Gillian Thornton visits the Girl with a Pearl Earring
With her blue and yellow headscarf and enigmatic gaze, the Girl with a Pearl Earring made international headlines in June when she returned home to The Hague after a two-year world tour. Now this popular painting by Johannes Vermeer is back at the Mauritshuis, one of the world’s most enchanting small museums, and while the Girl’s been away on her holidays, her beautiful home has undergone a tasteful makeover.
The elegant classical building – commissioned by a 17th century merchant – has doubled in size without losing any of its intimacy or atmosphere. The gallery itself remains largely unchanged. What’s new is the Royal Dutch Shell Wing which provides temporary exhibition galleries, a cafe, shop and other visitor facilities which had been previously squeezed into valuable museum space.
The stunning collection of Dutch paintings is ranked one of the four best in the world. As well as Vermeer’s world famous Girl – inspiration for Tracey Chevalier’s best-selling novel and subsequent movie – the Mauritshuis is home to The Goldfinch by Carl Fabritius which recently provided inspiration for novelist Donna Tart. Look out too for work by Rembrandt, Rubens and Brueghel.
Home to the Dutch Royal family and the International Court of Justice, The Hague is also the seat of Government for The Netherlands, and the Mauritshuis stands beside the parliament buildings overlooking a city centre lake. With its picturesque old town, varied art museums and tempting retail district. The Hague is fast becoming a popular alternative to Amsterdam for a city break – quieter, better value, and only half an hour an hour away by train, making the Dutch capital the destination for a day trip rather than vice versa.
I enjoyed the elegant architecture of Lange Voorhout, a broad shady avenue where antique stalls cluster beneath the canopy of trees on Thursday and Sundays from May to September. Let yourself be pulled into the wonderful optical illusions created by graphic artist M C Escher in a dedicated museum here, housed in a former royal palace. The nearby Hotel Des Indes is an elegant place to stay or take afternoon tea, an opulent reminder of the Netherlands’ colonial past as ruler of Indonesia.
There’s more art at the bijou Prince William IV Gallery in the heart of the old town. Part of the Mauritshuis collection, this single, high-ceilinged gallery is reminiscent of the early days of the royal collection. And on the edge of the city, the Gemeenteemuseum Den Haag offers contemporary artist Mondrian in an Art Deco building alongside traditional Hague silver and blue-and-white Delft china.
The independent boutiques in the quaint streets near Noordeinde Palace – the offices of King Willem Alexander – offer serious retail temptation, as does the stylish Hague Passage arcade. And if you want to chill out after all this culture and shopping, just hop on a tram for the 15-minute ride to the beach resorts of Scheveningen and Kijkduin. Everything you could want in a city break and a whole lot more!
For more informaton about Holland visit www.holland.com.
• For short breaks to The Hague, Silver Travel Advisor recommends Kirker Holidays.