Gallery’s director hopes people will head to The Hague to see Vermeer’s portrait and no longer look for it in Amsterdam
The Mauritshuis, which reopens this week on Friday, 27 June, after a €22m renovation and expansion project begun in 2008, has a something of an image problem, which the director of the Royal Picture Gallery in The Hague, hopes to finally put to rest.
Emilie Gordenker, the director of the Mauritshuis, says that, although it is home to Vermeer’s most famous and most reproduced portrait, “the number one question asked in the Rijksmuseum is: ‘Where is the Girl with a Pearl Earring?’” She hopes that after the reopening, and the preceeding world tour of the picture, painted by Vermeer around 1665, along with other works from the collection, many more people will associate the portrait with the Mauritshuis than the Amsterdam museum.
The Mauritshuis’s 17th-century building has been modernised inside, and is now linked to a new wing, also in a historic building, by a space beneath its courtyard and a side street. The Dutch architect Hans van Heeswijk is responsible for finding an elegant solution to another longstanding problem. For years, visitors to the museum have had to use an unprepossessing side entrance, but now they will arrive through the main gates of the gallery and descend into the subterranean foyer space.
Before it closed in 2012 for the renovation, the museum attracted around 230,000 visitors a year. Gordenker now expects the number to rise by around 25%. “The Hague is just 30 minutes by train from Schiphol airport,” she says. But the museum’s priority is improving the visitor experience in the intimate spaces of the gallery, rather than boosting visitor numbers.
The new wing is across the street from the original building, but is also entered via the new underground space. The Royal Dutch Shell Wing is named after the oil and gas company that provided €3m in sponsorship, and provides space for temporary exhibitions as well as an education centre and conservation studio. Previously, works in the collection had to be moved to make space for special exhibitions.
The inaugural show in the new wing will be about the two buildings’ histories and their renovation. Gordenker does not rule out exhibitions of contemporary or Modern art connected to the historic collection in the future, but the focus will remain on scholarly shows based on research into the art and culture of the Dutch Golden Age.