Good Hope at the Rijksmuseum

There’s an exhibition on at the Rijksmuseum that documents the relationship between South Africa and the Netherlands, which goes back to 1600. The exhibition is titled; Good Hope. South Africa and The Netherlands from 1600. I went, I was very curious about how the Dutch national museum would present their history.

It starts with the “postal stones”, which were stones used by passing ships as a safe place to leave mail by passing ships in the pre-colonial times, and moves quickly into the colonial period. Here’s Deed of Purchase from 1672, by which the Dutch acquired the Cape Peninsula. To Europeans it makes sense, to the local Khoekhoe the contract meant nothing – in their minds no-one owned the land, water or sky.

Initially the colony started by Jan van Riebeeck was tiny, and confined to one bay on the Cape of Good Hope, but it soon grew. The colonialists traded tobacco and alcohol for the cows of the local Khoekhoe people, this eroded their financial independence. The colonialists also imported slaves from Indonesia, India and Madagascar, the locals being considered too likely to run away. On display is a slave bell – the bell by which slaves would begin and end working in the fields. Also on display are pieces of furniture and clothes that seem European but in fact owe much to Asian connections. This colony might have been small but it was right in the middle of trading routes and connected the world.


In the 1770s the colony was mapped and documented, largely by Robert Jacob Gordon, a Dutchman of Scottish descent.

His maps and scenes were incredibly accurate and his sketches of wildlife are charming. (His whole collection has been made available online by the Rijksmuseum)

The colony was constantly at war, acquiring or defending land from the local tribes, and with the British who wanted to control the trade routes and later fought to unify and control the country including the diamond mines. At the time European colonisers from Belgium, Germany, Portugal were also expanding their influence. The piece of trivia that struck me about these wars was that the brothers of Vincent van Gogh and Piet Mondriaan fought there. It was to escape these wars that Dutch settlers, who by then thought of themselves as Afrikaaners, embarked on a series of internal migrations to found new states to the east, away from the British, this has become known as “the Great Trek” and is a cultural watershed for the Afrikaaners, in one room two flags hang, the one in the background belongs to the Orange Free State, the one in the foreground is from the South African Republic, also know as the Transvaal.

The last section of the exhibition bring us up to the present time, and looks at the period of apartheid, sometime in the second half of the 20th century sentiment in the Netherlands changed, moving from colonial pride to “sympathy with the black and coloured South Africans”. There are protests, fundraising, hiding of ANC leaders and more, but the feelings aren’t universal and one video of an interview shows that some colonial pride remained. The exhibition points to “post-colonial feelings of guilt and shame” among Dutch people even as the Dutch government took a position of non-interference. The exhibition features some of the Dutch protest signs, some call for boycotts against Dutch companies that I am a customer – or have been employed by.

The final images of the exhibition are from the post-apartheid era, one series features images of young people born in this era and seems hopeful. Those born in the year apartheid ended turn 23 this year, they’re the students, and new employees entering the workforce of a new country. But the colonial legacy remains troubling, this image is of a protest sign “I stole your land, so what?” being hung around the neck of a statue in Cape Town. The statue is of that original colonial settler, Jan van Riebeeck.

It’s a good exhibition, and is clear about the disturbing and painful colonial relationship between the two countries.The point of view is still largely that of the coloniser, but there are images of and artifacts from the local tribes, and the language is clear about who was colonising, importing and owning slaves. There is more to be explored about the Dutch colonial history, but this exhibition offers a beginning, and events around the exhibition explore in more depth the changes in culture and diversity in South Africa.

The Good Hope exhibition is on in the Philips’ wing of the Rijksmuseum until 21 May.

Animals at the Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum is filled with animals at the moment! They’re on loan from the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden and they’re accompanying an exhibition of works by Frans Post, sketches and paintings made during his time in Brazil. In many cases the exhibition displays a stuffed version of the animal next to the sketch. You can see the precision of Post’s work. Here’s the Capybara, positioned under an oil painting view that includes a capybara.

Capybara and Frans Post paintingThe exhibition is on until 7 January – so hurry up!

In the main entrance hall there are animals from other places to admire – including a pair of polar bears looking down on you.

polar bears

Amsterdam is so Cool

Keeping cool at Museumplein thanks to the fire brigade who turned the pond outside the Rijksmuseum into a water feature.  Only one word for it… “superleuk”.

Summer Sculpture at the Rijksmuseum

The gardens of the Rijksmuseum have their own exhibition in summer, this year the sculptures are by Giuseppe Penone, who uses natural elements in unexpected ways – rocks land in trees, gold glints from within a tree, and marble reveals veins.

it’s it’s free to enter and wander around. I arrived before 10 and the garden was fairly empty, there’s a small espresso bar in the old summerhouse if you need some caffeine before going into the museum. Here are my highlights from the garden sculptures. (Scroll down for video).

The water sculpture is called “Hide and See(k)” and it’s by Jeppe Hein, it’s a series of water jets arrayed in a square within a circle and programmed to release water in a sequence. At times you can walk through it, so I did, and took this 360 degree view from within.

The Trapdoor at the Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum designed by Cuypers was built as a “gate” to Amsterdam, as it stands just outside the line of the 18th Century city walls. It balances the Central Station, at the other end of the city, and also designed by Cuypers. It houses some of the most important artifacts of Dutch history and the famous of Dutch art, including the Night Watch. Here’s a view of it showing the gate structure at its centre, the Night Watch is displayed directly over the arch.nt_rijksmuseum2

The Night Watch went back into it’s former position when the Rijksmuseum was re-opened  – one of the few works not to be moved.

It’s considered the most famous painting by Dutch people, it has such cultural significance that it has its own escape hatch at the museum. A guide told me that there’s a trap door just in front of the painting, and the painting can be dropped to safety. The black section here is apparently the outside part of the trapdoor.

nt_rijksmuseum

The trapdoor wasn’t installed for the renovation though, it was installed in the early 1930’s, and used in 1939 to removed the Night Watch before the art-acquisitive Nazis arrived. The painting spent the war in hiding, as did a number of artworks from the Rijksmuseum. The museum could re-open following the war with an almost intact collection.

Ice Skating on Museumplein

It looks something like an Avercamp painting for the 21st century, there’s a skating rink outside the Rijksmuseum. It’s open air with a model “Magere Brug” across it. There were a lot of families there when I visited in the middle of the day, the kids were loving it, some were learning to skate behind a chair. Some were falling down a lot – but as they were generally put back on their feet by a patient parent within a minute it didn’t seem to bother them. Looks like fun.
avercamp

It will be there right through winter
Entrance is 3 euro
Skate hire is 5 euro for 2 hours
It’s open 7 days a week 10 am to 8pm

With the following holiday timetable exceptions
24 December 10am – 5pm
25 December 11am – 10pm
26 December 10am – 10pm
31 December 10am – 6pm
1 January 11am – 10pm

The Rijksmuseum re-opens tomorrow!

After about a decade of being closed for renovation, legal challenges, a campaign by cyclists, a multitude of architects’ plans and thousands of buckets of paint…. the Rijksmuseum will re-open tomorrow.

Here’s a “flashmob” promotion from ING – the head sponsor. Entry to the museum is free on the opening day, from midday to midnight. (And if you can’t make it on opening day but you are an ING customer you can buy a ticket for half price if you show your ING bank pass).