Home to a collection which ranges from some of the finest Dutch paintings by artists such as Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Johannes Vermeer to Gerrit Rietvelt’s iconic chair and a fighter plane from World War I, the refurbished Rijksmuseum is an exemplar of restoring and enhancing original interiors while adding new contemporary spaces, lighting and displays, bringing the museum building together as an architectural whole, while allowing display variations between different parts of the building.
Originally designed by Pierre Cuypers and opened in 1885, the Rijksmuseums’s 375 million euro refurbishment designed by Cruz y Oriz architects has stripped out 20th century alterations to create two spacious atrium spaces with glazed roofs, dramatic ceilings which reflect the vertical decoration on the original building, and Portuguese marble floors. These light airy spaces not only provide essential facilities such as reception, cloakroom, shop and restaurant, but provide the key to orientation with their new connection below a public passageway at ground level. The galleries retaining their historic character have been refurbished with sensitive use of colour, display cases and lighting designed by the French interior architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, with colour schemes inspired by Pierre Cuypers’ palette.
The museum displays 8,000 objects from its collection of 1 million objects related to art, design and the history of the Netherlands. There is naturally a focus on Dutch artists, designers and architects, with other work from around the world, including Japan, with which the Netherlands had a strong relationship. The galleries cover many different themes and vaulted ceilings have been highlighted with with new lighting fittings that enhance the architecture as well as the art and objects on display, also seen in the new large picnic area. A new separate pavilion, also designed by Cruz y Oriz architects and connected underground to the main building houses the Asian collection and new temporary exhibition galleries have been created in the Philips wing, which remained open during most of the main refurbishment with a temporary exhibition of masterpieces from the collection.
The historic 19th century interiors have been restored with painted frescos and terrazzo floors, which had been covered over, damaged or destroyed, including the Library, the Gallery of Honour, the Grand Hall, the Night Watch Gallery and the stairwells. In addition, a new public garden has been created by the Dutch landscaping architects Copijn Landschapsarchitecten, based on a 1901 design by Pierre Cupyers.
Circulation is a little complex. The third floor has two separate wings focused on different aspects of the 20th century, a constraint of the original building, but the first floor is also split in two which means multiple exits and entries for visitors, which must be expensive for the museum in terms of staffing but also makes it confusing. The reason apparently is that the Dutch Cyclists’ Union lobbied to maintain this public route through the middle of the building and, while it does give views down into the atria, is has compromised internal circulation and logic. “The bicycle is folklore in the Netherlands. Touch the bicycle, and you touch freedom”. (Taco Dibbits, Director of Collections)
Putting this to one side, an international collaboration of designers have achieved a splendid restoration of the Rijksmuseum , with old and new working together to create a museum for the 21st century.