AMSTERDAM (AP) — Rembrandt's "Night Watch" and other famed works by Dutch masters will return to their permanent home by 2013, as a radical decade-long renovation of the national Rijksmuseum nears completion.
A sneak preview Wednesday showed the 19th-century museum both modernized and closer to its original plan. Its red-brick exterior, reminiscent of a fairy-tale castle, remains intact. Inside, maze-like corridors have been scrapped in favor of large spaces and high ceilings, with a central "gallery of honor" restored to its initial appearance, evoking the vault of a gothic cathedral.
Spokesman Boris de Munnick said the design sacrificed some wall space in favor of better flow and simplicity. But the museum also gained space by moving administrative offices offsite and by expanding underground.
The museum will house around 7,500 works of art for public viewing, around the same amount as before renovations began in 2003. However the museum is expected to receive up to 2 million visitors annually, from the 1.2 million that uncomfortably crowded its halls by the 1990s.
Originally scheduled for completion by 2009, the euro375 million ($536 million) renovation has faced several setbacks, notably an "only-in-Amsterdam" fight over bicycle access.
Bike advocates won, and a window-lined public tunnel runs through the middle of the ground floor, overlooking new monumental entrances in the building's dual glass-topped interior courtyards.
Throughout the renovation, the museum's best-known pieces by Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer and Frans Hals, among others, have remained on display in a wing that will in the future be used for special exhibitions.
The Night Watch will return to its original place of honor at the end of the museum's main upper gallery, with a restored stain-glass window at the far opposite end.
Decorative details throughout the museum have either been uncovered, restored or reproduced, many by a cadre of art students specially trained to do the paint work by hand.