Princess, paintings, friends: fun!

While waiting for friends,staff at one of the museums I used to work for had a chat with me. They told me about their event, special guest, to sign up quickly. This monthly event is becoming very popular, but the number of tickets remains limited.

So the moment the invitation was received, I warned friends and reserved tickets. A week before the event, a reminder mail followed with nearly ten workshops to choose from. I never realized there would be workshops … A special audio tour would also be available, compiled by the special guest.

Holbein, unknown gentleman with falcon

Last Thursday, we joined a long queue to show our tickets, our entrance cards, reserve a place for the first round of workshops. Then we went to the museum’s Brasserie to have a quick dinner. Downstairs, the bar opened, the DJ started, finger food – well, that was served the whole evening and ranged from delicious veggie dips to Asian fritters.

Roughly a quarter past six, the director welcomed the crowd. The introduction of the special guest and the ceremony of handing over the “museum’s keys” followed.

Each month, a special guest is promoted to “museum-director-for-a-night”. This time, Dutch princess Laurentien hosted the evening. She is known not just as author of a series of children’s books, but also as active patron and promoter of a list of charities many of which focus on reading, writing, education.

She was not alone. Her kids had been roped in. Two had been promoted to special museum educators with the task of answering questions about a few paintings the princess had selected. The youngest one was time manager and co-coach at the workshop I joined.

This group was treated to a short life- and networking coaching-session. It was interesting  to let go of everything, relax, contemplate the room and paintings in silence, select one – then connect with a total stranger to discuss our choices.

Yes, of course I knew the room, but had I ever bothered to admire the sun-light reflected by the pond outside, on its walls and ceiling? Yes, of course I knew the odd chandeliers. Of course, I had noticed the grisailles, colourful flower-still-lives, ceiling full of paintings. Had I really ever wondered how they affected, appealed, influenced me?

This was a nice way to interact with art and people. It was also another way of teaching people to focus, observe, share and connect. A different way of teaching to look,  than say the drawing tours offered by the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum. Yet just as worthwhile, absorbing, revealing.

Holbein’s Robert Cheseman portrait

After this workshop, we were lucky enough to obtain left-over-tickets for the second round of workshops. While other guests visited the bar, friends attended more workshops. I joined a group for a short lecture on a series of portraits. The lecture turned out to be given by the Mauritshuis Museum’s director herself.

Even better: she lectured on a group of portraits which are among my favorites. Among them are three by Holbein. He painted these at the court of Henry VIII.

It includes the portrait Henry VIII’s third wife, whom I find rather prim-looking: Jane Seymour. As the first workshop had shown, art means and reveals different things to people, so you may disagree. I have always been fascinated by Robert Cheseman’s portrait.

These portraits now hang in the same room, but museums regularly change displays, so don’t be surprised if you find them hanging elsewhere. Or you may be unable to find one or two. The director explained at least one of the portraits will be restored. Another one will be on loan to a future exhibition elsewhere in the world.

After the workshops, we finished the evening with a drink from the bar. Other guests showed no intention of going home early, but our heads were full of impressions, facts, unique experiences.  We all agreed, it had been interesting and great fun! Next month’s special guest is already known and we’ve already signed up.

The only drawback: all workshops were offered in Dutch. The same goes for special evenings at most of the other Dutch museums. The Vincent van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is one of the exceptions. On the other hand: plenty museums the world over organize such events.

The V&A in London for instance, does smashing ones I absolutely recommend. Brussels museums have their Nocturnes. So: visiting London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, New York, Brussels, anywhere and interested in museums and exhibitions? Check museum websites, ask tourist information: like us, you may end up having a very unique experience! Take a look at for instance:

Museum Mauritshuis, The Hague: Maurits &
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam: Vincent Friday Night
V&A, London: Friday Late
Brussels Museums: Nocturnes, start again from September 2017 but there are other events
Tourist Info Paris: Museums open till late in Paris


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