Today we visited the next two museums on our list. It was a beautiful, sunny day for a drive in the ‘east’ part of town. We would learn that our neighborhood was one of the most Jewish areas of Amsterdam and the heartbeat of many of the resistance activities during the war (1941-1945).
One could easily miss this little museum as the sign is small and you must descend ‘death’ stairs to get at the entrance. Once we deposited our stuff in the lockers (we’re learning!) we claimed our free audio guide handset and headed for the tour of the great Master’s house. I’m not certain that any of the furniture is original, but many of the paintings hung on the walls belonged to him—either painted by him, his studio (pupils) or peers he admired. One focus of the house is his etchings studio. So, they have printmakers on site to demonstrate the process, little videos explaining the techniques and 2 floors of gallery space exhibiting his work and a contemporary Dutch printmaker’s prints. (It’s pretty crazy how time consuming the process is and how intricate you can get by just scratching marks onto copper plates. It is a process that appears to be totally different than just drawing or painting. It’s amazing to see someone who has mastered something like this. Do we ever master anything anymore?)
It seems he was quite successful with his print-making and painting business. This explains why the house is a) huge and b) lavishly furnished. Rembrandt spent a fortune on his collection of objects of natural history which include corals, busts of classical figures, African weapons and reptile skins. His studio boasts a beautiful north-facing wall of windows and plenty of space for models and still-life sets. As I walked around the room I heard a pitter patter of horse hooves in the adjacent street. I was immediately transported back a couple hundred years even though I wiz by these horse drawn tourist carriages all the time. I’m actually amazed by how indifferent the horses are to the traffic of cars and bikes that squeeze by them along the narrow cobbled-stoned streets. Anyways…Another observation about the house is that the beds—or bed boxes—were meant for fetal position sleeping or really short people. Saddest part of his story: his wife died at 29 after birthing their 4th son, the only who would survive into adulthood (the other 3 children died in their youth!). (That would be a pretty hard father to live in the shadow of. You’d probably want to go into law, or something definitely non-art related)
This museum told the stories of Resistance Movement workers, the underground bank, and the cultural, social and political climate during WWII. Leave it to a Dutch man, Wally van Hall, to set up an entire banking system (on paper!) for illegal loans to fund resistance work during the war. There was so much money left over after repaying each lender after the war, that they funded the Dam Square memorial, a Resistance memorial for the bank founder and the museum. As I reflected on the stories of these brave men and women risking their lives, surrendering all they had and fighting for what they believed was right I wonder if I would’ve had the courage to resist as they did. Being part of the resistance wasn’t about joining in with the protesters, it was about survival, necessity. My Opa barely missed the work camp cut-off because he was too young. His older brothers weren’t so fortunate. If you could hide (Jew or student or young man or resistance worker) you had a much better chance of survival. There was tons of stuff to read, touch, see, listen to or watch in the museum. The tour ended with the liberation in May 1945. Graeme and I both got emotional watching the video of American troops driving through the streets of Amsterdam and seeing a giant sign with “Welcome Friends” written in English hanging from a balcony. (Imagine setting up a secret banking system while your home country was invaded. They had this thing up and running in no time and it was a pretty massive bank by the time the war was done. All in 4 years! It seems that the bank grew out of necessity: Dutch people didn’t want to deposit their money into the now-German run banking system, but they didn’t want to have their guilders hiding under their mattresses. So why not put their money to work! They would give it to the underground bank and get a promissory stating that they would get their money plus interest, after the war. And in the meantime the bank would use the money to finance the resistance. I stood there in awe. Unfortunately, Wally van Hall was betrayed and killed by the Germans a few months before liberation. But there is a cool memorial by our house here in the city.)
Graeme and I commented on how fortunate we feel to have been born in our era, but we also wondered what kind of hardships we would see in our lifetime. Would we ever have to face anything like this? Could we?
Hungry sad kids standing in the same streets that we walk today. It’s not like old Amsterdam has changed much from now til then, so all the streets in the photos look the same. So eerie to see the old photos with familiar buildings.
Picasso in Paris at the Van Gogh
The last museum we went to during this museum extravaganza was to the Van Gogh museum again, but instead of looking at Vincent’s stuff upstairs, we went through a new exhibit downstairs of all of Picasso’s early works. Lots of fin-de-siecle Parisian stuff, lots of parties and ladies lit by the soft light of restaurants. Happy times, drinking, partying. Until Picasso’s good friend killed himself over a girl, then all of the paintings go dark and moody and sad. It was really neat to see his more realistic pre-cubism stuff and to remember that he was an amazingly realistic painter until he went super tribal and abstract.