I’ve been looking forward to seeing the reopened Rijksmuseum, having missed the opening this time last year.   It’s been discussed and debated for as long as I can remember, the plan to integrate art and Dutch history causing controversy when it was first proposed by Ronald de Leeuw.   He resigned five years into the project when it was delayed another five years by Dutch bicyclists wanting to retain their rite of passage through the centre of the building.  Duncan Bull, the curator of paintings, explained the background to the museum, which was founded out of the Catholic emancipation movement in the 1860s when Dutch ecclesiastical treasures were being exported, not least by Duveen’s father to England.   The King refused to open the original Cuypers building on the grounds that it looked like a monastery.   Duncan then took me on a whistlestop tour of the medieval collections, which looked as if they had been very beautifully displayed by Jean-Michel Wilmotte down in the vaulted undercroft originally used for the manufacture of plastercast copies, and then to the eighteenth-century galleries, sparser and less impressive, apart from the wonderful group of pastels by Jean-Etienne Liotard bequeathed to the Dutch state by Liotard’s granddaughter.   The official part of the trip was to the Gallery of Honour at the top of the building where we were able to contemplate Vermeer’s Milkmaid and Rembrandt’s Night Watch on our own. The picture which made a deep impression on me was The Oath Swearing of Claudia Civilis, which I now realise is on loan from the National Museum in Stockholm and which I must have seen in Stockholm. It’s so freely painted, in loose slabs of paint, and so savage.


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