Frans Hals Museum


Frans Haals is probably best known in the UK as the painter of the Laughing Cavalier, which is owned by the Wallace Collection in London. 

He was born in Antwerp some time between 1581 and 1585, but his family fled from the Spaniards in 1585 and settled in Haarlem where he grew up and made his reputation as a painter of society portraits. There’s a museum in the town dedicated to his work, so we decided to visit while we were in Haarlem.

The museum is located in the Haarlem Oude Mannenhuis –  a former Alms house built in the 17th century for elderly men of the town. It’s quite an impressive old building, with four wings surrounding a central courtyard. Unfortunately we couldn’t access the courtyard to have a proper look, but I managed to snap a photograph through one of the windows. Originally, there were thirty small houses, each inhabited by two elderly men; over 60 years old, who had to be single and  “honest Haarlem residents”



Some of the rooms inside were quite grand, with antique clocks and furniture on display




The entry fee was rather steep at 20 Euros, but this was partly due to a 5 Euro supplement being applied to fund the temporary exhibition The Art of Laughter, which explored different aspects of humour in Dutch “Golden Age” paintings. There were 53 works on display by artists including Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Jan Steen and Judith Leyster.



Courtesan by Gerard van Honthorst

Moving into the permanent exhibition, there was a large room with paintings of members of the local militia (rather like Rembrandt’s famous Night Watch)


Other paintings in the collection included the Portrait of Jacobus Zafius (1611), one of the first portraits painted by Hals


and his Self Portrait with a Lute (1663/5)


There were three major paintings on display that had recently been restored – group portraits of the female and male Regents of the very Alms houses we were in.and which have recently been restored. The female Regents looked very serious and rather grim..


The men clearly full of their own importance


The third portrait featured the Regents of the St Elizabeth’s Hospital


A documentary film was showing about the restoration, which looked very interesting. Unfortunately, the commentary was only in Dutch.

While we were looking around the Art of Laugher exhibition, I’d spotted comments scribbled on a number of the information panels accompanying the paintings, some of them quite irreverent and risqué. Initially I thought they’d been done by some irreverent visitor, but the joke was on me as the gallery had commissioned an artist to do these as part of the exhibition – it was about humour, after all! Unfortunately the snaps I took didn’t come out well.

The same artist, Nedko Solakov had also created some “Shadow Doodles” in the permanent exhibition. These were humorous little drawings and comments  scribbled around the shadows cast by picture frames and other objects.




There was more to see, in particular the exhibition Rendez-Vous with Frans Hals. Unfortunately time was beginning to run out. Although our flight back to Manchester wasn’t until quite late, we had arranged to see our daughter for one last time during this trip. So we headed over to the station to catch the bus back to Amsterdam.


Return to Haarlem


When we were in Amsterdam last October we took the train out to Haarlem for the day. it’s an attractive town, similar to Amsterdam but considerably less busy. During our recent visit to the Dutch capital we decided we’d go back. It was a cold but sunny day so I managed to get a few decent snaps.

We revisited the Molen de Adriaan.


Unfortunately it wasn’t open until the next day, so we weren’t able to take another look around inside.

The windmill is near a former ship yard, and we spotted the rails which were used to launch the boats into the river.


After a bite to eat we took a walk along the river and canals


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Afterwards we wandered over to the Frans Hals museum, but I’ll save that for another post.



Het Olympisch Stadion


We were staying directly across from the Olympisch Stadion, built as the main stadium for the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. It’s a brick built Amsterdam School style structure, designed by the Dutch architect Jan Wils.

Due to renovation works taking place on a couple of Art Deco style buildings at the front of the stadium and an entrance that had been built to the stadium which was being used as a skating rink (the Dutch love skating), we couldn’t see much of the building, but I popped over for half an hour one afternoon to take a closer look.


Built of brick, in keeping with the Amsterdam School style the walls have decorative features including flower boxes and projections.


The Marathontoren (Marathon Tower) is positioned asymmetrically in front of the Marathonpoort (Marathon Gateway) – it’s here where the Olympic flame burned for the duration of the Games


The tower is lit up at night and we could see it from the street outside the hotel and our bedroom window.


Round the back of the stadium there was a sculpture of Johan Cruyff and Berti Vogts who played on opposite sides during the 1974 World Cup Final between the Netherlands and West Germany.


Het Scheepvaartmuseum


The day before we left for our recent break in Amsterdam I was watching a programme on Channel 4 about the south coast of England. One of the features on the programme was about a buried shipwreck in the sand near to Hastings – the remains of the VSO sailing ship, Amsterdam. After showing the location of the wreck the presenters whizzed over to Amsterdam where they visited a reconstruction of the very same ship at the National Maritime Museum. Having seen the programme we decided it would be interesting to go and have a look for ourselves. So on the Wednesday of our holiday we took the tram to Centraal Station and walked along the waterfront to the Maritime Museum.

On the way we passed houseboats and historic ships and boats moored along the quays.


On the way we made a brief visit to Nemo, the Science Museum. The building, designed by Renzo Piano reminds me of a ship’s prow ploughing through the water.

DSC03172 Visitors can walk up onto the roof where there’s a great view across the water and over to the city.


I really liked the cartoon panorama designed by Jan Rothuizen



After a coffee in the roof top café, we made our way round the harbour to the Museum where we could see the Amsterdam moored alongside.


The museum building is a former naval storehouse and magazine, built in 1652.


Today the central courtyard has been covered with a glass roof, just like in the British Museum


There are exhibits in the North, west and east wings. We decided to start by walking through to the harbourside to have a closer look at the Amsterdam


Visitors can board the ship and look around both above and below deck



Although it was a merchantman it carried guns for protection







The museum recently introduced a new attraction on the ship – a virtual reality experience Dare to Discover which

transports visitors back to the 17th century when Amsterdam was the world’s largest port and the Netherlands was a world power. The VR journey allows visitors to witness a number of unique happenings from those days such as the construction of the Zeemagazijn – now home to Het Scheepvaartmuseum – and the building of warships on the shipyard premises. They can even join a farewell on the quayside where the crew is boarding one of the Dutch East India Company’s ships.

There are two other boats to see on the harbourside,


including the very ornate Royal Barge


It was dinner time so we went back inside and enjoyed a light meal ( a hearty soup) before heading over to the east wing to explore the exhibitions.

There was an excellent collection of old maps (I found them fascinating and could have spent longer looking at them, including the interactive electronic versions that visitors could view on computer terminals – you could even email copies to yourself!)


There were also displays of models of yachts, navigational instruments,


ship decorations


and an extensive paintings of ships


and albums of old photographs, all displayed in interesting, engaging and imaginative ways.

Moving over to the west wing we visited the exhibitions about life in the Dutch Golden Age and whaling.


In the north wing we visited the exhibition about the Port of Amsterdam which includes a scale model of the modern port

Time was getting on and although there was more to see but  We’d spent considerably longer in the Museum than I’d expected and we were ready for some fresh air. So it was time to head back along the harbourside to get the tram back to our apartment. We had a meal booked in a nice restaurant in the evening and needed to get ready.

So an enjoyable few hours and glad I was glad that I’d seen the programme on Channel  4 which gave me the idea of visiting the museum.

A wander round Den Haag


After our visit to the Mauritshuis we decided to explore the town and grab a bite to eat. It was a cold, grey day, so not so great for sightseeing and taking photos, and we hadn’t really done any research about the sights, so we restricted ourselves to a brief, unstructured walk in the older area to the west of the museum, stopping off in a café for hot drink and a bite to eat.

The Mauritshuis is next to the Binnehof, the home of the Dutch Parliament. Despite this, security was minimal and we were able to walk right through the central courtyard



This is the Royal residence in the city, the Noordeinde Palace. It’s currently used as a “working palace” by the KIng.

DSC03132 Meandering through the old streets I was reminded a little of Brussels. Like the Belgian capital the streets were lined with individually designed buildings rather than regimented rows.And like Brussels, there were quite a few Art Nouveau influenced buildings. There was clearly much more to see but time was limited and it was cold! Here’s a few photos of some of the more interesting buildings we saw.








These are some of the Art Nouveau/ Jugendstil style, or influenced, buildings I spotted












This building, with it’s decorative brickwork, looked like it was influenced by the Amsterdam School, although there are also some Art Decoish features


This rather grand former restaurant is now the home of the Pathe Cinema




We had a peek inside


A visit to the Mauritshuis

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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

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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


Gabriel Metsu


Jan Steen


Hendrick Avercamp


Other artists in the collection include



Van Dyke


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


Amsterdam Oud Zuid architecture


During our recent trip to Amsterdam we were staying on the edge of the area known as Oud Zuid (the Old South) on Stadionplein, directly across from the Olympic Stadium. The area was developed at the beginning of the 20th Century. Travelling on the tram to and from the city centre I’d noticed that many of the buildings had features that suggested that they’d been designed by architects from the Amsterdam School, so I decided to go for a bit of a mooch and look into this further.

The area was developed under the Plan Zuid, which was designed by the architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage and many of the architects were from the Amsterdam School.

Although the  Amsterdam School movement is considered to be part of international Expressionist architecture, there are features reminiscent of both Art Nouveau and Art Deco in their buildings. As with most architectural movements, each building has it’s own features, but there are some common characteristics.

  • The architects’ emphasis was on the outward appearance of a building and less on its functionality – “Form before function”
  • the buildings are mainly constructed from bricks – often different shapes, textures and and colours of brick are used.
  • The windows are often eye-catching shapes,
  • There is great attention to detail and ornamentation, including sculptures, wrought iron decorations and stained-glass windows.
  • The facades often have curves and bulges, concave and convex shapes
  • The corner buildings or buildings at the end of a complex, often emphasized by a tower-like element.
  • The entrances and staircases are often highlighted by a special shape or decorations in stone or wrought iron.

I spent a good couple of hours wandering around the streets snapping photos, even though it was rather grey and cold with some rain showers. Here’s a few of the pictures I took.





Windows and doors tend to be particularly ornate


Although most of the buildings were residential blocks, I did spot a few individual houses with characteristic Amsterdam School features