Posted by: jeannineatkins | March 23, 2015

Amsterdam Treasures

The tulips weren’t yet out when my daughter and I vacationed in Amsterdam last week, but we saw crocuses starting to turn lawns purple and daffodils in sunny spots of the park. We spent a lot of time in museums. In The Rijksmuseum, Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” commands a wall, and was still surrounded by its usual crowd.


We got a better view of the also impressive “Anatomy Lesson” in the Mauritshuis, which is about an hour train ride away in The Hague. (And also saw Vermeer’s “The Girl with Pearl Earring.”) Rembrandt painted this when he was twenty-five, yet his overspending meant that he died penniless. Historians used the list of items taken from his home to pay off debts was used to furnish the fascinating house where he lived, painted, and sold work for twenty years.


Loss is part of history. I loved how the Van Gogh Museum is entirely devoted to the work of one man and his friends. Self portraits are lined along one long wall. Upstairs, we moved through halls of showing his start as an artist painting dark fields and workers, admiring Millet, then moving along to bright scenes painted in southern France, some from an asylum. Vincent Van Gogh died in a possible suicide (which recent biographers call into question) north of Paris. Like Rembrandt, he died in debt, but he didn’t have the earlier artist’s reputation. Wondering how about 200 paintings came to be in Amsterdam, I’m now reading and learning about the years following his life, when the Rijksmuseum refused to show his work, finding it unsuitable to be hung near Rembrandt, Rubens, and Frans Hals.

While Emily and I marveled at the art, (and she took the pictures, while I focused on staying out of the way of pedestrians and bicycles) she asked me about Dutch writers. I couldn’t think of any except Anne Frank, who was in Amsterdam in hiding, her plaid diary kept by one of the people who tried to save the family from the Nazis. That diary was seen into publication by her father, the one surviving member of the family. It seems Otto also oversaw the annex restored as the Anne Frank House. He wanted the rooms to be left stripped, as the Nazis left them after taking or wrecking furniture and things. It was a moving choice (as well as practical; the place is crowded.) In Anne’s room we see, now under plexiglass, clipped pictures of things she loved: film stars, pretty children, royalty, and art. Some are torn, suggesting, like a diary, what is left out. She would likely have grown into a still more amazing writer, but it’s her ordinary and beautiful hopes and the ruthless assault upon them that is moving here.


Emily and I left the city for part of a day to see and hear the soft whirr of windmills in Zaanse Schans. Lovely how they keep spinning, like history, moving with what’s kept and what’s lost, what is left to see and important gaps, too.



  1. Beautiful photos! I have never been there but wish to visit.

    Anne Frank’s story is so inspirational. I agree with you, her hopes and dreams are really moving. When I visit Amsterdam I will make sure to visit that home.

    • It’s a beautiful city of canals and museums. The line for Anne Frank’s house can take an hour or two, I expect more at times, and is not for the claustrophobic. But so moving.

  2. Oh, this brings back so many memories of my trips to The Netherlands. I’ve visited many of those places over my five trips there (including our honeymoon and our 20th anniversary trip). Haven’t been to Zaanse Schans, but we did go to Kinderdijk near Rotterdam (19 historic windmills).

    Thanks for this delightful post! Now I’m homesick for Amsterdam!

    • I can imagine your homesickness. I’m happy to be home, but already miss it. Wonderful you went for honeymoon and anniversary!

  3. Looks like a fabulous trip! I visited the Anne Frank house and Rijksmuseum years ago as a grad student. Fascinating and moving. Didn’t know that about Van Gogh.

    • I’m glad you got to those places! Emily had done a paper on Van Gogh so filled me in. The most recent biography by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (with an excerpt re the death in Vanity Fair a few years ago, if you don’t care to read through 100s of pages) mentions interviews, the fact that he didn’t own a revolver, the unusual choice to shoot in the stomach and face a slow horrible death, the lack of suicide note, and other convincing circumstances, positing an accident by a rather awful young man that Van Gogh might have covered for.

  4. What a glorious trip, Jeannine, made even more beautiful by your appreciation of it. I think the best part was that you shared it with your daughter.

    I just read an article about the death of Anne Frank’s last living relative:

    • Emily was not only fun to have around, but a great guide — keeping me out of the path of bicyclists and holding her phone with its maps like a lantern as we made our way down streets with somewhat impossible names. Thank you for the link. At Anne’s house I was assured once more that Cynthia Ozick’s take on her is not mine. Perhaps her story is a sort of propaganda, but also no one could be more innocent, and everyone was as innocent; it was a criminal unbearable time.

      • Now I’m curious about the Cynthia Ozick take. Will look for it.

        • It’s an interesting piece about the diary’s bowlderization, positing that if Anne’s anger and more references to Judaism were kept, the diary would not have been so popular. Maybe, maybe not, but I disagree with her argument that the diary is used for forgetting more than remembering (yeah, I’m simplifying, but she does come down to saying maybe the diary would have been better lost. No.) Here’s the link:

  5. I’m in awe of all the magical things you did and saw; but more so, I’m charmed by the idea of a mother-daughter journey to the land of tulips, windmills, and creative geniuses. How fortunate, for both of you!! ❤

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