As a New Rembrandt Show Opens, This Dutch Charity Is Bringing Terminally Ill Patients to See It

The Rijksmuseum's show "All the Rembrandts" will mean even more demand to pay a final visit to the institution.

A terminally ill patient visits "Late Rembrandt" at the Rijksmuseum in 2015. Photo courtesy of the Ambulance Wish Foundation.

There’s a remarkable Dutch charity that helps those with the dying wish to visit the Rijksmuseum fulfill their dreams, and when the Amsterdam institution last organized a major Rembrandt show, it saw more requests than ever.

Kees Veldboer, the founder of the charity Ambulance Wish Foundation, which has organized more than 50 trips for terminally ill patients to the Rijksmuseum, expects that even more people will want to see a new exhibition of 400 works by the Dutch master, “All the Rembrandts,” which marks the 350th anniversary of the artist’s death, than they did during the museum’s popular 2015 show “Late Rembrandts.”

The blockbuster exhibition, which brings together all of Rembrandt’s works in the collection of the Dutch national art museum, opened to the public this past weekend. There are 22 paintings among the 400 works in the “once-in-a-lifetime exhibition,” which largely features drawings and prints. By comparison “Late Rembrandt,” which the Rijksmuseum co-organized with London’s National Gallery, featured 40 paintings, many on loan.   

The charity is busy year round. It grants five or six people’s wishes a day, says Veldboer, who launched the organization with his wife, Ineke, who is a nurse, more than a decade ago. Each “guest” gets a teddy bear named after the first person Veldboer helped—an old sailor who wanted to see Rotterdam’s harbor one last time. 

The Dutch Charity has helped more than 50 people make a final visit to the Rijksmuseum. Photo courtesy of Ambulance Wish Foundation.

The dying person’s special visit from their home, hospital, or hospice is overseen by a trained nurse, while the ambulances are driven by specialist volunteers. One driver, Roel Foppen, took a photograph of a woman lying on an ambulance stretcher looking at Rembrandt’s self-portrait as an old man. In 2015, he told the BBC that he took the photograph at the same time that he was with another person whose dying wish was also to see the exhibition, someone who had been a regular museum visitor, Foppen recalled.

Many people’s dying wish is to see their home, the sea, or visit the zoo for one last time. Visits to museums typically take place after the institution has closed to the public. Ambulance Wish’s most recent visit to the Rijksmuseum was in December, Veldboer says. Veldboer has also taken a recent visit to the nearby Van Gogh Museum with one terminally ill person.

“All the Rembrandts,” February 14 through June 10, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

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