmuseum and it recently reached the four million visitor mark since reopening.

I wasn't there that long and would love to go back to this fascinating museum. I'd urge anyone who is Amsterdam to visit and judge for themselves.

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