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Glass Art at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam: a dissapointment

Updated: Jun 20, 2019

In 2013 the Rijksmuseum finally reopened its doors after years of renovation and restauration. I was really looking forward to visiting the museum once again, as I had only been there as a child. To be able to see these famous works of art by Rembrandt, Vermeer and many more, was high on my wish-list. And last February me and my dear husband Bram, found the time to escape parenthood and head for the capital city!

Fortunately most of the Rijksmuseum was fabulous

We were getting pleasantly lost in the museum for a while, going through the religious art of the gothic and renaissance period and visiting the exhibition on the Dutch in South-Africa. We were very surprised and in awe of the beautiful installation of pendant flowers, which opened and closed like they were alive. We admired the decoration of the walls in the halls, as I know a girl who had worked on restoring those. And it wasn’t even too busy in front of the Night-watch, so we could stand close by and look at the dabs of paint made by the master. It was an enjoyable experience indeed!

The antique stained glass windows

At the end of the great hall called ‘de Eregalerij’ there is a large hallway displaying high windows of stained glass representing different art, artists, crafts and craftsmen. The windows are English made, well painted and decorated. I did not find them as spectacular as most of the windows of Gothic times, but impressive none the less. The period in which these windows were made (around 1800) was a period where glass art made a comeback after the decline during the reformation, baroque and rococo periods. Much about glass painting and blowing of coloured glass had to be relearned at that time. The English were among the first to rediscover stained glass and it makes sense that these windows were commissioned in England. You would want the best of the best for the most important museum of the country, wouldn’t you?

The best of the best in contemporary glass art?

You can only imagine my dissapointment when I saw the windows in the other hallways: the neogothic frames had been filled with new designs, but what the h…? On the positive side: these new windows were well made with great quality mouth blown glass, probably from Lamberts Glashuette in Germany. But the designs were a total disaster. They were boring, they were unimaginative, they were dull. All right, there were a couple of circles ‘woohoo’! If our country thinks this is the best glass art has to offer, I can imagine them not being too excited about it.

What went wrong?

Well, I can only guess of course, but I think it went someting like this: the parties involved in the renovation were thinking that they needed to do something cool for the sponsors involved in financing the project. One of them (Let’s call him ‘Ed’)suggested that they could make new stained glass windows in the hallways (the old ones were problably plain glass). Another one (let’s call him ‘Ted’) said: ‘Hmmm, stained glass is something oldfashioned with black lines in lead to separate the different colours isn’t it? Who could we ask to design it?’ ‘Well’, said Ed, ‘Graphic designers are great with lines, let’s ask our graphic designer!’ ‘Yeah!’, said Ted and they went for lunch. Let this be clear, I love graphic designers, great people doing great work, but they are not automatically also glass artists.

In the Netherlands, this is not a new thing

The past years it has become clear to me that Dutch architects don’t know glass artists exist. I know this, because I used to be an architect and I didn’t know. Whenever architects have an idea about making contemporary stained glass windows, they think about graphic designers, with mixed results. I did see some good examples though, but you can really see they just made a line-drawing and coloured it in. Glass art is more than lines….really!

A fast sketch as an alternative glass design

As an alternative to the windows in the Rijksmuseum, I have made a fast redesign of the Philips window. I tried to stay within the brief: showing the Philips logo and using just blue. It is a fast sketch, but I already think it is a better glass design than that of the current window. And I could make more, and better, bolder ones. I am curious what you think about this, so let me know on facebook, instagram or just mail me!

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