The Rijksmuseum is without question the country’s foremost art museum, with an extravagant collection of Dutch paintings, as well as a vast hoard of applied art and sculpture. Although much of the museum is closed for refurbishment until 2013, you can still see some of its world-renowned collection of Rembrandts – with The Night Watch and the exquisite Jewish Bride leading the way – but there’s much, much else. One undoubted highlight is the paintings of Johannes Vermeer (1632–75), most memorably The Love Letter, which reveals a tension between servant and mistress – the lute on the woman’s lap was a well-known sexual symbol – and The Kitchen Maid, an exquisitely observed domestic scene, right down to the nail, and its shadow, on the background wall. There are also paintings by Rembrandt’s pupils – Ferdinand Bol, Gerard Dou, Carel Fabritius and Gabriel Metsu; the carousing peasants of Jan Steen; the cool interiors of Gerard ter Borch and Pieter Saenredam; tonal river scenes by the Haarlem artist Salomon van Ruysdael; and several wonderful canvases by Frans Hals (1582–1666), most notably his expansive Marriage Portrait of Isaac Massa and Beatrix Laen.
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