AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS — Rustic Breukelen is an ideal destination for a relaxing holiday, but the art museums of Amsterdam are a worthy daytrip from the tranquil small town south of the vice-ridden metropolis.
Already vaunted for its institutions dedicated to the masters from the Dutch Golden Age, like Rembrandt, and more modern paint-spatterers like Vincent Van Gogh, the city recently opened a new outpost of the Hermitage Museum to great fanfare.
The museum draws its collection of Russian art and history from the original Hermitage in St. Petersburg, and its opening exhibit — “At the Russian Court” — is a fine retrospective of hundreds of years of the Romanov dynasty told through portraits, wardrobe and other possessions used in daily life arrayed in a gigantic restored 300-year-old home for the elderly.
It’s also pretty dull.
On an overseas trip with limited time to spare in a city bursting with cultural attractions steeped in Dutch history and creative masterpieces, spending time at a museum exclusively focused on the czars and czarinas should be bumped down the list.
But a trip to Amsterdam is glaringly incomplete if the Rijksmuseum or the Van Gogh Museum are not on the itinerary.
At the Rijksmuseum, the highlight is the light. The Dutch masters of the 17th century became experts in shading. The piece de resistance is, of course, Rembrandt’s “Night Watch,” the gigantic depiction of city patrolmen in varying rays of light and shadows.
Be forewarned, the Rijksmuseum’s seemingly endless renovation has put much of the museum off-limits and the full riches of its collection out of sight. However, the museum has assembled its greatest hits, including other works by Rembrandt and his disciples; and prints, and valuables from the Dutch empire at its apex. (Several canvases depict scenes from the Dutch traders and explorers in places like India and Brazil, but The Brooklyn Paper didn’t see any works related to its Brooklyn or New Amsterdam, which is appalling.)
In addition to the limited access at the Rijksmuseum, visitors should be prepared for long lines, a mild annoyance that also occurred at the Van Gogh and Anne Frank museums. Head out early in the morning or late in the day to avoid the queues.
The Van Gogh Museum shows that its 19th-century artist had more in common with the Dutch masters from two centuries before him than just nationality. Van Gogh, best known for the bright palate of his tumultuous later years, began his career clearly influenced by the darker paintings of his predecessors.
Blessed with a large pool of Van Gogh’s works, the museum traces the evolution of his career from his lesser known beginnings to the magnificent madness at its end. Some of Van Gogh’s major works, like “Self Portrait with a Straw Hat,” are here, though they are not prominently displayed. Instead, they humbly hang in the proper chronological order.
Hermitage Amsterdam [14 Nieuwe Herengracht, at Amstel, (0)20 530-8755]; Rijksmuseum [1 Jan Luijkenstraat, between Hobbemastraat and Stadhouderskade, (0)20 674-7000]; Van Gogh Museum [7 Paulus Potterstraat, near Van de Veldestraat, (0)20 570-5200].