Rembrandthuis – Amsterdam, NL


Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam

One month housesit in The Netherlands. Rembrandt van Rijn was born in Leiden and lived in Amsterdam so it seems fitting to visit the home where he lived for 20 years.

Many successful merchants and financiers bought houses in this area in the 1600s. The house is in the centre of old Amsterdam, close to Waterlooplein square, which hosts a daily flea market, more flea than market. If you are looking for Rastafarians selling cannabis leaf t-shirts and others with blue and white Dutch kitsch, it is the place to be.

The house was built on two lots in 1606 and drastically remodelled in 1625, adding another storey and replacing a stepped gable with a more modern triangular corniced pediment. The house was purchased for thirteen thousand guilders, a huge sum, a mortgage that lead to Rembrandt claiming bankruptcy in 1656.

The house deteriorated over the years until purchased by the city in 1906 and handed to the Stichting Rembrandthuis foundation a year later. Finally in the 1990s, the adjacent premise was acquired to build a modern extension designed by Moshé Zwarts and Rein Jansma. The restoration of the original house was lead by building historian Henk Zantkuijl (who also reconstructed Vermeer’s home in The Hague) based on the bankruptcy inventory, his team was able to figure out the home’s layout and usage of different rooms by Rembrandt.

The house has been refurnished with art, furniture and objects from the 17th century but nothing that belonged to Rembrandt. The art collection contains etchings, drawings and paintings from Rembrandt, his pupils and his contemporaries which have been acquired over the years. Unfortunately, the artwork throughout is not labeled and I hate using the headset provided so I was in the dark to what was what, although, I did enjoy the atmosphere of the house.

Purchase a Museumkaart or I Amsterdam City Card and also visit Van Gogh for free.

You can rent the old kitchen and have a meal catered for up to 18 people. How incredibly cool is that? Here is the menu for your amazing night at the museum.

The current exhibit explores the development of printmaking in the 17th century in the Low Countries and Rembrandt’s role in it. A selection of eighty prints from three private individuals including Lucas van Leyden, Jan Lievens and Hendrick Goltzius is on display.

One of Rembrandt’s most famous etchings, Self-portrait, wide eyed, 1630, from the Rijksmuseum, is available to view. Tiny and fascinating, often considered self-indulgent, this small etching and many like it, were practice for Rembrandt in capturing expressions for his larger paintings.

rembrandt kitchen

Slate floors and sink, tiled walls in kitchen photo: Rembrandthuis

As a kitchen designer, when visiting historic homes, I am fascinated with kitchens and how they were used. In Rembrandt’s home the kitchen was the most comfortable room in the house, even the maid’s bed was present.

My husband is in the midst of renovating our kitchen while I traipse through The Netherlands (yes, he is a keeper) and I am very aware of the details of the historic kitchens which I have visited. The simple beauty and functionality of natural materials; marble and slate floor tiles, sinks, and counters; ceramic tiled fireplaces, and cast iron cookstoves and cooking implements; meant to last (and lasting) for centuries. The patina on a marble counter means that it was cut upon, cooked on, cleaned on, every day to nourish and comfort a family. The kitchen is often the centre of a home and I am proud to be part of its design.

Museum De Lakenhal – Leiden, NL

museum de lakenhal

Museum de Lakenhal staircase

One month housesit in The Netherlands. Museum De Lakenhal has the best fine art collection in Leiden, the town in which my head rests.

The museum is in central Leiden’s ‘Cultural quarter’ at the Laecken-Halle (Cloth Hall) built in 1640 where the world famous Leiden cloth was inspected and certified.

Leiden’s City Architect, Arent van’s-Gravesande, designed this Dutch Classicist style, city palace in 1639. He also designed Leiden’s Marekerk. In 1869 the building was reconstructed by City Architect, J.W. Schaap, into a city museum, adding a staircase to change the second floor into an exhibition space. The expanding collection later utilized the first floor and then extended into the Pape Wing. The museum plans further restoration and expansion aimed at a 2018 unveiling.

A diverse collection of works by Dutch master painters, including Rembrandt (born in Leiden) and Theo van Doesburg (of Leiden and founder of the influential De Stijl magazine). The history of seven centuries of Leiden cloth can also be experienced in the original sales hall, including hallmarks and sample books.

Purchase a Museumkaart and visit for free, also can be used at Museum Boerhaave, Rijksmuseum van Oudheden and others in Leiden. To celebrate The Relief of Leiden, entrance is free on October 3rd.

There is a small coffee and tea space in the entrance hall. The museum is close to many restaurants in the centre of Leiden.

Happily introduced to the work of Dutch abstract figurative artist Hendrik Valk (1897 – 1986) from his early period when he lived in Leiden. The exhibition clearly demonstrates the process of his abstraction from natural representation, removing details to discover the essence of line.

hendrik valk

Hendrik Valk, Triptych, 1925

The museum is reviving the history of Leiden Cloth by manufacturing a new line of fabric bearing the hallmark ‘Leids Laken’ by commissioning designers, such as Christie van der Haak to develop contemporary fabrics that will be on sale in the museum shop as of 2017.

This museum has a variety of beautiful paintings and objects that illustrate the great history of Leiden as a prosperous trading and university town. Although the birthplace of Rembrandt van Rijn, there is nary a trace of him, and finding him here is a treasure. A small painting called Spectacles Seller (allegory of sight) is one of a series based on the five senses painted by Rembrandt when he was eighteen. I find early works by renown artists are fascinating due to the awkwardness of an artist’s developing style, but often showing hints of what the artist will become, in this instance his use of chiaroscuro and character depiction.


The Spectacle Seller, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1624

Mauritshuis – The Hague NL


The Dutch Classicist style Mauritshuis in The Hague

One month housesit in The Netherlands. A great selection of museums in The Hague, The Mauritshuis was my first choice due to Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring in the permanent collection.

In the heart of The Hague bordering the Binnenhof and the adjacent Hofvijver pond.

The Dutch Classicist house was built around 1636 for John Maurice, the governor of Dutch Brazil. The original two story, symmetrical building with a central great hall, was expanded by an underground tunnel to the Sociëteit de Witte building next door and reopened in 2014. Sumptuously decorated with silk wall coverings and painted ceilings, it is one of the top Dutch 100 heritage sites.

Paintings from the Golden Age, by Dutch and Flemish masters, the Royal Cabinet of Paintings was a collection from William V, Prince of Orange. Highlights are Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp and Paulus Potter’s The Young Bull.

Purchase a Museumkaart and visit for free, also can be used at Gemeentemuseum and over a dozen other museums in The Hague.

The Brasserie offers  a fusion Dutch meets the Far East menu and jazz concerts every Thursday evening.

selfies hall

Selfies of the Golden Age – Selfie Hall

Just in time to catch the end of the Dutch Self-Portraits – Selfies of the Golden Age exhibit. The seventeenth century self-portrait was considered an important marketing tool for a portrait artist presenting ‘the face’ and his particular painting skills. Of the 27 portraits, my highlight is the self-portrait of Judith Leyster who portrayed herself as elegant and confident amongst her male rivals.

A future must see exhibit, Sept 2016 – January 2017, of the British Royal Collection will include Vermeer’s The Music Lesson, recently copied using a camera obscura in the documentary Tim’s Vermeer.

Admittedly, Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring has a certain glow to it but like the Louvre’s Mona Lisa is more impressive in reputation. The realization that the painting is a tronie rather than a portrait makes it oddly out of place amongst the masterpieces. I was more charmed by the understated trompe-l’œil perfection and utterly modern appeal of The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, which apparently has a part in the Pulitzer “It” novel The Goldfinch.


The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius (1654)

As a bonafide art geek I watched Peter Webber’s Girl with a Pearl Earring in preparation for meeting her in real life. If you can get past Scarlett Johansson’s mega pout and Colin Firth in all of his rock star glory, it is interesting historical fiction. The alternate theory that “the girl” in the study was Vermeer’s preteen daughter seems more likely to me.

I don’t normally get excited by painted ceilings… they tend to be a pain in the neck; but this ceiling fresco by Dutch artist Ger Lataster, Icarus Atlanticus: Allegory of the Working Man, 1987 is amazingly refreshing in this space. What she said!

mauritshuis ceiling

Lovely abstract Ger Lataster ceiling.