While PJ and I were in Amsterdam last month, we visited the Rijksmuseum, one of the world’s great museums. The museum’s main building is being renovated, so only small portion of the collection is available for exhibition. What the museum has done, therefore, is put together many if its masterpieces and put them on display in the Philips Wing of the museum. While it would have been nice to see more, seeing these masterpieces were well worth the visit.

We arrived at the museum shortly after it opened, which meant that the line wasn’t too long. We probably only waited in line about 15 or 20 minutes to get our tickets. It was a chilly, wet day, so we were both glad that it didn’t take long to get out of the weather and into the museum.

As the picture above suggests, the most famous work in the Rijksmuseum is Johannes Vermeer’s “The Kitchen Maid,” which is an amazing painting. Here’s an image of the painting featured on the museum’s web site:

Part of what makes this painting so remarkable is Vermeer’s use of bold color. The contrast between the blue and yellow fabrics the maid is wearing jumps off the canvas as you look at it. The brush strokes also give the painting an exquisite sense of detail, which is typical of Vermeer’s work: when you look at the painting from further away it seems very precise; when you see it up close you realize that it isn’t precise at all. It’s amazing what he accomplishes.

Another major work in this exhibit is Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch”:

While so many paintings are much smaller than you’d think we you see them in person, “The Night Watch” is huge, taking up the better part of an entire wall. And that’s after it had been cut down and part of the sides had been removed!

“The Night Watch” is another amazing painting to see in person. The figures in the group are all so vividly rendered, but Rembrandt obviously uses light to direct our attention to the painting’s major figures. One can readily imagine these guards spilling out of a tavern, roused to defend the city.

While Vermeer and Rembrandt are well-known artists, I was less familiar with the work of Jan Steen. Two of his paintings stood out to me. First, I really liked “The Burgher of Delft and His Daughter,” which is a kind of morality tale:

In this painting, the middle class burgher is being solicited by a beggar woman with her hungry child, who stands in marked contrast to the burgher’s daughter. The light shines fully on her to illuminate the wealth of her garments, contrasting nicely with the darkened child in the shadow. Her straightness and the light gives her a sense of haughty superiority. She doesn’t even acknowledge the woman and her child. Will the father give the woman what she wants? Or will he too show her disdain? Will he follow Christian teachings and give money to the poor? Or will he embody middle class mercantilist values and refuse her request?

Steen also painted a series of other paintings with a moral. I saw one very much like this one while I was in the Hague. This one in the Rijksmuseum is called “The Merry Family”:

It depicts a raucous family party in which the parents are setting a bad example for their children, who are learning to drink and smoke in emulation of their parents. It’s a great comment on poor parenting.

These are just a few of the paintings I loved in the Rijksmuseum. As we walked around the building, we also noticed that the building itself is beautiful.

Once it’s restored it’s going to be amazing.

I would definitely love to return once the renovations are complete and the entire collection is once again on display.