AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum drew thousands of visitors eager to see Rembrandt van Rijn’s “The Night Watch” and other Dutch treasures after Queen Beatrix reopened the national museum on Saturday following its decade-long renovation.
There were cheers, fanfares and fireworks as the 75-year-old Queen, making one of her last official appearances before her abdication, turned a golden key and officially opened the renovated building before a crowd estimated by the museum at 10,000.
Inside, the galleries were packed as visitors had to follow a set route through the museum, and many of the most famous works were cordoned off, though still visible, to protect them from the crush.
Rembrandt’s huge masterpiece, showing Amsterdam’s civic guard setting off on a march, is the only painting in the collection to have been restored to its original place.
“I find it marvellous. Despite its size, it’s still an intimate museum, which is remarkable. All the attention is focused on the art,” said Jan-Willem Vosmeer, 45, who lives in Amsterdam.
“The big hall where “The Night Watch” hangs is impressive, not least because of all the other paintings which are on display there,” said Vosmeer.
Rembrandt’s huge painting is approached along a Gallery of Honour hung with works such as Johannes Vermeer’s “Woman Reading a Letter” and “The Merry Drinker” by Frans Hals.
Many of the prize pieces in the collection of 8,000 works have been re-displayed in a broader context, with related paintings, furniture, silver and ceramics arranged in close proximity to each other as part of the museum’s new layout.
The renovation of the museum, which is a showcase for the Netherlands’ art, its rich history as a naval power and society of merchants, has received rave reviews in the Dutch and international media in recent weeks.
The museum said more than 75,000 tickets have been sold online already, and as many as 30,000 visitors were expected on Saturday when the museum reopened. General Director Wim Pijbes has said his ambition is for all Dutch children to see “The Night Watch”.
The overhaul took far longer than expected and overshot original estimates, costing 375 million euro as the architects had to make special provisions to incorporate an existing bicycle path in the museum’s design and ensure that the spaces below sea-level were in no danger of flooding.
Writing by Sara Webb; Editing by Michael Roddy