THE HAGUE.- Dutch King Willem-Alexander on Friday officially reopened the renovated Mauritshuis museum, home to Vermeer's "Girl with the Pearl Earring" and a treasure trove of other Golden Age masterpieces.
A woman dressed as the girl from the iconic painting emerged from a wooden cargo box lowered by a crane and handed the king a key with which he symbolically opened the doors to the elegant 17th-century mansion that has undergone a 30-million-euro ($40-million) two-year revamp.
Museum director Emilie Gordenker gave the king a guided tour of the museum, which was broadcast live on giant television screens outside.
The museum's reopening and the return of Vermeer's masterpiece are expected to draw many more foreign tourists to The Hague, a historically less popular destination than the capital, Amsterdam.
"We studied the painting at school in Korea and so I'd really love to see it," said Sinjin, 23, from South Korea.
"It's a famous painting and the use of light in the painting is really very beautiful."
During the renovation, which began in 2012, many of the museum's best-known pieces, including "Girl with the Pearl Earring", have been touring the world, drawing millions from New York to Tokyo, and the Dutch are glad to see her return home.
"It was a very old museum, very dark and cramped," said Peter, 73, who has come especially from the western Netherlands for the reopening.
"I can't wait to see the new wing and the light and to see "The Girl with the Pearl Earring" again after so long," he told AFP.
Director Gordenker told AFP last week that the painting had become known as "the Mona Lisa of the north".
"There's something very special about the painting which maybe in a way is a bit like the Mauritshuis: we're small, we're intimate," she said.
A show at the Frick in New York drew record crowds to see the painting, which inspired a 2003 film starring Scarlett Johannson, as well as Carel Fabritius' painting "The Goldfinch", the title of US author Donna Tartt's Pulitzer prize-winning 2013 novel.
Given its new-found fame, "The Goldfinch" has been moved to another room in the renovated Mauritshuis.
The museum's collection is small, around 800 paintings with just 250 on display, but of very high quality, including Rembrandt's "The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp" and the Golden Age's best-known landscape, Vermeer's "View of Delft".
The original building dates from the height of the Dutch Golden Age, which roughly spanned the 17th century, when the Dutch dominated much of world trade and, as a result, art.
Whereas previously visitors went in through the service entrance, they now walk through the mansion's main gates and down a modern spiral staircase past the adjacent Dutch parliament and prime minister's office into the minimalist 21st-century atrium.
The new wing, which houses a library and education centre, was acquired on long-term lease from neighbouring gentleman's club De Witte, one of The Hague's oldest social institutions.
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