States of Art – Night Watch restoration

Rembrandt is the undoubted king of Dutch painting, and The Night Watch is the jewel in his crown. A 3.5 metre x 4.5 metre epic, depicting in near life-size scale the shooting party of Frans Banninck Cocq in accentuated contrast, it is widely considered Rembrandt’s finest achievement. Now, in what is going to be the largest project of its kind, The Night Watch is being restored…in public.

TEXT: MATT ANTONIAK | PHOTO: COURTESY RIJKSMUSEUM, AMSTERDAM. PHOTO © ERIK SMITS

Firstly it is worth saying that The Night Watch has been through some tough times during its lifetime; having acid thrown over it, and being slashed by a knife on two different occasions. Some parts of the masterpiece are looking tired, with the dog in the bottom right of the composition reduced to little more than a ghostly spectre. So a little TLC is perhaps overdue. However, the scale of the restoration is huge, and to undertake it with the world watching on is a brave and daring statement.

In not wanting to remove the painting from view for what will be a multi-year process, the Rijksmuseum have erected a giant glass cage around The Night Watch, so that the public can watch every step of the process. Conservators will begin by researching the painting, scanning and mapping the surfaces in minute detail, before concocting a plan of how to proceed. It promises to be a fascinating behind the scenes look – like watching a Michelin-starred chef work their magic in the kitchen. Let’s just hope nobody spills their coffee on it!

The Night Watch restoration is on show at Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam and is part of The Year of Rembrandt, 2019, marking the 350th anniversary of the artist’s death.

Matt Antoniak is a visual artist and writer living and working in Newcastle, UK. He works mainly in painting and drawing and is a founding member of the art collective M I L K.

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