Tag Archives: Rembrandt

REMBRANDT’S FLASH MOB – our heroes are back!

After nine years of renovation, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum will reopen on April 13th. The single best known work is Rembrandt’s Night Watch, his group portrait of the volunteer militiamen who protected the city from evil-doers four centuries ago.

To celebrate the occasion, this entertaining Flash Mob was staged in a Dutch shopping centre, under the banner ‘Onze Helden Zijn Terug’ (Our heroes are back). It’s well worth 1 minute 26 seconds of your time. The modern militia in the video is not sponsored by wealthy burghers; note the ING Bank logos.

Rembrandt's Nightwatch. Image, Wikimedia Commons.

Rembrandt’s Nightwatch. Image, Wikimedia Commons.

We’re sorry we missed the event, but we’ll soon be back in Amsterdam to see the original painting in all its glory. We’re likely to stand in front of it for about 1 minute and 26 seconds.

Thanks, Duncan – friend, blogger, and fellow Flash Mob enthusiast – for letting me know about this one.


Filed under Art, Holland

REMBRANDT – a funny old master


Hiding behind the colour, the action, the noise and the Where’s Wally-like crowd of the painting most visitors to Amsterdam come to see is a detail I love. Continue reading


Filed under Art, Holland

RONDE HOEP – a 40km loop ride from Amsterdam

Out past the village of Nes aan de Amstel. The 18th century writers Betje Wolff and Aagje Degen, depicted in this little sculpture by Hans Bayens

Cows, dykes, windmills, Rembrandt, locks, churches, appeltaart, a Spinoza connection (no, that’s not a European group-set brand) and roads with no potholes – a perfect little cycling loop out of Amsterdam. Continue reading

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REMBRANDT IN LEIDEN – nice place to be a kid

This artwork stands in Rembrandtplein, Leiden, the little square opposite Rembrandt's birthplace. Good idea, but I think the master's work was better.

‘You interested in the Royal Wedding, Edwin?’ I asked my friend and occasional cycling partner.


‘Me neither. How about we ride to Leiden?’

‘Sounds good. My mother was born there,’ he said, ‘so I’m half Leidenaar.’

‘Rembrandt was born there too,’ I answered. I’ve been to his house in Amsterdam and the church where he married Saskia in Friesland. I’ve seen his paintings in the Rijksmuseum and the Westerkerk where he’s buried. Visiting his birthplace would complete the set. Continue reading


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REMBRANDT HOUSE MUSEUM, AMSTERDAM – learning from the master

Crush a few coloured rocks, add oil and alcohol, smear onto canvas and there you have it - a Rembrandt!

In the studio where Rembrandt created The Night Watch, I started at the beginning, learning how to make paint.
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ART TOURISM – what if the paintings were fake?

I’ve just read Joost Zwagerman’s entertaining book Duel, in which a subversive young artist substitutes her copy of a famous painting for the original in a museum. It fools the gallery’s director. Visitors don’t notice any difference. None but the gallery’s conservator can tell the real painting from the fake.

It got me thinking…

While we’re travelling, we spend a lot of money, time and effort visiting great art museums to see famous paintings. Even if we have little interest in art when we’re home, we feel that in Paris, Amsterdam or New York we ought grab the chance to see ‘real’ Rembrandts, Picassos or van Goghs.

Having forked out our hard-earned cash for our entry tickets, we expect to see real Da Vincis, original Renoirs and 100% genuine Monets. We marvel at the technical artistry, are moved by their beauty and feel we are in the presence of greatness. Would we be half so excited if we knew we were looking at fakes?

Suppose the Rijksmuseum announced that because their Rembrandts and Vermeers were in danger of deteriorating, they all had to go into climate-controlled storage, and meanwhile they would be replaced on the museum walls by reproductions. We can assume the copies will be so good that an expert would need a microscope and a chemistry set to tell the difference. Would we still queue up to see them?

Or what if the Louvre fessed up that the Mona Lisa had been in a vault since 1963 and visitors had been paying to shuffle past a poster ever since? Would we feel ripped off?

Suppose the MoMA offered to make numerous excellent copies of each its greatest treasures, then send them off as travelling exhibitions. It would save a fortune in insurance costs and everybody could enjoy them at an affordable price. Would anybody be interested?

A few years ago Mrs T and I went to an exhibition in Brussels of work by the Breughels, Elder and Younger. Pieter Breughel the Younger set up a studio and employed artists to produce reproductions of his father’s work. There was nothing fraudulent about this. In those days when travel was difficult it was the only way to have the paintings reach a wider audience. The reproductions were presented as copies and sold for much less than the originals. But in a number of cases we found the reproductions technically superior, sharper and more aesthetically pleasing. We were just as happy with the ‘phoney’ versions as with the originals.

So why are we so obsessed with seeing the real thing? Because we want to know that when we peer closely at an individual brush stroke that we are seeing the exact moment that Vermeer painted the pearl earring. We’ve heard of Vermeer; the name of an imitator means nothing to us. And we can’t help speculating on the astronomical sum the work would bring on the open market, and comparing it to the pittance the artist earned for painting it.

But isn’t this ridiculous? Surely a good painting is a good painting is a good painting, whoever created it. If it moves you or sparks your interest or speaks to you in a particular way, why should it matter who created it or when, or how much it last sold for? The experience is supposed to be about the artist communicating his or her idea of what is beautiful or interesting with us the viewers. An accurate copy could probably do this just as well as the original.

Strangely, we don’t seem to mind much if sculptures or buildings are reproductions. We know that a Rodin bronze is one of a series which came out of the same mould. We’re happy to admire the rebuilding of towns like Ypres and Dusseldorf after their original buildings were bombed flat. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the original sculptures from Prague’s lovely Charles Bridge are in a vault somewhere, protected from the visitors and the vandals, and those we see out there on the bridge are reproductions. Does it matter? Not to me.

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PICTURE POSTCARD PEDALLING – Cycling Holland’s Green Heart

Tilting at windmills

I rode a bike around a bog for five days and enjoyed it. Mind you, we’re talking about a world-class bog here; there can’t be many nicer ones than the Groene Hart (Green Heart) region of the Netherlands.

The Groene Hart, the area directly south of Amsterdam, is the Dutch landscape of the postcards – lush green fields where cows and sheep graze, old windmills turn slowly, ducks dabble on canals and barges glide under willows along the rivers. It’s the largest ‘preserved land’ area in the country; 1500 square miles of farms and nature reserves, dotted with little villages.

Poking up around its edges are the surprisingly interesting cities of Leiden, Rotterdam and Utrecht, so whenever my backside had had enough I could pull off the cycle path and check out a museum. Or I could research a local café, which in this part of the world means ‘bar’.

This was my sort of cycling – flat, safe, and with regular access to food, drink and beds. I hardly needed the gears on my basic touring bike and, even with my unreliable knees, averaging 35miles a day was a breeze, at least when the breeze was behind me.
It was vaguely disconcerting to pedal out of Amsterdam, perched on the dyke beside the Amstel River and notice that the surrounding countryside was several metres below the water level.

Gein River, Groene Hart

Until the Middle Ages, this was all swamp. Decaying vegetation formed a soggy peat layer several yards thick. So when the growing industries of brewing, weaving and brick-making demanded fuel, there it was in the Groene Hart, just waiting to be dug, dried and burned.

Turf-cutting was relatively lucrative work for mediaeval peasants, but it had a major downside. Drying the land caused subsidence, thus requiring more drainage canals, which in turn led to more drying, more sinking and more flooding, hence the windmills needed to pump the water back up to the rivers.

Now only the dykes are keeping the rivers honest and I hoped I wouldn’t have to stick my finger into one. Incidentally, the author of that classic 19th century tale about the brave little boy who saved the land by putting his finger in a hole was Mary Mapes Dodge, a New Yorker who never saw a Dutch dyke.

Farming here is now barely economical, and environmentally friendly activities are subsidized. So the Groene Hart is becoming an area of lakes and bird sanctuaries, its old farms turned into homes for city commuters, mini-campgrounds and B&Bs. Agriculture’s loss is the cyclist’s gain.

I reached Leiden, famous for cheese studded with cumin seeds. It also boasts the oldest university in the Netherlands, whose most notable alumnus probably dropped out around 1625. He was a young tearaway called R.H. van Rijn, later known just as Rembrandt. The bridges arching over the canal offered an excellent lunch stop.

Then I went rolling down towards Rotterdam, Europe’s busiest harbour. By reputation it’s a no-nonsense commercial centre, devoid of appealing old buildings. On May 14th 1940, as punishment for Dutch resistance, Hitler’s Luftwaffe bombed it flat, killing 800 Rotterdammers. The event is recalled by Ossip Zadkine’s powerful sculpture by the waterfront, The Destroyed City.Rotterdam 035

But Rotterdam bounced back. Instead of rebuilding in the old style, the city went for radical modern architecture, and very impressive it is too.

Cube Houses,RotterdamMost extraordinary are Piet Blom’s Cube Houses of 1984. His row of yellow boxes, set on their points, spans a bridge over a busy road. They look award-winning from the outside but could anyone actually live in a house with no vertical walls? One cube is open to the public, so I saw how they ingeniously solved the problem of where to put the bookcases and wardrobes.
Bars by the old Rotterdam harbour were uninviting, but I found one attractive cafe. ‘Can I get good coffee here?’ I asked the waitress. ‘They have better coffee machine next door,’ was the answer. I appreciated the honesty, so I stayed. She was right – the coffee was indeed average, but the food and service were worth tipping.

At the signpost outside the city I had a choice to make. I could fight my way into the gale blowing off Kinderdijk, where World Heritage windmills line a canal, or I could ride with the wind at my back towards Gouda. It started to rain. Suddenly cheese seemed very interesting.

Town Hall, GoudaGouda has perhaps the most beautiful town square in Holland, dominated by a seventeenth century town hall in the middle. A wedding party arrived in a horse-drawn carriage, which sent tourists scrabbling for the cameras. The bride posed for us, then went inside for a very short ceremony – she was married in less time than it took me to eat a cheese sandwich.

30miles further across the Groene Hart I came to Utrecht. It features one of the world’s quirkier museums, with the cumbersome name Het Museum van Speelklok tot Pierement. It’s a museum of mechanical music.

I joined the free tour, as guide Pieter explained the instruments in Dutch and English.
We listened to delicate French musical clocks, pianolas and mighty pierements, the Dutch street organs.

My favourite exhibit was a musical cabbage. When Pieter wound it, tinkly music played, and a fluffy white rabbit emerged to make chewing movements above a cabbage leaf. That was it. Kids were apparently easier to entertain in the pre-Nintendo age, though the young members of tour group enjoyed the bunny too.

Most over-the-top item had to be the grand Heizmann Orchestrion, the 19th century predecessor to the jukebox. It’s a massive structure of polished wood, formerly housed in an expensive café. Insert a coin and you get the sound of a full brass band blaring out. Unfortunately it only ever played one short tune, its internal cylinder being too clumsy and expensive to replace. Not surprisingly, the novelty soon wore off and customers left to find another café, with live music maybe?

Utrecht also claims to have Europe’s only Museum of Aboriginal Art. Kathleen Petyarre of Utopia was the featured artist when I visited and I enjoyed the guide’s thoughtful presentation for a group of Dutch primary school students, who had already been well prepped on Australian Aboriginal culture.

I’d planned to test out a Dutch farmer’s campsite for my final night on the road, so I could report on that experience. I really did mean to do it. My tent and sleeping bag were rolled up in the bike’s panniers.

But the rain was still around, so instead I tested two beers (both good), a Turkish meal (excellent) and put the bike on the train to Amsterdam (easy). From my second-class seat (padded, comfortable) I had a final view of Holland’s Groene Hart sinking in the twilight (very beautiful!)


Bicycles can be hired at most Dutch railway stations for around EUR8-10 a day. A day pass to take the bike on the train outside peak hours costs EUR6.

There are frequent daily train services from Amsterdam to Leiden – 33 minutes, EUR14.40 return, Rotterdam – 57 minutes EUR23.60, Gouda – 24 minutes, EUR18.10 and Utrecht – 24 minutes, EUR 12.10.

Getting in: Entry to Rotterdam’s Cube House is EUR2.
Entry to Utrecht’s Museum van Speelklok tot Pierement costs EUR8.

Entry to the Museum of Aboriginal Art costs EUR8.

Tip: A museumkaart (museum card) costs EUR40 and gives free entry to most Dutch museums. It can be bought in the museums mentioned, as well as many others, and is valid for a year. Visit over five museums and you’ll be ahead.

Guidebook: Fietsen rond het Groene Hart (Cycling round the Green Heart) is in Dutch, but with self-explanatory maps and a useful campground list. It is available at tourist information offices.

First published Sun-Herald, Sydney


Filed under Cycle touring, Cycling, Holland, Travel, Travel- Europe