A walk with the giants… @ the Rijksmuseum

The works of Rembrandt were a fascination to me ever since I had the opportunity to see a documentary of his works on one of friend’s house, six years back. Seeing the hyper-realism of each brush strokes on screen was one thing and seeing the paintings in person, packed with such drama was completely another experience! Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69) was a genius who had in his brush light for paint! His most radical use of light to emphasis the subject (fully evident in the Night Watch) and his most dynamic compositions held me in its sway.

The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis, 1661-62


Rembrandt A
Portrait of man in Oriental garment, 1635
Rembrandt C
Old Woman reading – Prophetess Hannah, 1631
Rembrandt B
Portrait of Maria Trip, 1639

I was observing Rembrandt using the position of the painting to suggest the composition; light to signify the subject ( the hand and book in the Woman Reading, the captain and the little girl in The Night Watch); dark shadows to fuse the surroundings highlighting the subject and making sure they do not some in its way; and brush strokes and paint thickness (as in the turban of the Man in oriental garment) to suggest texture.

Rembrandt D
The Night Watch, 1642
The Night Watch, study on composition

If Rembrandt created a drama through his paintings, there was Johannes Vermeer (1632-75) who created a very different kind of tension in his paintings. Usually within the stability of a square canvas, he paints a seemingly tranquil moment from everyday life, only the centre of focus betraying the tension around which the whole painting revolves. Vermeer’s brilliance was in creating this tug of war between calm and force that charges the painting with an emotion that extends beyond the canvas. If Rembrandt was enacting a drama through his dynamism, Vermeer was showing us a drama in its seemingly still contemplative but highly charged paintings!

Vermeer 1
The Milkmaid, 1657-58

The works of Pieter de Hooch (1629-84), first introduced to me by my design professor, appealed to me greatly for their architectural content – the careful orchestration of overlapping frames and layering. Architecturally, the overlapping of frames and axes, a concept favorite to Le Corbusier and many other architects, create a richness of experience. The works of Pieter de Hooch is a study in that richness especially his proportion of the frames in simple ratios and the frames themselves overlapping with each other successively creating a spiral.

Pieter Hooch 1
Mother’s Duty, 1658-60
Pieter Hooch 2
Man handing a letter to a woman, 1670
Rijks museum
The wonderful world of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Having not completed even one-third of the museum in a whole day, I left as one of the last to leave the museum. So I had to hop on to another great party location – the Van Gogh museum during Friday evenings, with drinks parties, DJs and drawing events all within the museum, alongside Van Gogh!

The atmosphere inside the Van Gogh museum was so unlike a typical museum. If only all museums can inculcate such an atmosphere of ease and pleasure! Also the recognition and the culture of museum as a place of learning and discourse is an idea that I would like to take back with me. Hours went like minutes as I was absorbed into the multiple worlds the canvas enticed me to enter.

I had a peep into the fantastical world of some of the great paintings ever produced! Not all the time in the world is enough for me to satisfy my hunger for admiring such works of beauty. As hungry and greedy as I am for such experiences, many such visits will continue. In the works that I’ve seen, I didn’t see paint on canvas but the brush wielded to create emotions that are timeless!


Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 29 January 2016


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