Dutch art is reimagined on a luxury liner
Deep within an 82,348-tonne passenger liner, I stand submerged in floods of light and colour. From the outside, the ship’s sleek hull is dramatically black. Here, on Deck One of the Atrium, the space is filled with light. Images are projected across one wall — a scarlet oriental tapestry, the gleam of a girl’s eye, a lustrous pearl, a peacock’s wing. The startling colours and magnified brush strokes distract conversation threads, as eyes are drawn to the wall’s changing scenes.
I’m on Holland America Line’s 1916-passenger MS Westerdam and these flashes of brilliance are features of the ship’s Rijksmuseum at Sea, one of several partnerships Holland America has recently sealed that promise to take passengers’ sightlines way beyond the ship’s already expansive horizons. This space once housed the shore excursions office which, on the refurbished ship, has become the expanded Explorations Central up on the topmost passenger level in the Crows Nest. There, above the ship’s bow is a lounge area that stretches across the breadth of the vessel; passengers can explore their destinations on special light-screen tables, browse an upto-date collection of fiction, memoirs (Elena Ferrante’s letters, Tristan Gooley’s How to Read Water), art and travel, histories, gorgeously illustrated volumes of birds, oceans, wildlife, food. Or perhaps simply lie back in an armchair and gaze out to sea with an espresso or glass of wine on hand, conjured from a central bar.
Meanwhile, back downstairs in Rijksmuseum at Sea, Holland America Line’s owner Carnival is keeping alive the brand’s original Dutch connections and offering a different kind of view out. Framed reproductions from the renowned Amsterdam museum line the walls surrounding this transformed lounge area. There’s a wintry landscape with ice skaters, the hidden compartments of an 18th-century archbishop’s desk, a Fra Angelico madonna from the 1400s, a 16th-century Magdalene, town- houses reflected in Amsterdam canals, and Rembrandts. The originals of these prints are among the million masterpieces held by the Rijksmuseum.
Banquettes, armchairs, lounges and coffee tables furnish this area. Passengers can browse a rack displaying dozens of pristine books chosen from the museum’s home-base shop, or pore over a reference tome that catalogues the museum’s treasures, gallery layouts, details of key artworks and their locations.
On one side of this area, Rembrandt van Rijn’s cheeky boyish face, in his own scratchy black lines, gazes from the walls of one of two alcoves planned to accommodate passenger drawing sessions. With the museum partnership only recently announced, the program is still being formulated but plans are for structured drawing activities inspired by reproductions from the Rijksmuseum’s collection, supplying passengers with drawing materials and guidance.
I turn and the peasant girl, pouring from her rustic jug a few moments ago, has moved on. The images projected on the wall are perpetually renewed. Each time I pass, there is something surprising to look at and my only disappointment is that the drawing activities are not yet operating. There’s something about rough, scratchy charcoal lines that makes my fingers itch to have a go.
Rijksmuseum at Sea, a link forged uniquely with MS Westerdam, is not the line’s only new partnership. Britain’s BBC Earth is another, along with Billboard Onboard music performances and live demonstrations from America’s Test Kitchen. One evening during my cruise, I attend a stunning performance of Frozen Planet Live, a
Rijksmuseum at Sea, top and right; MS Westerdam, left; America’s Test Kitchen cooking demonstration, far right