Visiting the world's great art museums, we sometimes overlook the many small museums which house wonderful things to see, in interesting and historical buildings.
One such is the Escher Museum in The Hague. It is housed in what the Dutch call merely Het Paleis (The Palace), as if it were the only palace in town. (It isn't.) It sits at the top, or posh, end of a long, leafy boulevard lined with ambassadorial residences. You will know which is the American one because there is a tank parked outside it, lowering the tone.
|Metamorphosis: Birds into Fishes|
Het Paleis used to be the residence of Queen Emma, the great-great-granny of the present king. She acted as regent after her husband King Willem III popped his clogs, while her daughter, Crown Princess Wilhelmina, was under age.
The former Princess Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont was 20 when she married the 62-year old king, once described as "the greatest debauchee of the age." He had previously been rejected by Emma's sister Pauline and a few other assorted princesses.
|King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, |
with Princesses Amalia, Alexia and Ariane
My Dutch friend Arno filled me in on all the royal goss: The Oranges are nearly as soap-operatic as the Windsors! Richer and better looking than the Windsors,though, if plumpish. Who can blame them if they put on a few kilos, with all that tempting Dutch cheese. On the upside, they have endless rows of shining white teeth from all the calcium.
Anyway, there it is, Emma’s palace, more of a big posh house than a palace really, but very rococo and they were not shy with the gold paint. There is a very grand staircase, which only Queen Emma and her two favourite ladies-in-waiting were allowed to use. It was the backstairs for everyone else. Luckily there are lifts for the museum visitors today. The grand staircase is still roped off!
I’m surprised Queen Emma didn’t break a leg, because every doorway has an inch-high lintel for the unwary to stumble over. A stripe of that gold paint on the floor to draw attention to the hazard would have been a good idea, but sadly I saw no suggestion box. I don’t suppose Queen Emma took kindly to suggestions … I saw pictures of her and she was a stocky little doorstop of a woman who didn’t look as if she brooked backchat.
About the collection I don’t need to tell you … all the Eschers you have ever seen on posters and coasters, are there. The really good bit is on the top floor, where they have all these optical illusions and trompe l’oeil stuff.
You can look through peepholes into cabinets where the picture is in 3D and the birds and animals move, and you can don virtual reality goggles and step right into some of the pictures – those ones like the Belvedere, where the stairs go nowhere, and the one where down is up, and the one with the chequered floor and the ladders that reach impossible places. It is a lot of fun. You can watch the birds metamorphosing into fishes; thank goodness we are dealing here with Maurice Escher and not with Franz Kafka!
I spent the whole afternoon there and my brain was fizzing all the way home.