So much to see! From Rembrandt to Goya to Vermeer, here are 10 Rijksmuseum masterpieces you must see at this epic Amsterdam museum.
If you are visiting the capital of the Netherlands, a stop at Amsterdam’s Museumplein (Museum Square) is a must. It is the ideal place to sit and rest, take a stroll, or visit some of the surrounding museums. One of them, and maybe the most important, is the Dutch National Museum, better known as the Rijksmuseum.
The building that currently houses the museum is a Gothic-Renaissance palace. If you’re an art lover, you will not only find the most exhaustive and significant collection of works by the Dutch painter Rembrandt, but you will also be able to enjoy the most extensive art collection of the Dutch Golden Age as well as a grand collection of Asian art.
It isn’t hard to get lost amongst the eight thousand works of art that the museum has on display, so we’ve prepared a list of ten essential works to see during your visit.
1. Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat, Vincent Van Gogh
The most famous Dutch painter moved to Paris in 1886. It was during this time, in his worst state of health, that he created dozens of self-portraits—some say he wanted to save himself the cost models. In this 1887 work, he depicts himself dressed in the Parisian style of the time. He uses the classic French technique characterized by frenetic strokes and striking colors.
2. Woman Reading a Letter, Vermeer
This work of Vermeer stands out for its simplicity and, most of all, for breaking away from his more common compositions. The focus changes from the window on the left as the main subject to the woman engrossed in reading a letter, leaving all the room’s other objects in the background. It is said that the woman in question could be his wife or even a pregnant woman.
3. The Milkmaid, Vermeer
In this piece, which is one of the Baroque painter’s most representative works, the simplicity of the ordinary is coupled with the woman’s stance, which resembles an elegant classical statue standing still in the center of the work. Vermeer successfully transforms a routine activity into a spectacular scene through his command of lighting, the subtle textures of his palette and his ability to freeze action in a snapshot.
4. The Night Watch, Rembrandt
This is a masterpiece par excellence and undoubtedly the museum’s most prized possession. It is one of the most famous paintings of the Dutch Golden Age and, therefore, an essential item on this list. Rembrandt, with his lauded use of tenebrism—a technique that plays with light, shadows and the perception of atypical movement—invites spectators to immerse themselves in this almost life-size military snapshot.
5. Marten & Oopjen, Rembrandt
Rembrandt completed this unique combination of two complementary portraits in 1634. After having been part of a private collection for more than four centuries, the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum purchased both in 2016 for 160 million euros. Both museums share exposition rights, and they’re currently on display in the Rijksmuseum. The 6½-foot-tall works stand out for their subtle use of light over the background and their dark fabrics. The two young newlyweds in the portraits are dressed with opulence and pride, representing the rise of the Dutch republic in the French style of the time.
6. Banquet of the Amsterdam Civic Guard in Celebration of the Peace of Münster, Bartholomeus van der Helst
A contemporary of Rembrandt, Van der Helst was known for his portraits. This piece, which is one of the painter’s most praised and important, depicts the signing of the Peace of Munster. The work illustrates a crucial moment in European history: the end of the Eighty Years’ War between Spain and the Netherlands which led to a new European regime that left behind the feudalism of the previous centuries.
7. Winter Landscape with Skaters, Hendrick Avercamp
Avercamp is well known for his aerial perspectives and this 1608 work is considered one of the finest winter landscapes. The artist’s mastery of light and detail renders the spectator a participant in the action taking place, which shows the comings and goings of all types of people involved in a great variety of activities, from children skating to the bourgeois strolling and those taking care of their personal needs in the outdoors.
8. Battle of Waterloo, Jan Willem Pieneman
At 26-feet long, this is one of the museum’s largest works, occupying an entire room. The painting depicts the Duke of Wellington received word that the Prussian army was on its way, which would lead an epic battle that ended 20 years of war.
9. Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild, Rembrandt
Through this collective portrait commissioned in 1662, Rembrandt once again demonstrates his gift for capturing personalities through their facial expressions. This oil painting shows five syndics and a servant, the only one without a hat, standing in the background. Their facial expressions render this one of the artist’s most valued and most representations of his style.
10. Portrait of Don Ramón Satué, Francisco de Goya
This 1823 portrait, painted by Goya in Madrid, was acquired by the museum a century later. The work is a “thank you” from the Spanish painter to Ramon Sauté and his uncle José Duaso y Latre for having kept in hiding during the beginning of the anti-liberal repression in Spain, before his 1824 exile in Bordeaux. The expressiveness of the work is captured in the face of Don Ramón, challenging the spectator with his intense stare.