Saturday 18 September 2021

And Another Thing

Lo! A two-for-one Deal: Danish Flag and Dutch Delftware
Sand Holm, Still Life With Art Nouveau Ceramics [& idem], 1919

Carrying on from last week's Danish musing, Dear Reader, there were murmurings about things Dutch needing to be spoken of, suggesting perhaps Delftware and other products of their Golden Age. But the direction this post heads is toward a Documentary, viz., The New Rijksmuseum (2014)*

The Old Rijksmuseum, 1878

Amsterdam is another city Your Correspondent hasn't visited [woe!] but in lieu of this deficiency, I have become rather fond of the beguiling portal, the Rijksstudio, that is the digitised collection of its famous national museum, the Rijskmuseum. You can often find me there, rootling around looking for delicious images, usually as blog fodder. Such is the joy of the digital age!

Like many cultural institutions that have had to think up inventive ways to enrich the lives of us all in These Trying Times, the Pipistrello's local temple to artistic stuffs, the AGNSW, has been doing its bit in compensating for the cultural freeze, especially for those holding languishing memberships. 

Imagine my delight when they recently sent out a link to watch a documentary film of the renovation of this Dutch National Treasure Chest. And so marvellous did this film prove to be, I watched it twice!

For why? Unexpected drama comes as ambition meets parochial and bureaucratic obstacles for the building to be renovated and the entrance reimagined. Aesthetic objections, a cyclists' union, a shocking resignation, high emotions and professional disappointments loom over the project as the months and years tick over. 

Curators, who imagine with undisguised passion how their collections will be showcased, endear and infect us with their enthusiasm, living and breathing their speciality as they do (even literally for the live-in caretaker), are still yet fearful the project will succumb to ennui and their precious works become forgotten as the time passes. 

Despite the outward signs of the project's highs and lows, quietly and without cessation the cleaners and restorers are busy busy on the million paintings, stucco, artefacts, you name it, in readiness for the eventual reopening of the museum that looms so large in the lives of all Amsterdam. And such a thorough going-over of everything and sufficient time passes that unknown treasure is even discovered within collections.

Like all Grand Designs, large or small, the whole exercise was beset by not only cost and deadline blowouts, but the peculiarly Dutch democratic process allowed for interference on a dramatic scale. All up, the museum was shut for a decade and the whole shebang cost half a billion euros.

Dutch filmmaker Oeke Hoogendijk was given a behind-the-scenes pass to chronicle this ambitious renovation project. Four hundred hours of footage was originally condensed into a two-part four-hour film, and then further cut down to this two-hour documentary. The result is a fascinating, gripping and mesmerisingly beautiful film. [I watched it twice, I tell you!]

This rather familiar lass now has a cheeky cupid behind her!
Johannes Vermeer, Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window, c. 1659

And if you love watching art restoration in the modern age, there is also the recent wonderful news about the unveiling of the transformation of this painting by the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer, courtesy of our Deutsche friends in Dresden, with an accompanying video of the alchemy behind the project.

Officially: Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Bannick Cocq
a.k.a.: The Night Watch, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1642

Of course, for something completely wild in the art restoration sphere, the Rijksmuseum website has devoted a whole corner to "Operation Night Watch", showcasing the study and restoration of its centrepiece painting by Rembrandt, wherein artificial intelligence "learned" his painting style to digitally recreate the severed and lost outer edges.

And on that futuristic note, where AI does something delightfully unexpected, I'm now done with D.

Gekalligrafeerd alfabet, Andries Hogeboom, Ambrosius Perling, Dutch calligraphy engraving, 1680 - 1701

* This is merely the official trailer found on the youtubes, but the documentary can be watched through various interweb links for free or small fee, depending on your location.

Image credits: 1:; 2: via Flickr; 3: Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister; 4, 5: Rijksmuseum


  1. When the World's Most Livable Cities were published each year, we used to play a game at work on where would I most like to live, if I had to leave home.

    I wasn't always consistent over the years, but mostly I kept coming back to Amsterdam, Vienna, Venice, Prague and Paris. The museums, art collections, canals, churches, bridges and railway stations were so breathtaking, I agreed to live in Australia during the year, as long as the spousal unit and I could have 6 weeks each southern winter in Europe.

    Your photos make me look back fondly on all those trips.

    1. Dear Hels, looking back fondly is always a pleasurable exercise, no? Your checklist of beauty trigger points rather mirrors mine, so I guess rather proving I'm more an urban creature than a nature-lover, much as I occasionally dream the rustic idyll.

      The Most Liveable City question really raises more questions than provides a bullseye for relocation, but is nice for a game!

  2. Hello Pipistrello, I went through two of those multi-year museum closings and renovations, and I have to say in the end that I doubt the results were worth the huge cost and inconvenience, although in both cases politics played a part, not just a desire for an "improved" museum. One thing stood out from what you said, that "a million" objects were all cleaned and renovated at once. Since that museum contains so many unbelievably precious objects, and the standards and possibilities for restorations are constantly changing, I worry that a mass renovation might do more harm than good. Also, about the Rembrandt, AI can result in over-fitting to data samples, so in the end artistic taste and judgment can still play an important part.

    1. Dear Jim, I'm very intrigued - do/did you work in the museum world? There's certainly a gaping chasm between the wisdom of just a dust and jiggling about of a collection and a vanity project-style overhauling of the lot and leaving no discernible improvement on several metrics. But politics is often the driver behind this kind of decision. Everyone seems to want to leave a Legacy.

      I may rather carelessly have suggested there that each of the million objects was manhandled, so I must backtrack from that! Perhaps there's no cause for alarm. There was certainly film footage of the scores of paintings that were to be destined still to live out their dotage in the bowels of the long storage facilities.

      As to the AI angle, I hadn't known at all that such things were happening in the restoration world, but I'd recently seen something truly frightening/hideous that had been produced by an algorithm that was supposed to have ticked all the modern populist boxes, and thought that was the present state of play!

  3. Amsterdam is definitely a wonderful hub for the art world. The restoration/preservation project sounds like it might be the largest undertaking in the world. I have not been to Amsterdam and one day hope to travel again. Art and architecture is always of great interest to me.

    1. I'm not sure, Dear Susan, where the Rijksmuseum restoration stands in terms of some ranking of ambition and cost but half a billion euros must surely be right up at a lofty top. If you could wend your way through the interwebs to find some way to watch this film, I do commend it to you, for it does nicely tick those A&A boxes!

  4. Art restoration is immensely interesting. It's amazing how a good restoration breathes new life into a painting.

    1. This is certainly a fascinating area and new life really can be an apt description, Dear Loree, and the the Vermeer in Dresden was a curious example. I didn't include an image of the "After", for I'm unsure whether I prefer it or not. The painting's colours are certainly more vivid, but the Cupid? He has appeared in at least one other of Vermeer's paintings and has an almost comical look with his moppy hairdo, so it really turns the whole tone of the finished work.

      This whole field does seem to be yet another facet of our lives that is being overtaken by a heavy technological hand. An art restorer must almost need to be a tech geek as well as an arty type to undertake some projects.

  5. I used to read a blog devoted to the shops and sights of Amsterdam. Yes, it is a city I hope someday to see in person.

    1. Dear Ur-spo, when I used to dip my toe into Instagram, I liked the pics posted by (of all things) a maker of sugar-flower cake decorations in Amsterdam who used to assemble delicious Dutch Golden Age-style bouquets of fresh flowers, and canal views from her quaint apartment and such. So beguiling! We shall one day be comparing notes of the city, I think!

  6. Dear Pipistrello, Amsterdam is the city where I am very often - The Flying Dutchman lives so near that we can go by tram - thus we can bathe in culture and architecture and visit many restaurants. At the moment I see one good by-effect of Covid 19: No words of tourists - normally they clog the narrow streets with their trolley cases, and many are coming only for the coffee shops to buy weed. Last time I was very astonished to learn by a large photo-underlined information on the construction site fence around the huge place in front of the Rijksmuseum that not so long ago (but for a long time) people with bicycles AND CARS were allowed to ride through the sort of "tunnel" (which you might see on the picture above, where the columns are).
    I am curious when all the construction work will be finished... (and when I manage to find the photos of that fence I took this year - but cannot find because of problems to bring photos from my Huawei cellphone to my Macbook - I will write a blogpost about that).

    As to restoration I am in two minds - in Berlin they restored e.g. two wonderful pictures by Caspar David Friedrich - and honestly: I was totally shocked, and not only me, when I saw the result.
    "Monk at the Sea" radiates again", wrote the Tagesspiegel - I would have thought the word "glared" more appropriate. Well - now it is done, so no use to cry about spilt milk.

  7. Oh no - I cannot understand that: my (as always) long, long comment has vanished! At the moment I don't have the time to rewrite it - will try in the late afternoon.

  8. Well, I will try to put it in a nutshell: I am often in Amsterdam as the Flying Dutchman lives so near that we can go by tram to enjoy culture, architecture and restaurants. One of the few "nice" side-effects by Covid is that at the moment not so huge hordes of tourists cram the little streets.

    I took photos from the construction-fence where they build a new beautiful green place in front of the Rijksmuseum - can you imagine that for a long time people were allowed to cycle or GO BY CARS through the hall/bow that runs under the museum, (where you see the columns on the old picture you show )?

    As to restoration I am in two minds: in Berlin they restored two pictures of Caspar David Friedrich - "Monk at the Sea" was acclaimed by Der Tagesspiegel als "radiating colours now" - mmh, I would have used the word "glaring". Mae West is not always right when she said: "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful" - or better: yes, it CAN (but not in any case).

    1. Ah, Dearest Britta, I caught your first iteration and could have retrieved it before it strangely vanished and saved you the bother!

      You are rather lucky to have ready access to so many wonderful sights by having a foot in two countries. It sounds lovely that there's some landscaping going on in front of this museum, but I'm surprised there's any money left to do it! Although, it is some years now since the building work was done. I didn't know about the cars coming through the arches, but the bicycles certainly made their presence known in the shaping of this big project.

      I've had a good look now at the Berlin restorations and see what you mean. But I suppose that in another hundred years they'll resume another patina of age and will be subject to much discussion about how much they've changed from their fresh early C21st state! If it wasn't for the the myriad images capturing artwork in this present time, the average viewer would quickly forget what paintings look like in their "before" state.

  9. Art nouveau …. my favourite design period …… our house has all of the original art nouveau fireplaces ! I absolutely LOVED Amsterdam when we visited. Beautiful buildings, Visited Anne Franks house ….. got quite upset but a must see. Also, so much art to peruse in Amsterdam. . I read in one of your comments that you are watching The Repair Shop ….. isn’t it delightful …. they all have such as maxing skills … I love it because it’s such a gentle programme. XXXX

    1. Oh, isn't The Repair Shop enchanting? You are so right, Dear Jackie, to call it a gentle programme, for what else could something so lovely be? And Art Nouveau is so luscious; you are very fortunate to be surrounded by such beauty! xx

  10. BEEN THERE but not to this museum.YOU MUST GO!
    I can remember studying about these paintings in ART HISTORY CLASS..........
    I love looking at the the paintings!

  11. Lovely things, but Amsterdam is even more interesting, and such a spellbinding mix of lovely, quaint, seedy, cultured, wonderful and dreadful. I love it. A trip to Amsterdam would give an alien, perhaps even an Australian might count as such :), a deep insight into humanity as it is now, was in the past, and might be in the future. Visit, watch and wonder.

    1. You've given the city the best and most seductive of recommendations, dear Andrew, that I should feel utterly remiss if we were never to take the time to visit when an opportunity arises.

  12. Ah, Amsterdam ...
    as long as there are no tourists around ... ;-)
    Same goes for Kopenhagen.
    And all those capitals.
    Have been there.
    Enjoyed the enjoyable.
    In my village there is no museum, no theatre.
    Still, I am priviledged.
    I am surrounded by books.
    . . .
    Another fine post, Lady Pipistrello.

    1. Thank you, dear Sean. And when the world comes to you in bookish form, it is a privilege, indeed. Now, to the irksome issue of tourists ... :)

  13. Wants a new post; wants one now!

    1. Goodness! Dear Ur-spo, we Hausfraus can be distracted by things quotidian which do sap the time for Composing One's Thoughts Nicely. But, I admit, the interim wait for these pearls is oftentimes disgracefully long. I shall endeavour to get onto it pronto(ish), for I don't like to test the patience of a psychiatrist under the whip of his own Board of Directors!


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