This is what I’d been expecting when we visited Het Grachtenhuis: rooms that gives an impression of how wealthy residents of Amsterdam’s Golden Age lived and, to a much lesser extent, how their servants lived.
This museum is named after Willem van Loon, a founder of the Dutch East-India Company (VOC). Granted, some large proportion of the profits from the VOC was based on slavery or on other forms of oppression of native peoples. Nevertheless, houses like this are an enduring and beautiful legacy.
Built in 1672, its first resident was Ferdinand Bol, whose paintings can be viewed in the Rijksmuseum. The van Loon family didn’t move in until the late 1800’s. When they did, they filled it with their family’s history, particularly in evidence in the paintings.
The house is intact, inside and out, and has been filled with a collection of articles from several different centuries, which is, I suppose, what would have happened with a patrician family like the van Loons. They would have replaced some pieces and kept some old ones, as any family would.
There is no set route, and you are free to wander around at will. There’s a lot to examine, if you’re so inclined: period furniture, paintings, porcelain, decorative moldings, chandeliers, and so on. There are a few signs explaining pieces, and notes on all of the furniture reminding visitors not to sit down, but they’ve done a good job at keeping modern intrusions to a minimum. It was quite a restful contrast to the multimedia activity of Het Grachtenhuis.
I was particularly drawn to the details: the items laid out on the dressing table in the bedroom, the shiny copper pots on the enormous cast-iron stove down in the kitchen. Perhaps it was because the afternoon light through a cloudy sky was so much like a Vermeer painting.
The small garden is laid out in formal style and from the back of the garden you can look back at the house to see its elegant symmetry, somewhat marred by the asymmetry of the houses on either side.
A coach house, closed when we visited, backs the garden. It is usually used to exhibit the van Loon family’s collection of carriages, coaches, and other accoutrements that belong in a coach house.
It all seemed very much an Amsterdam-based Downton Abbey to me, with its air of old money and women swishing around in long skirts or drinking tea from very delicate china. If that’s what you’d like to see, this small museum is definitely worth a short visit next time you’re in Amsterdam.
This is one of my on-going series on small museums in Amsterdam. Here’s the whole list:
- Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder
- Het Grachtenhuis (canal house museum)
- Museum van Loon
- Rembrandt’s House
- The Handbag Museum
- The Brilmuseum (spectacles)
- Huis Marseille Museum for Photography
- The Dutch Resistance Museum
- Red Light Secrets: Museum of Prostitution
- Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum
- Body Worlds: Museum or Freak ShowThe Sex Museum
If you need more general information about visiting Amsterdam, check out the Netherlands Tourism website.