Today we took a detour from the historical focus of this trip and delved into the fine arts culture of Europe. We visited Rijks Museum of Amsterdam, an internationally accredited institution housing over 1 million objects ranging from classical paintings by Rembrandt, to pieces from the Dutch Impressionist Vincent Van Gogh, and even fine crafts and historical artifacts from the most influential and affluent families throughout Dutch history. Our purpose in going to this museum was to examine the impact of Jewish culture on famous Dutch painters such as Vermeer and the impressionist artists from the Hague School of Art. For many of us this was our first time experiencing these famous works first hand, being so close to them you could literally see the brush strokes, mistakes, and fine details the artist created while making their masterpiece.
The museum began in the 1600-1800 period; for us and the thousands of other visitors in attendance that day, coup de grace of all the exhibits was the famous work by Rembrandt “The Night Watch” (1642). This classic work spans 142.9” by 172.0” taking up most of the wall it is placed on. This immense piece is known the world over for its size, use of lighting, and the use of natural body characteristics to create an illusion of motion for the viewer, as opposed to the static style of portrait painting that was so popular during the Baroque period. Another well known works included in this section was Vermeer’s “The Milk Maid” (1657) and “The Lutenist” (1661) by Hendrick Martensz Sorgh. This exhibit also featured relics from the “Golden Age” of Dutch civilization such as enormous cannons, rifles, swords, and paintings that showed the great victories of the Dutch navy against the British, French and Spanish; however as we ventured further into the Museum the vibe began to change. As we entered the 19th to 20th century exhibit we saw a change from a focus on the royal and military aspects of Dutch culture, to the Impressionist movement’s focus on everyday life. It was here where we saw Vincent Van Gogh’s famous “Self Portrait with Grey Felt Hat” (1887) and parts of his “Undergrowth” series (1887-1890). Also included were works by the great Impressionist Monet, such works included “La Corniche near Monaco” (1884) a well known landscape scene.
Though this particular stop was a departure from the standard itinerary, it was a welcome break. We were given two hours to explore this museum, free of professors, tour guides, and distractions. We saw works by artists that are known the world over, we left the museum feeling refreshed by the cultural experience we just took part in and were able to retire to an afternoon in beautiful Amsterdam to just enjoy the town and everything else it had to offer.