Museum Van Loon

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(Picture source: When in Amsterdam)

The Museum Van Loon is a rather grand canal house standing on the Golden Bend section of the Keizersgracht. Designed by the architect Adriaen Dortsman, it was built in 1672. With 5 bays, it’s double the width of the standard sized canal house, reflecting the wealth and stats of the owner. The first resident was a successful painter, Ferdinand Bol, who was a pupil of Rembrandt, and who lived there until 1680. In 1884 the house  was purchased by Hendrik van Loon as a wedding present for his son Willem. It’s still in private hands and the top two floors, the former servants’ quarters, are still used by the owners. Visitors can explore two floors plus the kitchen (in the basement), the garden and the coach house.

It’s furnished in 18th century style and gives a good impression of how a wealthy family would have lived in a canal house during that period.

The Blue Drawing Room is on the ground floor to the right of the entrance lobby. It was noticeable that the ceilings on the ground floor rooms are very high compared to their horizontal dimensions, in this case almost five and a half metres high. No doubt another way of showing off.

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The dining room is  also on the ground floor at the front of the house and is sometimes used by the family as well as being hired out for functions.

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The Garden Room, as the name implies, overlooks the garden.

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The grand Rococo staircase has exceptionally fine ironwork.

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The rooms on the first floor were originally used as bedrooms. This is the Sheep Room, named after the wallpaper design.

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The Bird Room is also named after the motifs on the wallpaper

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The Red Bedroom

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The kitchen is in the basement, the usual location in a canal house.

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The garden is accessed via the basement and replicates the style popular in the seventeenth century. We were surprised to see the substantial garden at the back of the house. I’d commented that I thought that the canal district and old town lacked green spaces. But here was one. We later discovered (when visiting the canal house museum) that there are many gardens hidden away between the houses, but in most cases they were private spaces inaccessible to ordinary residents.

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The building at the back of the garden is the coach house.

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Rather like Chatsworth, the Museum holds art exhibitions with art works positioned in the rooms amongst the furniture. During our visit there was a display of Contemporary Art works – an exhibition entitled Something thrown in the way of the observer – in the Bird Room and Red bedroom.

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Something Thrown in the Way of the Observer aims to take the objects themselves as a starting point, in order to question their impact on our lives. How do perspectives on ourselves and the world change when we imagine the relation between people and things as a more equal partnership? Each in their own way, the artists move things from the background to the foreground – also bringing the still lives at the Museum Van Loon irrevocably into motion.

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I particularly liked the crumpled papers on the table in the Bird Room (Biz by ingRichtje Reinsma) and This is where the magic happens by Uta Eisenreich where a black tent with a spy hole was installed on the four poster bed and by peering through this hole visitors were able to observe dust particles illuminated by a light (this is the Tyndall scattering effect I’m very familiar with in my work) – a case of a scientific principle being used to create a work of art. The orange polyester blocks, which looked rather like bars of soap, scattered in several locations in the rooms (Zouden zijn zullen (volumes 1) by Rosa Sijben) were also interest

I suspect that the exhibition was not to the taste of all the Museum’s visitors but we found it stimulating and it is good to see modern art works taken out of the gallery into different surroundings  and for artists to respond to the  spaces where their works are to be displayed. I think it is both brave and enterprising for Museum’s to be prepared to do something different and bring an aspect of the 21st Century into what could otherwise become a fossilised display. It’s something that Chatsworth do well and the Museum Van Loon are attempting something similar, albeit on a smaller scale.

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