You might know it as the residence of Vermeer’s famous Girl With a Pearl Earring. Perhaps you’ve heard of it because it plays host to Fabritius’ The Goldfinch. Or, maybe you’d never heard of the Mauritshuis until you stumbled across it on your stroll along the Hofvijver on a surprisingly sunny afternoon in The Hague. Whichever category you fall into, you’ve probably clicked your way over here because you’re planning a visit to this majestic art museum and you’re curious about more of the Mauritshuis’ highlights.
Beyond its picturesque setting and selection of famous paintings, the Mauritshuis is a stunning example of 17th- and 19th-century architecture, and within its walls you’ll find one of the most impressive collections of Dutch and Flemish 17th-century paintings. But don’t take our word for it, we’ll let International Sales Manager for the Mauritshuis Simone Hollen tell you more.
1. Thanks for chatting to us, Simone! Can you tell us a bit more about what you do for the Mauritshuis?
I’ve been the International Sales Manager for the Mauritshuis since 2016, but I’ve actually worked for the museum since 2003 – always in different functions though. The Mauritshuis is such a beautiful place, and definitely one of the must-sees in the Netherlands! I’m really proud to represent it.
2. What do you love most about your role?
Well, I really like being part of the tourism industry. Usually we travel a lot, which is also a fun part of the job – of course, we haven’t been able to do much traveling over the last year. I also like that part of my job is putting Holland, particularly The Hague, on the international tourism map. I love working with a lot of people and collaborating with other members of the tourism industry. I’m really looking forward to collaborating with people in person again!
3. Can you tell us a bit about the history of the Mauritshuis?
The Mauritshuis was built in the 17th century and it was commissioned by Johan Maurits, a governor based in Brazil. He had the Mauritshuis built during his governorship in Brazil as his residence in The Hague. Can you imagine that? This beautiful home in the historical heart of The Hague, positioned right next to government buildings!
When he came back from Brazil, he lived in the Mauritshuis for a few years before he moved back to Germany. After that, the Mauritshuis had a few different functions. Then, in the early 18th century, the interior was almost completely burnt down in a fire, and only the outside walls were left standing. The decision was made to maintain the outside structure and redo the interior.
We’re very happy that the administration at the time decided to maintain the outside and renovate the inside! It’s one of the things that’s so interesting about the Mauritshuis: the building is from the 1700s, and the interior is from the 1800s.
It was only in 1822 that it became the museum as we know it today. So next year, we’ll be celebrating 200 years of the Mauritshuis museum!
4. That’s quite the anniversary. What celebrations have you got planned?
We have a lot of celebrations planned! We’ll stage several temporary exhibitions throughout 2022, starting with our flower still life exhibition – because celebrations and flowers go hand in hand, of course. Then, we’ll have a summer exhibition with contemporary photographers, and finally an autumn exhibition – and that will be a surprise!
5. So the Mauritshuis only became a museum in 1822, long after Johan Maurits left – where did the collection come from?
The collection is now owned by the state, but it was collected by William V. Since 1816, the collection has officially become the property of the Dutch state and is known as the Royal Picture Gallery. So, the collection inside the Mauritshuis and the physical building are both from the 17th century, but they’re not from the same owner!
6. Back to the exhibitions, will people be able to see your temporary exhibitions with their general entry ticket?
Yes, temporary exhibitions are included in the general admissions ticket. We have temporary exhibitions 2-3 times a year, so most of the time there’s something extra to see! It takes about an hour and a half for both our permanent and our temporary exhibition.
Keep an eye on the website for our family exhibitions as well, for these we open up the workshop area and people can visit with their kids. There’s usually an extra activity for the kids as well.
7. What’s your favourite part of the building?
Oh, that’s a tough one. All the museum rooms are so richly decorated, it’s hard to choose a favourite. I love the first floor in particular, with its beautiful dark-blue, silk wall coverings. Usually you wouldn’t use a blue like that, but it works so well in the museum. The first floor also has these Murano glass chandeliers, which are truly stunning. So, yes I think the downstairs rooms are my favourite!
8. An interesting aspect of the Mauritshuis is the more modern painting on the ceiling of the second floor. Can you tell us a bit about that?
In the 1980s, the Mauritshuis had a renovation. The then-director held a competition to decide which artist should have the honor of painting the ceiling of the Mauritshuis. Artist Ger Lataster won the competition and was thus commissioned to paint the ceiling.
The painting he created is based on the story of Icarus, a character in Greek mythology whose wings melted when he flew too close to the sun. The reason he chose this story as his inspiration was because he was very modest and when he won the competition he thought ‘Who am I to paint here, in a building featuring all these Dutch masters?’. It’s a very abstract portrayal of this story. In one part of the ceiling you can see the blue of a workman’s overalls, some glasses, and the red of his jam sandwich. People either love it or hate it!
9. Arguably the most famous painting at the Mauritshuis is The Girl With a Pearl Earring – what makes this Vermeer painting so special?
I think it’s partly because she’s so well known, but there are lots of other reasons! Firstly, the colours in the painting are so limited and yet it’s such a strong image. She’s also dressed very strangely for the 17th century – they didn’t wear clothes like that back then in the Netherlands. She has this interesting way of looking over her shoulder, which was not a common pose for portraiture. It gives you a strange feeling. I’ve seen some people start crying when they see her, people see very different emotions in the painting. We like to call her the Dutch Mona Lisa – she’s really an icon!
10. A lot of paintings have a story behind them – like how they were acquired or why the artist painted them. Do you have a favourite story behind a painting?
I like the story behind the Girl With a Pearl Earring. She was collected by Arnoldus Andries des Tombe in an auction, and he bought the painting for only one euro! At the time, they didn’t know she was a Vermeer painting. You almost can’t believe this world-famous painting was bought here, in The Hague, in the 1800s for just one euro!
I also like that even today, we’re still finding out interesting stories about her. Two years ago, she was in a different room – the Golden Room – in a glass cabinet and in this different lighting, we found out that she actually had a green curtain painted behind her. During this period, the conservators also found Vermeer’s signature and they discovered that she initially had eyelashes, they’ve just faded with time. You can find out more about the research project behind this iconic painting in this article on the Mauritshuis website.
Many of our other paintings have interesting tales behind them so I advise anyone coming here to get the audio guide so that you can fully enjoy the paintings and their history!
11. The Mauritshuis has some more impressive highlights, like The Goldfinch, or The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. But do you have a favourite hidden gem?
That’s also a tough one… On the first floor, we have all our early 17th-century Dutch paintings and the Flemish collection, which includes paintings by Brueghel, Rubens and Van Dijk. Then on the top floor, we have four rooms: two rooms dedicated to Rembrandt’s paintings – one with early paintings and then one with his later paintings, including his last self portrait – and the room with Paulus Potter’s life-size bull painting, then the Jan Steen room, and finally the Vermeer room which features The Girl with The Pearl Earring, of course.
It’s difficult to choose a personal highlight, but my current favourite painting is Flemish painter Clara Peeters’ Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels. It’s beautifully conserved, and it’s such a luxurious painting. It’s also so realistic, you could almost touch it. I love the subject too; it’s all these delicious-looking cheeses, and nuts, and bread. I really do love food paintings, but this one in particular stands out to me. It’s also incredibly detailed! She even managed to include her own self portrait very subtly; it’s very small on the top of a wine carafe. It’s an amazing artwork!
12. You mentioned that this painting is very well preserved. Can you tell us more about conservation at the Mauritshuis?
We actually have an on-site conservation department, and it’s a real privilege to see the conservators at work. Unfortunately their department isn’t open to the public, but sometimes we restore paintings in public so then people can ask questions about the restoration. It’s very interesting to see people working on a restoration. For us, it’s important to be more than a gallery; we want to show people some of the science behind looking after these paintings.
Our restoration department has been under our roof for 25 years, and so at the end of this year we’re planning an exhibition called Face Lifts and Makeovers. At this exhibition, we’ll be presenting some of the paintings we’ve restored in the last 25 years.
13. You mentioned earlier that you’ve seen people crying when they see the Girl With a Pearl Earring. Do people often have emotional reactions in the Mauritshuis?
People have even proposed in the Mauritshuis! We also had part of an episode of the Bachelorette filmed here in the Mauritshuis, and the bachelorette cried when she saw Girl With a Pearl Earring. Those kinds of things aren’t common of course, but they do happen.
I personally like the school groups that come in here. I like seeing the children walk through the museum two-by-two and hearing their reactions to different paintings. For example: when they see the bull painting by Potter, they don’t notice the bull – which is the subject of the painting – they notice the frog in the foreground at the bottom of the painting!
The kids also get to do a workshop where they get to paint their own “Mauritsmuis” – which translates to Maurits mouse. It’s a treat to see what they come up with.
14. The Mauritshuis is relatively small, but it has a lot inside it! What’s your advice for getting the most out of your Mauritshuis visit?
That’s right, from the outside you might think the museum isn’t that big, but you’ll be surprised by all there is to see when you come in. There are about 250 paintings on display, so it’s hard to see and appreciate all of them in one short visit. If you haven’t got much time, my advice is to look around, take in the atmosphere, and enjoy the building.
The Mauritshuis is just the right size to spend a good 45 minutes wandering through the rooms and taking in the paintings and the atmosphere. You’ll feel like you’re walking through somebody’s home – their very grand home! – because of its easy setup. If you’re just here to see the Mauritshuis highlights, head straight up to the top floor to the Rembrandt and Vermeer rooms.
15. What insider tips do you have for first-time visitors?
Come at the end of the day, it’s much quieter!
16. Can you tell us a bit more about your current exhibition Vervlogen?
Oh yes! Up until now we’ve had a version of this exhibition on our website, but with the easing of Covid restrictions we can welcome people to experience this exhibition in person. The concept is that we display a selection of paintings along with scents of what’s depicted in them. The exhibition is called Vervlogen – Bygone.
For example: one of the paintings on display shows a woman putting away her laundry; under that painting is a funnel-like system where you can smell the scent of freshly laundered linen. We also have a very picturesque painting of a canal and the opportunity to smell the canal – which is not as nice as the freshly cleaned linen scent! It’s very interesting to have a more interactive way of appreciating the paintings.
17. Covid restrictions have eased, but travel is still quite limited. Are there ways for people to visit the Mauritshuis without having to physically be there?
Visit the website, we have a giga-pixel website that offers 360º views of the museum. This is really nice, though I can’t wait to welcome visitors back again in person!
18. Why do you think people should visit the Mauritshuis?
In my opinion, the beauty of the Mauritshuis is in its history and its artworks. Even if you aren’t an art lover, you’ll still have a special experience – even if you just go straight upstairs for a view of the highlights.