Rijksmuseum is one of the cultural marvels that almost every tourist to Amsterdam makes it a point to visit. Amid all the facts that they digest about the place, few enough register that it did not always use to be in Amsterdam. The establishment first opened to the public back in 1800, at a time when it was called ‘Nationale Kunstgalerij’. Back then it was located in The Hague, and boasted a collection comprising historical objects and paintings. It was only by 1808 that it was moved to Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands.
The building everyone visits today came to be used only in 1885, and boasts an immensely wide and populous collection of art and whatnot by famous artists over the centuries. If you cannot seem to catch a break with regard to time, following is a look at how you can finish visiting the place in two hours or less—a brief Rijksmuseum highlights tour, if you will.
The Second Floor
People without the time think that taking on the first floor beforehand works the same way it does in most other museums, but that is not the case here. What you need to do is head straight to the second floor, and go to the famous pieces of work by the main Dutch masters— Vermeer, Rembrandt, Steen, and Hals. “The Night Watch” by Rembrandt is on this floor, and counts as his most famous painting, as well as his largest. Read some of the interesting stories displayed here about the piece after admiring it, and then move on.
Go south to the Gallery of Honour, where you will find paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Steen, and Hals. Johannes Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” is a small painting compared to most, but no one is going to dispute that it is beautiful. The peaceful absorption depicted on the subject’s face is enough to give you a good sense of the silence in the artist’s studio while he was painting her.
After that, go past the toilets and enter the room to the right. Here, you will get to see Rembrandt’s early self-portraits where he used experimental paint-scratching techniques to portray his curls, which prove how much of a prodigy he was even when that young. Subsequent rooms to the right show Hendrick Avercamp’s Dutch landscapes as well as a few works of Hugo de Groot. This is where you can see most clearly the Flemish influences in the sphere of art, shown in finely detailed tapestries from the 20th century.
Of the pieces displayed in the next rooms, the one you most need to see is Bartholomeus van der Helst’s “Banquet at the Crossbowmen’s Guild in Celebration of the Treaty of Münster”, which is one of those paintings that keep revealing more details the further you look at them. After that, go on downstairs, but not before you take a short break for your senses in the Great Hall and just sit there looking at nothing but empty space. A lot of people swear by this approach, and someday, you will too.
The First Floor
On the first floor, start off with Jan Willem Pieneman’s “The Battle of Waterloo”, which is an impressive masterpiece done on a massive piece of canvas. It will take some time to properly admire, so sit down facing it and take in all the colorful details including the soldiers’ facial expressions done so masterfully. Savor it, and then move on to the next room. Turn right and you will see Cuypers Library, which is not just an exhibit, but a genuine library housing some of Netherlands’ oldest history books. Be mindful of the relatively delicate and hazardous columns, staircases, and handles, and you should do just fine.
After leaving the library, take in the art pieces in the room that houses works by Francisco Goya, and then head to the next one, where you can see a wealth of paintings from all over the Romantic era. Let your mind enjoy the vivid details and contrasts in depictions of sun rays peeking out among stormy clouds on the horizon, theatrical landscapes, etc. One of the next four rooms has “The Singel Bridge at the Paleisstraat in Amsterdam” by Breitner, which is a piece he painted after looking at multiple photographs of the subject. You can also see Van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait”, which, for the uninitiated, is one of those that show up when you Google him.
If you have some time left after all of that admiring, head on to the remaining wing of the first floor, and check out the Enlightenment section, and if you still have a few minutes to spare, also check out the Haarlem period room. That should conclude your short tour of the place while still making sure you took in all of the best bits it has to offer.