Restoration Process of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch to be on Public Display
By Sara Foster
Over the course of the next few years, Rembrandt van Rijn’s famous painting The Night Watch will undergo restoration, and the world will be watching. Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, which has long housed the painting, announced plans to open the elaborate process up to the public, both within the gallery itself and via an internet livestream. The project will begin in July 2019 and is the largest endeavour of its kind.
Director of the Rijksmseum Taco Dibbits has said the process will be slow and intricate, and will cost millions of euros to complete. “This time round we decided to be transparent,” he explained to The Guardian, “because the process is so pleasing to see.” Rather than taking the painting away from its adoring public, as a museum usually does when a work receives restoration, Dibbits considered it important to make it accessible.
The painting is one of the world’s most celebrated works of art. Known more formally as Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Francis Bannink Cocqis, it was completed by Rembrandt in 1642 for the major of the civic guard of Amsterdam. As a group portrait, it maintains a remarkable vitality. With its striking use of light and shade and its dynamic composition, the painting has captivated viewers for centuries.
More than 2 million people a year come to view The Night Watch in the Rijksmuseum’s Gallery of Honour, which was created specifically for the piece. The museum and its masterpiece made headlines last June when a Dutch teacher Stefan Kasper won the opportunity to spend a night alone with the work, as a prize for being the 10 millionth visitor to the museum since its reopening in 2013.
The painting’s notoriety has not always brought about positive reception. In 1975, the work was slashed by a visitor with a bread knife, claiming he “did it for the Lord.” Fifteen years later in 1990, a man sprayed the painting with acid. Though it received extensive restoration following both incidents, discolouration and deterioration have recently become noticeable. In one area in particular need of attention, the damage from the knife attack appears to be bleaching out the figure of a small dog.
Dibbits regards the extensive restoration process as a “once in a lifetime opportunity for the public”. An ultra-white chamber will be installed to encase The Night Watch and its conservators as they work under the eyes of spectators and cameras. Hundreds of experts from all over the world will be involved, and conservators will be available at the museum to answer visitors’ questions. Updates will also be provided regularly on discoveries encountered throughout the process.
For Dibbits and the Rijksmuseum, the goal is to promote an intimate engagement between the public and one of its most beloved masterpieces. The restoration process is essential to the maintenance of an artwork, and conservators have been attracting more and more attention as artists in their own right. However, restoration usually takes place behind the scenes until the painting can be returned to the public in mint condition. With the restoration process of The Night Watchopen for the world to see, we are reminded that cultural preservation is something we must all take part in.
“The Night Watch,” Museum Het Rembranthuis. https://www.rembrandthuis.nl/en/rembrandt-2/rembrandt-the-artist/most-important-works/the-night-watch/
Connolly, Kate. “The Night Watch: Rembrandt painting to be restored under world’s gaze,” The Guardian,16 October 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/oct/16/the-night-watch-rembrandt-painting-to-be-restored-under-worlds-gaze
Wexelman, Alex. “Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch will remain on public display while it’s restored,” Artsy, 17 October 2018. https://www.artsy.net/news/artsy-editorial-rembrandts-the-night-watch-will-remain-public-display-restored
“Dutch man sleeps with Rembrandt’s The Night Watch,”BBC News, 2 June, 2017. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-40137724