AMSTERDAM - After a decade, the Rijksmuseum is finally open again. Hurrah! The reawakening of one of the world’s greatest museums is an important event for art lovers, (or liefhebbers as the Dutch have called us since the 16th century). The curatorial staff has been on party duty every night for over a week, and some have black rings under their eyes. I think the repopening of the museum will reinvigorate other museums in Amsterdam and in The Netherlands, and increase competition.

Opening ceremony of the Rijksmuseum, with Queen Beatrix.

Arriving by tram – which you do unless you have come by bike – you first see a long raised wooden platform, extending beyond visibility into the Amsterdam night. I took this to be a piece of land art – an urban Richard Long – perhaps celebrating the route taken by cyclists under the Rijksmuseum (their unalienable right to do so added delays and costs to the project). But no, this is where the Queen was due to pass when she came to the museum’s official reopening.  The poignancy of this, her last official engagement before her formal abdication later this month, is underscored by the Andy Warhol portrait of her, which visitors come across unexpectedly on the second floor, in the middle of the 17th century gallery.
Since entering the building in the dark, everything that I had seen was new, until I took the old main stairs up to the galleries.  At the sound of my sandy leather soles shuffling on stone treads of the stair, and the sight of The Nightwatch at the end of the nave, it all became familiar again.


The rearrangement of the second floor galleries is a triumph: paintings, sculpture in bronze, stone and wood, porcelain, glass, silver, armour, guns, ship models and artefacts are beautifully integrated.  It is also a triumph in the literal sense, with rooms devoted to the Dutch Empire’s achievements, without the slightest hint that Empires are elsewhere regarded as at the very least infra dig, and without toning down their warlike endeavours.  A vast painting by Hendrick Vroom of the 1607 Battle of Gibraltar, depicts the site of a now more bashful ex-Empire. It is surmounted by the suit of armour worn by Jacob van Heemskerk, the Admiral commanding the Dutch fleet that routed the Spanish.  A leg is missing, blown away by the Spanish cannonball that killed him. Paintings by Frans Post extol the short-lived Dutch colony in Brazil, and provide a far more enduring trace of European colonization there than the early Portuguese – though Post also records their crumbling churches. Most remarkable of all, and overturning several centuries of Britannic Imperial fact, is an artefact (a battered pewter plate) proving that a Dutchman called Dirk Hartog in 1616 - not an Englishman called Captain Cook a century and a half later - discovered Australia.  The art illustrating this overwhelms any doubting hearts. You’re not much if you’re not Dutch, my friends used to tell me. You’re not much if your art isn’t Dutch, they might have added.
The unexpected and exciting items on display need time and repeated visits.  I was only able to visit one floor, and the rediscovery of so many old friends is a personal matter that should only be digested at leisure. I am going back next week.