How many incredible things can you see in four days? Who knows but in four days in the Netherlands I saw more than I could have imagined. It started with a visit to Amsterdam’s world famous Rijksmuseum, which has been closed because of restoration work for ten years. As well as seeing some Rembrandts and Vermeers I wanted to see a recently mounted show of eighteenth century Dutch magic lantern slides and was going to be shown around by the shows curator, Tristan Mostert. Tristan proved an engaging and very knowledgeable host. He showed me through the area of the museum for special collections, where, tucked away in a small room we came upon a group of 18th century wonders including: two bulls eye lanterns, two walls of slides, and three diafanoramas (painted glass scenes on different sheets of glass).
Just behind us the images were being projected on a wall so visitors could not only look at the objects but also see how they would have been viewed.
When I was finally done looking at the slides Tristan asked, what else I would like to see. I asked him to show me eight of his favorite items in the museum and explain why he liked them. Tristan is a historian by training, and as we wandered around the museum he selected several pieces of historical significance, most of which I would not have noticed. By the time he explained the historical importance of the piece, what it was doing in the particular room and why he found it interesting, I was thoroughly captivated. It was one of the most enjoyable museum visits I have ever had.
The next morning I set out early and was first in line at the Van Gogh Museum. I had been warned how crowded both the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh would be but both were virtually empty when they opened at nine. I had no sense of crowds until 10:30 and by then I had soaked up about as much as I could. It was a great treat. I saw many images I was familiar with and many more that I wasn’t, a wonderful way to start the day.
Next was a trip to Scheveningen to the home and museum (Nico’s Tooverlantaarnmuseum) of Henk Kranenburg. The museum is housed on the ground floor and the minute you enter you feel the warmth of the place, cabinets full of lanterns, and optical toys line the entrance hallway. Next you enter the large museum room, which is also home of the forty-seat theatre. There are prints from floor to ceiling, decorating the fourteen feet walls. At the top of the walls there are shelves full of lanterns. There is also a second level balcony where Henk generally performs his shows, surrounded by six lanterns, boxes upon boxes of slides and a sound system where he whips up the wizardry.
Henk asked what would I like to see and I said I would love to see some of his early slides. He disappeared upstairs and began bringing down boxes. There were a great number of 18th century slides and among them a few stunning Musschenbroek slides. For any serious collector of magic lantern slides viewing 17th or 18th century slides produced by the Musschenbroek family firm of Leiden is a big treat both because of their age and their artistry. Henk asked if I’d like to see them projected. I nodded. It was such a treat to see them projected.
Later we looked at other unusual slides including an eight-part, Polytechnic-size dissolving set of slides depicting a woman’s dream of her life. In all that time we never got to slip slides, chromotropes, lever slides, and regular dissolving views. I could hardly believe it when Henk said he’d been collecting for only thirteen years. He has created an impressive collection.
Early in the evening we moved upstairs for a sumptuous lamb dinner prepared by Henk’s partner Robert te Pas. After dinner I took the tram and train back to Amsterdam. It had been a wonderful day.
The next morning I set off by tram & train to Zeist where I was met by Margreet Wagenaar. I met Margreet and her husband, Willem Albert, who died in 2011, thirty years ago and last visited their home 20 years ago. Willem Albert was one of the great magic lantern showmen and after many years taking his show on the road built a theatre in his house.
Margreet had planned the entire day. Her daughter, Elisabeth, was only available for a couple of hours to project some slides and she soon arrived with her own son. I said I’d fancy seeing some of their Musschenbroek slides and what Elisabeth fetched from the attic was truly staggering. Elisabeth projected a large number of amazing slides over the next hour.
We paused for lunch and then Margreet drove me to Utrecht. We were met by her son, Joost (who I first met when he was a teenager). He is now a judge in Utrecht. He was kind enough to take us on a walking tour of the architecturally rich city.
Margreet and I returned to her house and headed up to the attic, passing the study that is home to one of the few known Musschenbroek lanterns, and a beautiful eighteenth century peepshow before making our way up the stairs to the attic so I could dive into the shelves and shelves of slides. I almost never tire when looking at slides but it was all too much. After an hour and half I knew I had reached my visual limit. I had begun to stare at the vast shelves holding thousands of more images.
Soon we were off for Kortenhoef to see Annet Duller’s magic lantern show to be held in the barn onthe land of her cousin, Pieter Dekker. The barn is generally used for the restoration of antique, flat-bottomed fishing boats but it proved to be a wonderful site for a magic lantern show. The area nearest the large green doors leading into the barn was turned into a receiving hall with food and drinks laid out. Beyond that, a larger space bordered by the thick-planked walls held sixty chairs, arranged in front of a white muslin screen stretched across poles. An English biunnial lantern sat in the middle of the audience. Annet, a natural storyteller, held everyone's interest with her slides and her stories. The room was full of oh and ahs as well as laughter greeting her stories. It was a great end to a great day.
My last day was a change of pace. I wasn’t going to see another magic lantern collection. Instead I was going to spend the day with an old friend, Ruud Hoff, who had moved out of Amsterdam several years ago. He drove down from Friesland to pick me up and drive me back up to see his partner, Dian, and their home in Pietersbierium. On our way out of Amsterdam we passed by a concert hall featuring a huge mesmerizing photograph of Nelson Mandela plastered across its side. I told Ruud I’d like to stop and get a picture. He kept driving saying he was the person who took that picture June 16, 1990 during Mandela’s first trip out of South Africa as a free man and would show me the original at his house.
We drove for more than an hour and half until the landscape flattened out. We left the highway and passed through a series of small towns. Franeker was one of the towns where we stopped to visit the world’s oldest working planetarium. The one room planetarium was the work of Eise Eisinga, who completed his living room planetarium in 1781. We walked into the living room and looked up to the ceiling to be greeted by celestial skies. It was utterly amazing, not only because it was it an accurate depiction of the known planetary system, but because it also represented an accurate system for keeping track of the calendar and time.
After that we went back to Ruud’s. Ruud is a collector and showed me around his collection of Kodak cameras. The day and evening passed quickly and at about 9pm he drove me back to Amsterdam. I thanked him for the day and watched as he left me for the long drive back home.
By the time I walked down the three flights of stairs in the building at which I was staying, got back on the tram and headed out to Schiphol Airport, I was tired. Not only was my mind full of happy
memories but my hands were clutching a few 18th century slides including a Musschenbroek lever slide.
I have just put a page of 18th century slides up on my site.