WKND Travel: The cultural heritage of Netherlands
Viewing art in the Netherlands
Art has long been a significant driver of tourism in the Netherlands. In response to the inevitable dip in footfall caused by the pandemic, virtual exhibitions and online events helped the country’s art museums maintain their public presence through 2020. Aficionados can look forward to innovative exhibitions this year too.
Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands’ national museum, and near neighbour the Van Gogh Museum both drew over two million visitors in 2019. The latter’s website introduces the story of the post-impressionist and his works, enabling visitors to book time slots to visit the institution. From October 8, the exhibition The Potato Eaters will explore Van Gogh’s mindset as he created his first masterpiece. Painted in the village of Nuenen in 1885, the canvas shows five people gathered around a dinner table in a room subtly illuminated by a gas lamp.
Stories behind masterpieces in the Rijksmuseum’s airy Gallery of Honour are told via the museum’s app. The room displays notable works by 17th century artists, including Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen and Floris van Dyck. Amsterdam was then the capital of a newly independent nation whose maritime prowess fostered overseas trade providing merchants wealth to commission art. That period is today dubbed the Dutch Golden Age.
No painting is regarded as more representative of the era than Rembrandt van Rijn’s dynamic group portrait of an Amsterdam militia company popularly known as The Night Watch. Cameras monitor the artwork’s ongoing restoration behind a glass screen. Operation Night Watch enables both physical and virtual visitors to view the conservation and research project.
The Mauritshuis, next to Dutch parliament buildings in The Hague, was built nearly 400 years ago as a palace for Johan Maurits, the governor-general of the Dutch colony in what is today Brazil. For the past 199 years, it has displayed Dutch Golden Age artworks. The museum’s celebrated paintings include Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicholaes Tulp — an oil painting representative of the 1630s’ spirit of scientific enquiry.
In Smell the Art: Fleeting — Scents in Colour, an exhibition running until August 29, curator Ariane von Suchtelen explores aromas’ roles in how we perceive art. Covid-safe foot pumps next to paintings dispense scent molecules into funnels for visitors to sniff. The view-at-home version is dubbed the world’s first digital interactive look-and-smell tour. The underlying concept is that smells help trigger connections on an emotional level while viewing images.
A fresh yet lightly acidic aroma accompanies Jacob van Ruisdael’s View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds, depicting linen being bleached in fields during the 1670s. By contrast, a malodorous pong is dispensed next to Jan van der Heyden’s cityscape View of Oudezijds Voorburgwal with the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, whose foreground depicts a canal. During the 1670s, the city’s waterways were dumping sites for waste products and renowned for their stench during warmer times.
In May, Rotterdam’s Ahoy Arena staged the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest. Last August, the conference centre’s empty halls hosted Drive-Thru Museum, a pop-up art exhibition featuring contemporary installations and sculptures from the collection of the city’s Museum Boijmans van Beuningen. Music played while artworks were illuminated by the headlights of electric cars driven by visitors. The innovative exhibition captured public imagination and opening hours were extended to meet demand.
The island city of Dordrecht is a 30-minute waterbus ride south-east of Rotterdam. The exhibition In the Light of Cuyp was envisioned to coincide with the 400th anniversary of celebrated artist Aelbert Cuyp’s birth in 1620. The pandemic resulted in the exhibition’s postponement and caused celebrations to mark the 800th anniversary of Dordrecht receiving city rights to be pushed back too.
Cuyp lived and worked in and around Dordrecht. He came to be regarded one of the Dutch Golden Age’s great landscape painters after British collectors bought up his paintings in what is dubbed ‘Cuyp Mania’ during the 18th century. In the Light of Cuyp explores the influence of the Dutch artist’s works on notable British artists, such as John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough and Joseph Mallord William Turner.
Prior to that, the Cobra Museum of Modern Art in Amstelveen, directly south of Amsterdam, is hosting a notable modernist exhibition until September 26. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: A Love Revolution provides a rare opportunity to view Mexican art from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection in a European setting.