Start drawing … at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum

The “Teekentour”, a short drawing tour offered at the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum, has proven immensely popular. Despite having done this last year, I decided to have another go, while in Amsterdam last weekend.


Due to its popularity, it is wise to book your free ticket in advance through the museum website. (See link below) I decided to try my luck and asked at the information desk, if there were still places available. I could always have a look at great art anyway.

rijksmuseum-amsterdam-teekentourI was in luck: there was one place left for the 14:00 tour. These free tours are organized at regular intervals during the weekend and take about 45 minutes.

But my on-the-spot booking meant, I had about two hours before mine started. Plenty choice: what about a visit to the museum’s excellent café, browse the museum shop and its bookshop, or look at a few rooms full of art? I opted to visit a few rooms full of Renaissance art.

About two hours later, I joined the group. As we were an international mix, the teacher used English. Once inside the museum, each of us got the free sketch-book containing places where visitors can draw, with small assignments and advice, as well as a free pencil.

The first time I took this tour, the Rijksmuseum had just started offering it. The teacher took us sketching using a few of the works of art which can be found in the sketchbook. This time, another teacher took the group into different rooms and along other works of art.

In all rooms we visited, our teacher introduced us to several works of art, pointing out what each artist had tried to accomplish. Then there was an assignment lasting roughly 5 to 10 minutes and off we went to the next one. For each assignment, our teacher gave us a few quick instructions to help us sketch: lines, dark and light, optical illusions, details, etc.

From rooms on the ground floor, we went up to the museum’s main gallery containing Rembrandt’s Night Watch and other militia paintings. More explanations followed, comparing the various paintings and styles. Here we focused on a militia painting by Rembrandt’s competitor. On one of the empty glasses held upside-down by one of the officers in it – to be precise.

20170218-rijks-claudius-civilis-01Then we walked past another Rembrandt painting. We didn’t sketch here, but our teacher explained the scanning process. Like other visitors, we got a glimpse of how a painting is scanned and analyzed. If you are visiting the Rijksmuseum during the next few days, you can see it yourself.

With a computer, software, scanner using X-rays which do not damage the painting, the layers of paint are analyzed to learn more about Rembrandt’s technique, his paints, the composition of his paints. As text to the side of the painting informs visitors: this scanning takes 21 days – with the computer, software and scanner running 24/7. As this has been taking place for a couple of days already, I have no idea how long this project can be witnessed.

Our teacher then took us to paintings by Frans Hals. Here he explained more about Hals’ techniques and why Hals used certain optical illusions. Our last assignment was trying to draw a hand of Frans Hals’ “Merry Drinker”. Our teacher said goodbye here, as he had to prepare for his next group.

When this free tour ends, visitors can continue roaming this museum using the small sketchbook and pencil to find more art to draw, or just continue sauntering while looking at great art. As explained in a previous post, the aim of this tour is to stimulate visitors to really look at art and not just skim a painting for 3 seconds.

If you have the time, try this tour. It is great fun and no experience is needed – though you need nerves. You work among ordinary visitors who like to have a critical look at what you’re doing. But as our teacher said: “The likes of Frans Hals and Rembrandt drew for hours on end, day in and day out, and also studied with masters from an early age for years and years. So don’t expect to draw like them in just one hour!”

Are you an artist yourself? Then have a look at Rijksstudio, where you can collect excellent images from the Rijksmuseum’s collection to draw inspiration from. Here are some links:

Amsterdam Rijksmuseum: one of its current temporary exhibition focuses on South Africa
Amsterdam Rijksmuseum Teekentour – drawing tour
Amsterdam Rijksmuseum Rijksstudio

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