Holland, more than any other Northern European country, is known for its sublime output of art. When imagining the stereotypical encounters faced when visiting the Dutch country, art (along with maybe tulips and coffee shops) is what comes to mind. None of its Nordic neighbours are known so explicitly for their masterpieces or genius artists – which makes Amsterdam the perfect destination for anyone with a passion for culture and fine art.
Amsterdam’s art scene seems to be largely down to two men, who although were born some 250 years apart, where both foreword thinking visionaries and creative geniuses. Both broke down boundaries of how art could be both created, and interpreted. One went on to receive fame and fortune while the other committed suicide with no recognition. Rembrandt, the most celebrated Dutch artist from the so-called “Golden Age” fills the most prominent spots of Holland’s national art gallery, The Rijksmuseum, which has existed since 1885. Located in the city centre, this world class museum is a must for any art lover. The famous “Night Watch” by Rembrandt, broke the rules for classical painting. Colour, composition and subject are all new trajectories for portrait painting – however it’s his Claudis Civilis work hanging adjacent that is perhaps the first ever “Modern” artwork. Colours fuse, brush stroke takes precedent, and the very beginnings of abstraction can be teased out in this work which predicts the rise of romanticism and symbolism. The museum also contains other masterpieces by Rubens, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Honthosrt and Alma Tadema. It’s a collection to rival the national Gallery in London or Prado in Madrid. There is also a dedicated exhibition space that has a well curated and insightful show of Japanese prints for summer 2016.
Just a stone’s throw away, housed in a much more contemporary building, is the Vincent Van Gogh Museum, which contains over 200 works by the artist and his impressionist contemporaries. Arranged over three floors, each examining a different point in his life, the museum is a journey through the career and mind set of the tortured genius. Works such as his Bedroom In Arles and Sunflowers show the young artists dream like images full of vibrancy. The museum crescendos on the third floor with his Tree Roots painting (quite possibly his last ever work), by which point colours have been opposed, and the form and crop of the image are completely radical. Brush strokes frantically dart across the abstracted image. The surface pulsates with vigour and warmth yet has a real loneliness to it. Just as Rembrandt had done several centuries prior, Van Gogh was pushing painting’s traditions to the limits. The museum also contains rotating exhibitions, the next for summer 2016 focusing on Van Gogh’s mental health issues.
The Stedelijk Museum completes the golden triangle of art galleries. It’s the country’s dedicated Modern and Contemporary gallery, containing both national and international works by artists such as Appel, Dumas, Koons, Warhol, Mondrian, Picasso and Matisse to name a few. While feeling a lot less Dutch in nature, it sets the art of Holland amongst its global contemporaries.
The city is also filled with a myriad of other museums – the EYE Film Museum brings together art and screen, with both permanent and changing exhibitions about the big screen. An outdoor gallery can be found at the Nic Jonk Sculpture Garden, where 30 of the artist’s bronzes can be seen in the glorious Dutch landscape just 40 minutes north of the city. If you want to head further, the Kröller –Müller Museum contains 160 works outdoors, including works by Rodin and Dubuffet. It’s a tranquil oasis of art.
Back in town, the Moco Museum, which only opened in April 2016, has exhibitions this summer by British Street Artist Banksy, and the Spanish 20 century surrealist Salvador Dali. The museum draws international acclaimed exhibitions, cementing Amsterdam’s place on the world art-stage. The permanent collections contains 90 works by Banksy, as well as many other modern masters in this latest art institution set up by a Dutch couple. If you’re a photography fan, there is currently a Helmut Newton retrospective at FOAM Museum until September. For those who are left wanting more, the famous street “Nieuwe Spiegelstraat” is home to the finest commercial art galleries, antique shops and design boutiques in the city, if you fancy bringing home a souvenir.
And the art doesn’t have to stop in the galleries. The Hotel Ambassade is a four-star boutique hotel situated in the heart of the canal district. It has one of the finest collections of COBRA (an Avant-Garde 20 century experimental art movement based in Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam) art in the world. Over 400 works adorn the walls of the lobby, bar, meeting room and original works even fill the walls of each guest room. It’s the perfect base from which to explore the city.
Food wise, the city fuses its enigmatic creativeness and charm with its culinary offerings. Restaurant ANNA on the edge of the Red Light District offers Michelin star quality dishes that parallel any of the top European cuisine restaurants on the continent but for affordable prices. Each course is a mini masterpiece – flavours are blended like colours to create a symphonic masterpiece of a dish.
At the other end of the scale, Supper Club prioritises creative thinking – the modern art gallery of food perhaps. Guests recline on white leather sofas, shoes removed, while watch performances of interpretive dance. Food is eaten from your lap with your hands, and dishes include caviar ice cream cones, pumpkin fudge burgers and guinea fowl with smoked egg yolk cream salads. The restaurant cum bar cum gallery has gained a reputation for being the place where young creative come together for a party.
It’s hard to see where the line between art and it neighbouring cultures ends in Amsterdam – the countries passion for creativity is apparent in its architecture, food, music, design, and even way of life. The city has always been a creative hub, but what makes it truly unique and fascinating as an example, is why. At times it has been a world power city, trading across the oceans and being the seat of a global empire rivalling Britain or Spain. Yet at other times, the city has been much less prosperous – markets have crashed, and the city during World War Two was occupied by the Germans. Perhaps the constant fluxus of the capital’s fortunes has placed an angst on its creative – the uncertainty breeds a hive of activity. Whatever it is, Amsterdam certainly feels like it has a unique passion for its arts, which is why in the last few decades it has seen a huge movement of creative industries to the city, helping it boom once again. There has never been a better time to visit.
By Tom Mapson
Visit IAmsterdam for more details on each venue.