Amsterdam has high hopes for Rembrandt year

Amsterdam is banking on celebrations for the 400th anniversary of Dutch master Rembrandt to draw hundreds of thousands of tourists and inject about €91-million into the city’s economy, tourism officials said.

The celebrations for painter Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) started in December at his birthplace, Leiden, where Dutch Queen Beatrix inaugurated the exhibition Rembrandt’s Mother: Myth and Reality, showing paintings Rembrandt made of his immediate family.

But the majority of the events will take place in the Dutch capital, Amsterdam, and should attract about 240 000 extra tourists and 190 000 Dutch visitors to the city, according to tourism board figures.

Amsterdam, which hosts the internationally renowned Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, is not shy about its high hopes for tourism this year, having set aside an additional €300 000 on top of its normal tourism budget to promote the Rembrandt year internationally.

The mayor’s deputy in charge of economic affairs, Laetitia Griffith, officially opened the Rembrandt year in Amsterdam in December with the unveiling of a bronze representation of his famous Night Watch painting in the square that bears his name.

The exhibits provide “a unique motive for tourists to visit the city”, said Griffith.

“Rembrandt van Rijn himself was an artist and a businessman and thus a good example of business sense,” Griffith said, even though the painter died bankrupt.

After three lean years when enthusiasm for travelling was dampened by the war in Iraq, terrorism and the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic, Amsterdam enjoyed a 5% increase in tourism to 10,3-million visitors in 2004.

“It remains a fragile business,” said Marieke van Daal, who works for the Amsterdam tourist board, ACTB, promoting the Rembrandt year.

“We insisted that in the programme for the Rembrandt year there were not only high culture exhibits but also some popular events to attract the general public,” she said.

Thus the tourist can visit a blockbuster exhibit comparing Rembrandt and Italian painter Caravaggio, as well as a smaller exhibition of Rembrandt’s biblical etchings at the Bible Museum.

Walking tours that follow in the master’s footsteps or a themed diner where you can eat “like Rembrandt” are also on the menu for those tourists less attracted by endless hours in a museum. There are even two musicals about his life in Amsterdam and in Leiden.

The campaign to get tourists to Amsterdam for the Rembrandt festivities is mostly directed at Europe, the United States and China “where tourism is rapidly developing”, Van Daal said.

The British market has been left to the side a bit, even though it is “the most important tourism market” for Amsterdam, according to Van Daal.

“The French visit the museums, but the British not so much,” she said diplomatically.

British tourists in Amsterdam have earned a reputation for hopping in on a budget Friday-night flight and moving from bar to cannabis café (for legal marijuana) and then the red-light district. — AFP

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