The Wednesday morning of our break in Amsterdam we took the bus to Amsterdam Zuid station and boarded a train to Den Haag. It’s a relatively short journey and 45 minutes later we’d arrived. A 15 minute walk took us to our destination – the Mauritshuis museum. It’s quite an impressive Dutch Classicist building, constructed between 1636 and 1641 as a private house for John Maurice, Prince of Nassau-Siegen. In 1820, it was bought by the Dutch state for the purpose of housing the Royal Cabinet of Paintings and was opened to the public in 1822.
It’s collection is outstanding. It’s relatively small compared to those of the big galleries in London and Paris, but what a collection it is.
When we arrived outside the building, I thought it looked too small to house all the paintings plus the reception, bookshop, café etc. However the entry in the courtyard takes you down into the reception area which is under the courtyard which also connects to another building across the road where there’s gallery space for temporary exhibitions and where the restaurant is located. During most of the year I reckon the museum would be very busy, but as we were visiting during a cold February day it wasn’t particularly crowded and we had no problem viewing the paintings.
The permanent collection is housed in the original building. My expectations were high and I was worried I might be disappointed, but that was definitely not the case. It more than lived up to my expectations Here are some of the highlights.
Johannes Vermeer was born and lived just a few miles away in Delpht. There’s on 34 of his paintings known to exist and the Mauritshuis has 3 of them. He’s best known for his genre paintings of domestic interior scenes of middle-class life, but none of the works in the Mauritshuis’ collection fall into this category
I’d been eagerly anticipating seeing this beautiful little painting – Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. Stunning
It’s a tronie, not a true portrait of a known individual but a painting of an anonymous individual to portray facial expressions and/or a character in costume. If we’d visited a few days later we wouldn’t have been able to see her, at least not properly. A few days after our visit she was removed from display for a technical examination. This is being done in public view in a special enclosure with glass panels. It would have been interesting to see the researchers at work, but I’d have been disappointed not to have had a proper view of this masterpiece.
The progress of the examination and research can be followed on a blog by Abbie Vandivere, head researcher for the project.
The collection also includes his landscape, View of Delft
Another outstanding painting, finely detailed with a real feel for light, an impressive cloudy sky and subtle reflections in the water.
The third Vermeer is an early painting, one of only two “history” paintings by him, Diana and her Nymphs, portraying a mythological scene.
This was the least favourite of all the Vermeer’s that I’ve seen (After visiting the Mauritshuis I reckon I’ve seen 22 of them). It’s certainly beautifuly painted, but it doesn’t have the appeal of his more intimate works.
In the next room there was this beautiful little painting
The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius. It’s become well known as it features in a best selling novel by Donna Tarrt. But it more than stands alone on it’s own merits. Fabritius was a pupil of Rembrandt and would probably be much better known if he hadn’t been one of several hundred people killed when the Delpht powder magazine exploded creating devastation in the town.
And speaking of Rembrandt, the Mauritshuis have an excellent selection of his works including this one
the painting that made his reputation The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.
Here’s a few more
There were paintings by other Dutch Golden Age painters, including a favourite of mine, Gerard ter Borch
Other artists in the collection include
Hans Holbein – this is his portrait of Jane Seymour
and Pieter Claesz
The collection doesn’t include any modern works, except for two beautifully painted murals on the ceiling of the top floor
Icarus Atlanticus: Allegory of Human Vanity, and Icarus Atlanticus: Allegory of the Working Man painted by Ger Lataster in 1987.
There were also a number of the flower paintings that were popular during the Golden Age. I preferred the live displays