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Discover the Rich History of the Rijksmuseum


The Rijksmuseum, home to over 800 years of Dutch art and history, was commissioned first by the Holland government. When it opened in 1800 in the Hague, the museum held only 200 paintings and artifacts, moving several times before finally settling into its current location. Construction of the present Rijksmuseum only started in 1876 and opened to the public in 1885.

Rijksmuseum Timeline

1798: Holland's government decided to establish a national museum as a ‘prestige project’ to inspire patriotic feeling and to store important objects.

1800: The National Art Gallery is inaugurated in The Hague with more than 200 paintings and historical objects from both the Stadtholders’ collections and national institutions.

1808: Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte moves the national collections to the Royal Palace on Dam Square in the new capital, along with other important paintings, including Rembrandt’s 'The Night Watch'.

1809: The Royal Museum officially opens on the palace’s top floor.

1813: King Willem I relocated the museum and the national print collection from The Hague to Trippenhuis, a 17th-century city palace, and christened it the ‘Rijks Museum’, or ‘national museum’.

1876: The construction of the Netherlands' own national museum building. Pierre Cuypers is commissioned to be the architect.

1885: The Rijksmuseum opened to the public housing almost all of Amsterdam’s collection of older paintings, in addition to the existing collections.

1904-1950s: A series of renovations, including the construction of the Philips Wing and the new Asian Art department.

2003-2013: The museum was restored to Cuypers’ original architectural plan where paintings, applied arts, and history are no longer displayed in separate parts of the building but rather tell a chronological story.

Construction of the Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum, with over two centuries of history, found its permanent home in 1885, although its inception dates back to 1800 in The Hague. Originally named the National Art Gallery and commissioned by the Dutch government, it initially housed a modest collection of 200 paintings and historical artifacts. Its journey included a relocation under Napoleon and King Willem I.

The museum's current building, designed by Pierre Cuypers, was constructed over nine years, starting in 1876. Cuypers’ design was a blend of Gothic and Renaissance styles, incorporating national symbols. Despite initial criticism for its perceived medieval and ecclesiastical aesthetics, the structure is now celebrated for its distinctive architecture, complete with towers, vaulted ceilings, and stained-glass windows, crafted by artists like Bart van Hove, François Vermeylen, Georg Sturm, and William F. Dixon.

Through the 20th century, the Rijksmuseum expanded, adding the Philips Wing, The Villa, the Cuypers Library, and the Asian Pavilion. Its most significant renovation occurred between 2003 and 2013, led by architect Cruz y Ortiz, who modernized the museum while reverently restoring Cuypers' original vision.

The Rijksmuseum Today

Today, the Rijksmuseum houses over 800 years of Dutch art and history and sees over 2.7 million visitors every year. The museum is also a leading international knowledge institute, known for the conservation, restoration, and academic study of art and historical artifacts, the biggest being the current project Operation Night Watch.

Book Tickets to the Rijksmuseum

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Small Group Rijksmuseum Guided Tour
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Guided Tour of Rijksmuseum & Van Gogh Museum with Canal Boat Cruise
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Frequently Asked Questions About the Rijksmuseum's History

What is the historical significance of the Rijksmuseum?

The Rijksmuseum houses 800 years of Dutch art and history, including prominent works by Dutch masters of the Golden Age such as Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Hals.

How old is the Rijksmuseum?

The Rijksmuseum is over 200 years old. However, the current museum building came into existence only in 1885.

How many years did it take to build the Rijksmuseum?

The current Rijksmuseum building designed by Pierre Cuypers was built over 9 years from 1876 to 1885.

What is the historical context in which the Rijksmuseum was created?

The museum was originally commissioned by the Holland government as a 'prestige project' that would build patriotism and house important historical objects and artworks. Over the years, the museum was relocated several times but the current museum building was built after the Netherlands government decided to commission their own national museum building that was on par with all the other European art galleries.

Who designed the Rijksmuseum?

The Rijksmuseum was designed by Pierre Cuypers. However, the museum saw several rounds of expansions and renovations over the years, until it was finally restored to Cuypers' original architecture plan by Cruz y Ortiz.

What is the architectural style of the Rijksmuseum?

The Rijksmuseum is a neogothic museum building that incorporated both Gothic and Renaissance architectural styles.

How has the Rijksmuseum contributed to the city’s cultural heritage and history?

The Rijksmuseum is the Netherlands' largest museum and one of the most visited landmarks in Amsterdam. The museum houses over 800 years of Dutch art and history including works by Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Vermeer.

What are some lesser-known historical facts or anecdotes about the Rijksmuseum?

The architecture of the Rijksmuseum was very controversial with many arguing that the building was too church-like, too Catholic, too medieval, and not Dutch enough. King William III refused to participate in the opening ceremony of the Rijksmuseum, claiming he would never set foot in "that convent".

Are there guided tours explaining the Rijksmuseum’s history?

Yes, there are guided tours of the Rijksmuseum that offer insight into the history and significance of the museum and highlights of the museum's artworks. Guided tours are available in English, French, Spanish, Italian, and German.