Why the Netherlands Needs to Be on Every Art Lover’s List This Year

Holland is celebrating the 350th anniversary of Dutch master Rembrandt’s death, as well as the Golden Age during which he lived and worked. Here are the best exhibitions and events happening nationwide in 2019.

Why the Netherlands Needs to Be on Every Art Lover’s List This Year

Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn was born in Leiden in 1606. Today, the city has many ways to celebrate its native son.

Photo by Solotu/Shutterstock.com

Sail on picturesque canals through a bustling city center. Meander across 88 bridges, past a huge windmill, through narrow alleyways, and next to preserved 17th-century buildings that now house chic cafés with vegan menus, fashionable shops, and one of the most educated populaces in the Netherlands.

Are you in Amsterdam?


The city is Leiden, 30 minutes from the Schiphol International Airport and home to the oldest university in the country. It’s also the proud birthplace of Rembrandt. Throughout the year, Leiden is taking part in Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age 2019, an art extravaganza celebrating 350 years of Rembrandt. The 14-month-long, nationally coordinated effort will showcase hundreds of pieces of art by Rembrandt van Rijn, one of the most important figures in art history, as well as the works of other Dutch masters (some of whom Rembrandt taught) who flourished during Holland’s prosperous 17th century.

The celebration also invites visitors to a few of the country’s less touristed places—places that shaped Rembrandt and, in turn, he helped define through his legacy. Here’s how and where to experience the art shows.

A statue of a young Rembrandt stands in Leiden.

A statue of a young Rembrandt stands in Leiden.

Photo by Kees Hummel

Learn about young Rembrandt’s life in Leiden

Less than a 40-minute train ride from Amsterdam, greater Leiden is an area of 218,000 people and 13 museums. Compact, easy-going, with a large university population, it considers itself a city of knowledge and tolerance, which is why the Pilgrims gravitated here before departing for the New World on the Mayflower. Rembrandt was born here, and it’s where he learned his painterly techniques and developed his penchant for challenging existing norms.

“We like to say that if Rembrandt reappeared in Leiden today, he would be able to find his way to his home, his school, the place where his parents lived,” says Mea Knol, the director of the Museum De Lakenhal. “The streets, the buildings are much the same. In Leiden, you can step back into the 17th century, walk in the places where Rembrandt walked and put your feet in his footsteps, and then go to the museum and see his work. You cannot do that in Amsterdam, which has changed and expanded so much.”

Leiden honors its famous son on an ongoing basis. A permanent (and free) interactive projection map at the Young Rembrandt Studio explores his techniques and the first 25 years of his life, when he lived in Leiden and produced his early masterpieces before moving to Amsterdam.

Leiden’s Rembrandt trail highlights where his family lived, where he attended school, and where he sang in the choir at the grand Pietersherk, once a basilica, now a national monument and the largest building in Leiden.

A medieval tower on a Leiden canal, where supposedly the painter kept a secret workshop, functions today as a Rembrandt-themed escape room.

Travelers going to the Netherlands in the summer should check out Leiden’s Museum De Lakenhal, which will reopen in mid-June after renovations. There, the exhibit “Rembrandt and the Golden Age” will feature two important early Rembrandt works, including The Spectacle Seller, and many from his students and Dutch masters. The museum opens a retrospective created in coordination with Ashmolean Museum in Oxford entitled “Young Rembrandt” on November 3, 2019, gathering 40 Rembrandt paintings, 120 etchings, and 20 drawings from international public and private collections.

Visitors to the Rijksmuseum look at “The Night Watch” by Rembrandt.

Visitors to the Rijksmuseum look at “The Night Watch” by Rembrandt.

Photo by Alexander Tolstykh/Shutterstock.com

Yes, there are still things to do in Amsterdam

Although the capital may not look the same as when Rembrandt moved there in 1631, the city will be celebrating the artist with several special shows. Head to the Rembrandt House, where the painter lived for 20 years and which now functions as a museum that replicates his daily environment. Starting February 1 is the show “Rembrandt’s Social Network.” It explores Rembrandt’s business and personal connections through paintings, drawings, and prints, including works by Rembrandt that have rarely been seen in the Netherlands. Rembrandt built his fame and fortune on his talent and his relationships. (If he were alive today, he would probably boast a huge Twitter following.)

Then, beginning February 15, 2019, the city’s famed Rijksmuseum will exhibit its entire collection of Rembrandt’s works for the first time: 22 paintings, 60 drawings and some 300 of his best prints.

Elsewhere in the Netherlands

The Museum Mauritshuis in The Hague, 45 minutes southwest of Amsterdam, has the second largest permanent collection of Rembrandt paintings in Holland. Opening January 31, 2019, it too will put its entire collection of 18 pieces on display for the first time. This includes some of Rembrandt’s best works, such as The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, Saul and David, and his last Self-Portrait from 1669. In a rare gesture, the exhibit includes art acquired as Rembrandts but later found to be painted by someone else.

The Dutch cities of Middelburg, Dordrecht, Delft, Haarlem, Hoorn, and Enkhuizen will host exhibitions related to the Golden Age, its painters, culture, and times. Peruse the full national schedule to make the most of your 2019 trip.

>>Next: 7 Real-Life Places in France That Inspired Celebrated Paintings

Divina Infusino has been a staff writer for the San Diego Union, and her travel articles have been published by the New York Times Syndicate—and numerous leading magazines and newspapers.
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