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What Makes Vermeer so Unique?

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam announced they are planning the largest Vermeer exhibition in the Spring of 2023. In addition several paintings by the artist will undergo analysis using state-of-the-art techniques. These examinations of The Milkmaid, The Little Street, The Love Letter and Woman Reading a Letter will provide new insights into Vermeer’s working method and technique, as well as condition of paintings. The exhibition will include loan works from all over the world. Plans are slated from 10 Feb.to 4 June. Tickets will go on sale from late 2022.

Johannes Vermeer was born in Delft in 1632. He created 45 paintings in his lifetime, only 35 remain.

As a fan of Vermeer this promises to be an historic event. See press releases.

https://www.rijksmuseum.NL

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1172 posts

This sounds amazing. I'm really excited to see my first Vermeer on my upcoming Netherlands trip.

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What makes him so unique I think is that each one of his paintings could have been a photograph if photography existed at that time. They are all little moments of everyday life, and I think endure in popularity because you don't have to know a particular bible story, historical person or battle, or Greek mythology to really understand them, and so remain extremely accessible to everyone. The small amount of surviving works certainly adds interest and intrigue to it as well.

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roubrat- I am excited for you! Prior to our visit I enjoyed reading “Girl with the Pearl Earring” by Chevalier. Probably my favorite Vermeer painting.

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kblur9- "The small amount of surviving works certainly adds interest and intrigue as well." I totally agree!

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Kathy- Thank you for the reference to “The Lacemaker!” I almost forgot about the Louvre.
Another unique painting!

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roubrat, I've told my husband that if he ever hears of The Milkmaid having been stolen, don't look in the closet.

I think that is the best painting I have ever seen. We're not going to Europe next year until the fall. Rats. Of course, I can go... Stan is tied up all spring, but I can go...

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4388 posts

I can’t really say what makes Vermeer unique, but I love his paintings and every museum I visit, I check for a Vermeer. Thanks for the info about the exhibition

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I think I love Vermeer for the same reason I love Andrew Wyeth: the paintings are just so true.

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But I never liked the Girl with the Pearl Earring, until I saw it in person. Same with Leonardo's Girl with an Ermine. The difference between an original and even an excellent print is astonishing.

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roubrat- I too, am partial to “The Milkmaid.” I have a special edition “Jim Beam” decanter with the “Milkmaid” picture. I was just discussing with my husband if he recalled how old it was. Neither one of us remembered. So, I googled and guess what- 1972! 50 years old. Time flies! ;)

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But I never liked the Girl with the Pearl Earring, until I saw it in person.

I wonder if this will be the case for me with Mona Lisa when I eventually see it? I've never understood the appeal.

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6513 posts

I'm also a lover of Vermeer and have seen his works in the Rijksmuseum, the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, and the Louvre. And I agree with the comments here that his paintings are unique in that they reflect everyday life and ordinary people and do remind one of photographs in their detail. And I agree with Jane that seeing these (and other) paintings in person is so much different than seeing a print - there's nothing like the 'real' thing. I remember standing in front of the Milkmaid at the Rijksmuseum and staring for just minutes and being just fascinated with it. The small number of his paintings that are available for us to see does make them more intriguing to us.

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roubrat, I'm not sure about the Mona Lisa. Like you, I've never really seen the attraction. I have seen that one in person, sort of. You can see it at the Louvre, but there will be hordes of people between you and the painting, most of them taking photos and selfies.

You can't get close and spend quiet time just drinking it in, as you can with most paintings in museums. I suspect that you will be disappointed with the original, as I was.

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roubrat- thanks for sharing the link- yes, interesting!

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3189 posts

Thanks for the information and link! Vermeer is my favorite artist and I’ve sought out his work in every museum we’ve visited. I was fortunate to see a special exhibit at the National Gallery in 2001 in London. Can I make it to Amsterdam in the winter/spring to see this exhibition? Better get planning!

@Judy I had the strongest reaction to seeing the Girl With the Pearl Earring in den Haag in 2018. I couldn’t even walk up to it without pausing and looking away multiple times, it was so overwhelming.

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8430 posts

I saw “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco a few years ago. They displayed it alone in a room by itself and there was almost no one else in the room. I couldn’t stop looking, soaking it in. I loved it.

I am always thrilled to see the Mona Lisa in person. When we were there in Oct 2021, you waited in line and each person was able to go up fairly close and spend time looking at her with no one around you or in front of you. It was very civilized. We weren’t rushed and the line moved fairly quickly. There were less tourists in Paris in Oct 2021 than there are now so your experience may be different.

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Susan, thanks for sharing. I have yet to see “Girl with the Pearl Earring,” but just looking at photos it is mesmerizing! I can only imagine seeing it in person.

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This is awesome, bummed that I was just in Amsterdam so probably won't make it back for this exhibit. I made my nephew check out the paintings at the Rijksmuseum even though he wasn't that excited about it (I told him he'd regret it if he didn't).

I really enjoyed the 2014 documentary "Tim's Vermeer" produced and directed by the magicians Penn and Teller. It charts the course of an inventor who sets out to reproduce a Vermeer painting, including original painting techniques and even building the furniture in the scene. Totally fascinating. Here's the movie trailer, it appears to still be streaming on a few platforms.

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The Museum website says the exhibition will be from Feb 20 to June 4, which fits perfectly with my plan to visit sometime in April.

I read that the Mona Lisa became famous after it was stolen from the Louvre. In other words, it's the hype more than the painting itself.
I much prefer the enormous painting at the opposite end of the gallery, The Wedding Feast at Cana, by Veronese, which many people seem not to even see as they beeline to the wee portrait of a lady.

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We will have one day in Den Haag this Sept. and I'm most excited about seeing The Girl with the Peal Earring. I have a (maybe wrong?) idea that the Mauritshaus isn't as crowded as the Rijk's, so maybe I can have some alone time with her.

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2219 posts

Going to be in Amsterdam in 2 weeks and I only wanted to visit one museum because we mostly want to be outside, but the one museum is the Rijk. I’m excited to see my first Vermeer!

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reubrat, when we were at the Mauritshuis a few years ago, it was indeed as crowded as the Rijks, but nothing like trying to see the Mona Lisa.

Chani, you're right; Mona Lisa is famous for being famous, rather like today's celebrities. There are any number of paintings in the Louvre that are as good, or better, but get ignored by the crowds.

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diveloonie aka Tammy can't wait to read about your trip. I'm counting the days to mine.

Jane, I guess it's all relative, isn't it. Compare anything to the Lourve (or Vatican museum) and suddenly things aren't so bad.

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My partner and I will see the Vermeer retrospective towards the end of April 2023. We canceled our spring Holland/Belgium tour scheduled for April 2022 when the show was announced for next year.

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Those who want to visit the Vermeer exhibit next year, should be aware that you will need to book a time slot in order to be able to see the exhibit. So on top of a ticket for the museum itself, you will need an additional ticket/time slot to see the Vermeer exhibit in the Philips Wing of the Rijksmuseum. The Rijksmuseum hasn’t yet announced when ticket sale will start, but it isn’t expected to start until a few months in advance. If you sign up for the Rijksmuseum newsletter, you will be the first to know when tickets become available. Sign up here; https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/whats-on/exhibitions/johannes-vermeer

Secondly, and please bare with me, as a Dutchie I can’t help but cringe a little bit about the various miss spellings and strange abbreviations of the names of museums in this thread.
I know Dutch isn’t an easy language, so please allow me to give some explanation. In the context of the Rijksmuseum, the word “rijk” means “national” or “of the state”. So the name Rijksmuseum means museum that displays art and artefacts owned by the Netherlands. It’s our national collection or national museum. If Dutch speakers want to shorten the name Rijksmuseum, they will say Rijks. The word “Reich” is the German word for Rijk. It’s therefore a bit odd to refer to the Dutch national museum with a German word. In a similar way, I’ve seen people refer to the Anne Frank house with the German word for house, haus. The Dutch word for house is huis, not haus.
Apart from national museums, the Netherlands also has museums that display the collection owned by a city. These museums are called Stedelijk museum, with the word “stedelijk” meaning of the city in this context. There are multiple Stedelijk museums in the Netherlands. Amsterdam has one, but also cities like Alkmaar, Schiedam, Breda, Zutphen, Kampen and many many more. When in Amsterdam it’s perfectly okay to refer to the Stedelijk Museum of Amsterdam as “the Stedelijk”. However when you’re in Alkmaar and ask someone about the Stedelijk, the will probably think you’re talking about their Stedelijk museum and not the one in Amsterdam.
The Netherlands is divided into 12 provinces. The collection owned by the province is on display in museums that bare the name of the province. The province of Friesland has the Fries Museum, the province of Drenthe has the Drents Museum etc etc etc.
I hope this wasn’t too boring and was a bit insightful!

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Thank you Dutch traveler, very helpful.

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@CL- Thank you for sharing the info on the 2014 documentary "Tim's Vermeer." I enjoyed the movie trailer very much. Truly fascinating!
@Chani- Great that you will be in Amsterdam sometime in April. Nice opportunity to see the Tulips as well!?
@Tammy- Hope you enjoy your time in Amsterdam. We loved the Rijksmuseum for the variety of Art. We could have easily spent 4-5 hours. We ended up spending less than 3 hours thinking we will be back. We also enjoyed sitting outside of the museum. The grounds are lovely. The fountain is quite amazing to watch or participate. Lots of YouTube videos to view! Tammy, since you enjoy the outdoors, we really loved strolling Vondelpark as well.
@Dutch_traveler- Thank you for sharing! I recall prior to traveling to Amsterdam, I consulted a colleague who is originally from the Netherlands. She was very helpful with pronunciations, places to visit, accommodations, museums, restaurants, etc. That said, always helpful to have your insight!

I am a huge fan of Van Gogh. We seek out his work when traveling. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam took my breath away. It also houses the largest collection of Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) in the world! I like to stop in the museums gift shops for small gifts like book marks, postcard photos, etc.

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Mauritshuis, Mauritshuis, got it!

Janis, I saw my first Van Gogh last year at Boston's Fine Arts Museum and picked up some pretty coasters in the gift shop.

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I've used to think it was Van Goff but I did see/hear once that in Dutch it's more of a guttural "hghgh" sound (hard to type lol). Similar to how Gouda is more like "hhhhouda" (again, how to spell these sounds?)

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9929 posts

I am excited about this exhibition too!! I’m going to add on to the front end of a tour to Northern England with a former RS guide so I can work this in! I guess I really need to start blocking out this trip, lol.

Here’s a direct link to sign up for the Vermeer newsletter with ticketing announcements.

https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/interests/vermeer

A few years ago the Louvre had a Vermeer exhibition with both the Astronomer and the Geographer side by side. That was wonderful! I hope they are hung together for this exhibit as well!

I didn’t really get the Girl With the Pearl Earring until I saw her at Mauritshuis. Wow! FWIW, when I visited there in April 2019 it was very uncrowded in the afternoon. Clearly YMMV!!

When I did a special Rembrandt exhibition at Rijksmuseum in 2019 I’d downloaded their museum app. The whole audio guide was on there so have your phone and earbuds.

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It's always my instinct to book the first time slot, but maybe I'm doing this backwards. It's probably almost everyone else's instinct, too! Even the Mauritshuis website warns If you want to avoid the crowds a bit, come to the Mauritshuis after 3 pm.

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3479 posts

I was just looking back at my photos when we were at the Rijksmuseum in September 2019. I had taken a photo of the Milkmaid & the Rembrandt exhibit. It was 2:00. It was not crowded that afternoon. The museum staff said it was a light afternoon. I would probably do another pm time if we return. ;)

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278 posts

The way the G is pronounced in Dutch depends on where in the Netherlands you live. Or rather where you lived when you learned to talk. In the middle and northern part of the country, the G is a hard gutteral G. In the southern part below the rivers, we speak with what is called a soft G. The difference may not be clearly audible to non-Dutch speakers, but for us it is very obvious .
This very funny video explains the difference between the two ways of pronunciation.
https://youtu.be/hNOebbyUgI4

This YouTube video shows how Van Gogh is pronounced by someone with a hard G
https://youtu.be/KjOvPZTURLI

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Thank you Dutch_traveler. I’ve come to the conclusion that I prefer the “successful and sexy” version! ;)

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1874 posts

In Otterlo we met a charming and outgoing young man on the bus who was eager to practice his English and engaged us in conversation. His English was perfect, hard to believe it was a second language. All was great until we told him we planned on visiting the Van Gogh ( i.e., “Van Go”) museum when we saw his eyes glaze over. I checked and no, he had absolutely no idea what we had just said. By the time we got off the bus, we could mumble a passable Dutch pronunciation, but he dissuaded us from any further effort to even try the name of the adjacent park where we intended to ride bikes… De Hoge Veluwe.

My other Dutch pronunciation guide was the baker in Amsterdam we visited each morning. I asked him how to say Good Morning in Dutch. He smiled broadly, handed over my pastry and said, “Don’t bother.” That one was easy.
Thanks for the lesson! Safe travels.

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@Denny- thank you for the hilarious stories! Now I am intrigued with Otterlo. More Van “Goff” at the Kröller Müller Museum! The sculpture park looks amazing as well. Not to mention De Hoge Veluwe National Park. Looks like an easy trip from Amsterdam. About 1 1/2 hrs? Bedankt. ;)

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It depends on what you consider an easy day trip. If you want to do this by public transport it involves a train and two busses to get there. This will take closer to 2 hours than 1.5. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely worth it, but it’s not what I would call an easy day trip from Amsterdam.

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Hello, Janis. Yes, it is about a 90 minute train ride from Amsterdam to Otterlo. We had a fantastic time. Stayed a couple of nights at the Hotel de Sterrenberg which was very nice. From there we walked to the museum and got the free bikes to ride around the park. The next day we took an easy 20 minute bus to Arnhem, and visited the Netherlands Open Air Museum or Nederlands Openluchtmuseum.

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Denny; I think you may not be remembering things correctly. Otterlo doesn’t have a train station. In order to get from Amsterdam to Otterlo, you need to train to Arnhem and transfer to a bus to Otterlo. This bus doesn’t go all the way to the Kroller-Moller museum, which means that in Otterlo, you need to change to another bus.

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Thanks Dutch Traveler. It was a few years ago. I think we both recall just one bus ride, apparently from Arnhem, to our hotel. I do recall it was a little bus, like 10 seats or so, and when I asked when we arrived near our hotel, I’m fairly certain the driver turned around off his route to detour and drop us at the front door! We both recall a short walk from the hotel to the park entrance where we got our bikes to the museum. Sorry for any confusion I may have sown. I hope I have it right! If I have erred, again, please advise.

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To get from Amsterdam to the Kroller-Moller museum is doable by public transport, but not very straightforward. And there are various ways to get there.
This is due to the fact that the museum is located in the middle of a National Park. The nearest town is the small village of Otterlo. Otterlo itself doesn’t have a train station, but it’s located in the middle of several cities that do have a train station: Apeldoorn, Arnhem and Ede-Wageningen. From each of these train stations you can get a bus that will take you to Otterlo. However none of these busses will get you all the way to the museum. To get to the Kroller-Moller museum from the Otterlo bus stop, requires either a 3.5 km walk or bike ride or a 7 minute bus ride on another bus.

Even though this may seem daunting, it’s very much worthwhile. There will also be plenty of other people doing the exact same thing, so once you get on the bus towards Otterlo it will all be pretty much self-explanatory.

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@Denny & Dutch_traveler- appreciate the information! We don’t mind taking public transportation. Sounds like an adventure. This was very helpful. Thanks for your prompt replies!

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Janis, I visited the Kroller-Mueller in May. While it was interesting and one of the sights I most wanted to see on this trip, I honestly did not think it would be worth the long public transport trip from Amsterdam. It was a fine museum, the Van Gogh's were plentiful, but there were only a few I had not seen similar works of in other places.

I did like the sculpture garden which was quite interesting but again, not worth a 4 hr round trip via public transport.

Obviously this is a personal opinion as others enjoyed it much more than I did. I was on a Road Scholar trip so did a day trip on the tour bus.

I did have an interesting conversation with some Jr High age girls in the garden which was hilarious. Their English was so good and they were eager to practice on someone.

Dutch_Traveler, thank you for the entertaining youtube videos!

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@Pam; you’re welcome. There are several videos out there about the difference between the two G’s. Some are a bit more serious, focusing more on the technicalities. Still great, but I liked this one better.

@ Janis; born and raised and still living in the southern part of the country I too prefer the “successful and sexy” version of the pronunciation of the letter G. ;-)
In fact I live about 15 km’s away from the village where Vincent van Gogh was born. And now I can’t help but wonder how Vincent himself pronounced his last name. Even though he was born in the “soft G” or cool part of the country, both his parents were born in the northern part and came to Zundert when they were adults. So I guess it could be both. A bit of mystery remains!

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I’m pretty sure it was the Ede-Wageningen route that we took. It sounds very familiar. We enjoyed our several trips to the Netherlands and may start seriously thinking about the next one now. I wasn’t aware of the special exhibition. Thank you for that! Over the years we have missed the Girl with the Pearl Earring in Den Haag and Bologna. Maybe this will be the year. Also try Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland for Vermeer fiction. This forum has been a huge help to us over the years and I hope all who contribute stay safe and healthy and continue to share their insights and experiences. Safe travels.

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3479 posts

@Pam, thanks for your comments about your visit to the Kröller Müller Museum. In addition I was curious about the Sculpture Park. Pam, I have been “stalking Van Gogh for years!” lol. I enjoyed the Musée d’ Orsay, Arles, walking tour of Montmartre where Vincent lived.
@Denny, I agree with your comment that “this forum has been a huge help over the years.” I appreciate everyone’s insights. And getting back to Vermeer! Thanks for the book recommendation!
@Dutch-traveler- Hmmm, I wonder how Vincent Van Gogh pronounced his last name? Yes, a bit of a mystery remains! Thanks again. ;)

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15063 posts

So I guess when I get to the Netherlands I should spell my name Ghani (or does it need to be just Gani?) so they'll pronounce it correctly 🤣

If you want to practice a couple phrases before your trip, try
Good morning = Goedemorgan
Good day = Goedendag
and the canals are all grachts . . .

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278 posts

@Chani; In Dutch, the “ch” is pronounced as “g” so no need to change your name :-)
When you give tips about Dutch words and/or phrases, it’s always good to double check the spelling.
It’s “goedemorgen” not “goedemorgan”. Goedendag is correct, but sounds very formal and stiff. Goeiedag means exactly the same thing, but comes across as much more friendly.

Also the plural of “gracht”, is “grachten” not “grachts”. And since the ch is pronounced as g, gracht is pronounced as gragt.

In addition to grachten, some cities have bodies of water that are called singels, like for instance Utrecht and Breda. So not every body of water in a Dutch city is a gracht. Cities can also have singels and even rivers running thru them.

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9929 posts

"Pam, I have been “stalking Van Gogh for years!” lol. I enjoyed the Musée d’ Orsay, Arles, walking tour of Montmartre where Vincent lived."

Oh gosh, me too! I specifically did a Road Scholar program in Provence because it went to the asylum in St Remy, lol. I also did the Orsay before that trip and then I was so taken with Arles I did it again after the trip and had different feelings when I looked at the collection. I keep intending to do a day trip to Auvers-sur-Oise when I am in Paris.

The sculpture garden at K-M was very nice although the map of the gardens I found slightly confusing. Most pieces were quite modern which is not really my thing but they fit well into the landscape.

The K-M has a very nice website with their whole collection online so you can get an idea of what is one display. The one painting I'd not seen one similar to was this Sunflowers Gone to Seed one.

https://krollermuller.nl/en/vincent-van-gogh-four-sunflowers-gone-to-seed-1

I'm not sorry I went, but I'd probably not make the journey again. I had also just been to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and they had a really wonderful special exhibition on his Olive Trees that I really enjoyed so that may have colored my opinion.

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15063 posts

Thank you, Dutch traveler! I appreciate the edification, especially since I hope to be in your country this coming spring. And how could I forget that CH is gutteral, after so many flights in and out of Schiphol (blushing).

My bad for the typo. BTW I just like goedendag because of its sound.

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1874 posts

Roubrat, thanks for the tip. I have placed a hold on “A View of Delft” at our excellent public library.

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-roubrat- thanks for mentioning Vermeer: “A view of Delft.” Good reviews. Sounds like a winner.
-Pam- I missed the asylum! Darn! Our tour didn’t go to St. Rémy. I thought Arles was amazing. The only caveat: the Mosquitoes! We call it “the Mosquito capital of the world.” lol. They were vicious that year. Thanks for the link to the sunflowers gone to seed. ;)
I am now excited to visit more places in the Netherlands. It looks like “RS Amsterdam & the Netherlands” is a comprehensive guide, beyond Amsterdam!

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8014 posts

We enjoyed our visit to the Mauritshaus Museum ( the Royal Collection) in The Hague to see the Vermeer paintings.

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3479 posts

roubat- thanks for sharing the fascinating article. The state-of-the-art technology is amazing!

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1172 posts

I'm so excited! I'll be at the Mauritshuis in a little over 3 weeks :-)

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278 posts

“ We enjoyed our visit to the Mauritshaus Museum ( the Royal Collection) in The Hague to see the Vermeer paintings.”
I know I’ve written it before, but please don’t use German words for Dutch sights. It may seem harmless, but some people will find this pretty offensive. The museum is called the MauritsHUIS.
Also the paintings in the Mauritshuis aren’t owned by our royal family, so it isn’t the Royal Collection that’s on display there. Just like in the Rijksmuseum, the paintings in the Mauritshuis are property of the state, so it is in fact our National Collection that’s on display.
Our royal family does have a collection of art, but the art is not in the Mauritshuis. You can see some of in in the Royal Palace on Dam Square in Amsterdam or in Palace Het Loo in Apeldoorn. The remainder is behind closed door in Palace Noordeinde and Huis ten Bosch, both in The Hague.