In the recently refurbished Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the star of the show is the 1642 ‘Night Watch’ by Rembrandt van Rijn.
The official name of the painting is Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq. “A coat of very dark varnish, removed in the 1940s, led to it being called The Night Watch,” says art historian Marie Hoedemaker.
“But you can see by the shadows that the action is actually taking place in sunlight that highlights the three central figures. The varnish was applied later to hide Rembrandt’s brushwork which, like fellow Dutch artist Frans Hals’, is best appreciated from a distance.”
The Night Watch hasn’t survived the centuries undamaged. In 1715, the largest painting Rembrandt ever produced was cut down in size to fit in its new display space at the time; Amsterdam's Town Hall. It was attacked with a knife in the early 1900s, then in 1975 a man again slashed the canvas 12 times. Another acid attack followed in 1990. Fortunately, the painting’s heavy varnish has helped protect it so the skill of restorers can return the masterpiece to public view.
The painting was commissioned by the Civic Guard which is why the painting now belongs to Amsterdam’s local government. It will never be sold, so it is meaningless to put a value on it; it’s literally “priceless”. Like many other such paintings in national collections, there is also no reason to insure it as it makes more financial sense to spend the premiums on improving security.