Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands will officially re-open the Rijksmuseum next week, marking the end of a painful restoration project.
The work at the Dutch state museum in the heart of Amsterdam ran five years over schedule and millions of euros over budget.
The Rijksmuseum has been closed since 2003. Renovation was delayed by flooding, asbestos and a dispute over access for cyclists.
“It was kind of Murphy’s Law,” says museum director Wim Pijbes.
“What could go wrong, did go wrong.”
Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands will officially re-open the Rijksmuseum next week, marking the end of a painful restoration project
Wim Pijbes added: “It has been closed for 10 years, but now it can go on for decades.”
On Wednesday, Johannes Vermeer’s The Milkmaid was re-hung, making it the last major work to return to the museum.
The painting sits in the Gallery of Honour, a breathtaking cathedral to the Dutch Golden Age, showcasing works by Rembrandt, Jan Steen and Franz Hals.
The old masters draw the eye, but so do the intricately decorated ceilings and pillars that frame them – all painstakingly recreated after being painted over in the post-war years.
In the halls flanking the grand gallery, the decoration is more modern. British artist Richard Wright, a former Turner Prize winner, has dusted the ceilings with almost 50,000 stars, hand-painted in a swirling, shifting constellation.
It all serves to set up the Rijksmuseum’s biggest star – Rembrandt’s Night Watch.
A gigantic Baroque painting of 17th Century city guards teeming with drama and movement, it is the only work to be hung in its original place.
“Everything has changed,” says Taco Dibbits, the museum’s director of collections.
“We have more than one million objects and we used to display them by material. You had a gallery for glass, a gallery for porcelain, a gallery for paintings.
“Now we have mixed all the media and presented the visitor the story of art from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century.”
The Rijksmuseum’s paintings mingle amongst cabinets, kitchenware, magazine covers, dolls’ houses and pottery in a splendid, higgledy-piggledy array.
It illustrates the cross-pollination between decorative and visual art – for instance, how Japanese prints inspired a Parisian vase-maker, whose designs prompted Van Gogh to paint Amandelbloom In Bloel (Almond Tree In Bloom) – but it also presents some striking juxtapositions.
In the 20th Century Gallery, a kitsch German chess set, with snipers as pawns and a Panzer tank for the kings, is vaguely comedic, until visitors notice the Auschwitz prison uniform worn by 16-year-old Dutch girl Isabel Wachenheimer, which hangs silently nearby in grim disapproval.
In total, there are 800 years of Dutch history retold in more than 8,000 objects across the Rijksmuseum’s 80 galleries.
There is a brand new entrance hall in the shape of a voluminous atrium, flooded with natural light from the five-storey-high glass ceiling.
Wim Pijbes describes it as Amsterdam’s equivalent to Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall – a free-to-enter public auditorium which will host performances, parties and new exhibits.
By tunnelling under a cycle path that runs through the centre of the museum (the proposed closure of which caused uproar) it unites the east and west wings for the first time. It also created a few headaches.
“We found beautiful new spaces, but being below the building means you dig into water,” Wim Pijbes says.
In fact, with Amsterdam already under sea level, digging down meant the Rijksmuseum flooded. Workers floated around in dinghys as they fought the water table.
Even now, skeptics wonder if the museum is jeopardizing its collection.
“For foreigners, it is really frightening to be under sea level, and even more frightening to have the collection below sea level,” says Wim Pijbes.
“But for the Dutch, it’s everyday life.”
He insists that “complex engineering work” means the lower galleries are safe. But these aren’t the only measures taken to protect the artworks.
The museum is newly illuminated by 3,800 individual LED lights, which lack the paint-destroying heat and UV rays of incandescent bulbs.
They were installed by Dutch lighting specialists Philips, who also claim the LEDs enhance the viewing experience.
Visitors will get to decide for themselves when the Rijksmuseum throws open its doors on April 13.
After the gala opening, hosted by the abdicating Queen, the first day’s entry will be free. After that, the directors predict more than two million people will come to the gallery every year, restoring it as one of Europe’s most important museums.
Prince Johan Friso, the second son of Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands, is in a critical condition after being hit by an avalanche while on a skiing holiday in Lech, western Austria.
According to Austrian officials, Prince Johan Friso was buried under the snow for about 15 minutes before being rescued.
Prince Johan Friso, 43, was resuscitated at the scene and taken to hospital in Innsbruck – the Dutch government said he was stable but “not out of danger”.
Several members of the Dutch royal family had been on holiday together in the resort of Lech, in the Austrian Alps.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte confirmed that the queen was there but had not been involved in the incident.
Dutch Prince Johan Friso is in a critical condition after being hit by an avalanche while on a skiing holiday in Lech, western Austria
Stefan Jochum, a spokesman for the ski resort, said Prince Johan Friso had been skiing with a small group off the marked pistes when the avalanche hit shortly after midday local time. No-one else was injured, he said.
The Austria Press Agency quoted Lech’s mayor, Ludwig Muxel, as saying the prince had been buried by an avalanche measuring about 30 m wide by 40 m long.
The Dutch government said Prince Johan Friso’s condition was stable but that he was “not out of danger”. An earlier statement said he was in intensive care and that his life was “at risk”.
The statement said Queen Beatrix and Princess Mabel, prince’s wife, were with him but that it would be several days before a full prognosis could be given.
The Austrian Alps have been hit by particularly heavy snow this winter and numerous avalanches. Parts of Voralberg were cut off by the snow this week and an avalanche warning was in place around Lech.
Several people have been killed across Europe this year in avalanches.
Prince Johan Friso gave up his rights to the Dutch throne in 2004, when he married human rights activist Mabel Wisse Smit.
Holland’s government had refused to give its support to the marriage, because the couple had given misleading information about the bride’s relationship with a dead gangster.
Under Dutch law, royals who aspire to the throne must receive permission from the government and parliament to marry as the cabinet will bear responsibility for their actions.
Prince Johan Friso and Princess Mabel have two young daughters, Luana and Zaria.