On the eve of the 75th anniversary of the start of Queen Juliana’s reign and inauguration, the Nieuwe Kerk – where her inauguration took place – is hosting a major exhibition about her life. It’s fittingly called The century of Juliana, a Queen and her Ideals. Queen Juliana, or Princess Juliana as she was known after her abdication in 1980, lived to be 94 years old.
The exhibition contains over 400 objects and 200 photographs, from personal possessions to historical documents and evening gowns. Queen Juliana wanted to be a different monarch and objected to being called “Your Majesty”, preferring the more informal “Ma’am.” She was born in 1909 as the only surviving child of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and Prince Henry, born of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. She grew up in tumultuous times, living through both World Wars and became Queen upon her mother’s abdication in 1948.
Upon entering, one is immediately greeted by Queen Juliana, in the exact spot where her inauguration took place, wearing the exact same clothes. Immediately to the left is the exact carriage that she arrived in.
After the grand entrance, we go through Juliana’s youth and the years during which she grew up. Large digital “newspapers” show us what those years were like as Juliana’s youth passes us by on the other side.
The young woman grows into herself and becomes a bride and a mother just as the Second World War looms.
She would become the Queen of reconstruction after she accended the throne after the Second World War in 1948. She became a one-of-a-kind Queen who wanted to be close to the people, even though she realised all too well that she would never be one of them. The exhibition touches briefly on the independence of Indonesia in 1949, which Juliana supported. There’s a special gold belt that was gifted to Juliana during her state visit to Indonesia in 1971 and a portrait done by Indonesian artist Raden Basoeki Abdullah.
Juliana wanted to be ordinary, but she managed very well to also be extraordinary. From wearing cat-eye glasses that soon became the fashion and riding a bicycle to slipping on an evening gown and wearing magnificent jewels. Although jewellery does not have a great presence at the exhibition, a state banquet shines in all its glory.
One particular eye-catcher is the unique Rolls-Royce that Queen Juliana ordered specifically for the State Visit by Queen Elizabeth II in 1958. It was later also used during the wedding of the future King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima.
Queen Juliana, by then Princess Juliana, and her husband Prince Bernhard gave a revealing interview in 1987 when they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. The exhibition has reconstructed the room where the interview took place, down to the paintings of Queen Anna Pavlovna and King William II on the wall, and the original interview plays on a screen. It’s a heartwarming interview during which Juliana jokingly asks her husband where he got the “idiotic” idea to marry her.
Queen Juliana abdicated in 1980 in favour of her eldest daughter. The last room, turned into the cinema room with the same seats used by Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard, also covers the abdication and includes the dress she was wearing.
The exhibition comes with an audio tour, which more extensively covers the Lockheed affair and the Greet Hofmans affair. Unfortunately, I did not use an audio tour, so I cannot comment if it significantly adds to the exhibition. However, I did not see much about the affairs in the exhibition itself. Overall, it’s a lovely exhibition that truly brings to life an extraordinary woman who wanted to be ordinary so bad. I particularly loved the items from her youth and the modern painting where she emerges from her own crowned head. Some of the exhibition was a little dark and difficult to see, although this could have been because they were still putting the finishing touches on it. Some of the glass cases also had lots of reflections, making it difficult to enjoy them.
The information is also readily available in English, making it easy for tourists to understand. But unfortunately, the publication “De Eeuw van Juliana” is only available in Dutch.
The century of Juliana, a Queen and her Ideals exhibition will run from 15 October 2022 until 10 April 2023. You can plan your visit here. The Nieuwe Kerk is located next to the Royal Palace in Amsterdam, and it is thus relatively easy to combine your visit.
It looks wonderful! Hope I can go there soon.