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After record-setting world tour, 'Girl with Pearl Earring' and 'Goldfinch' back in Holland

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands - "The Girl With a Pearl Earring" has come home.

After a two-year global tour that drew record crowds in Japan, Italy and the United States, Johannes Vermeer's 1665 masterpiece and other works from the Netherlands' 17th-century Golden Age have returned home to the newly renovated Mauritshuis museum in the Hague.

Both the museum and the collection have been changed by their time apart. The small Mauritshuis building, a classic of Dutch architecture, has been expanded and reorganized to accommodate the demands of modern tourists. Meanwhile, the Mauritshuis' profile has been raised by the international exposure for its treasures including works by Rembrandt and Peter Paul Rubens.

"We really hope that we put the name on the international map," Emilie Gordenker, the museum's U.S. director, said in an interview ahead of the museum's reopening June 27.

"'The Girl With The Pearl Earring,' which is increasingly called the 'Mona Lisa of the North,' is the icon, there's no denying it. She's a great ambassador for us. But what we notice is that people come for 'The Girl,' but they stay for the rest."

"The Girl With a Pearl Earring" owes some of its fame to a 1999 bestselling novel by Tracy Chevalier and a movie. But books have also brought attention to other paintings here. "The Goldfinch," painted in 1654 by Carel Fabritius, came back to Holland much more famous than when it left, thanks to a hit novel of the same name by Donna Tartt that won the Pulitzer Prize. The painting has been given a more prominent place in the museum than before.

The museum's Rembrandts include three self-portraits and an early masterpiece, "The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp," which depicts a public dissection that took place in 1632. A new novel called "The Anatomy Lesson" by Nina Siegal has won praise from Oprah Winfrey.

In 2012, the Tokyo showing of Mauritshuis paintings was the best-visited exhibition in the world, drawing more than 10,000 people per day. In New York, visitors lined up for hours in freezing weather to see the paintings at the Frick Collection.

Other important works include Frans Hals' 1625 "Laughing Boy" and Rubens' 1617 chiaroscuro masterpiece "Old Woman and Boy with Candles." The museum also houses Jan Steen's 1669 "As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young" — a morality tale depicting a boy smoking tobacco while his parents drink alcohol.

The Mauritshuis was built in 1644 in the centre of The Hague for nobleman Johan Maurits. It was purchased by the Dutch state in 1820 and became a public museum after the Netherlands' first king, Willem I, donated his paintings. Willem's descendant, the newly crowned King Willem Alexander, will be on hand for next week's reopening.

The architect who oversaw the renovation, Hans van Heeswijk, said his challenge was to expand the museum's space without changing the nature of the building.

"''The Mauritshuis is possibly the most important monument that we have in the Netherlands from the style of the Dutch Renaissance," Van Heeswijk said, comparing it to a miniature, symmetrical Roman temple. "It's a 'stadspaleis', which means, a chic home in the middle of the city."

On one side The Mauritshuis is located just a stone's throw from the ancient building that houses the Dutch prime minister's office and the 13th-century Hall of Knights, used by parliament on ceremonial occasions. So Van Heeswijk went the only directions he could go: down, and sideways.

While the Mauritshuis itself was untouched, the square in front is now a welcoming, elegant sky-lit lobby. The collection is also now connected by an underground foyer to a building across the street housing temporary exhibitions, a shop, library and cafe.


If You Go...

MAURITSHUIS: Plein 29, The Hague, Netherlands, Summer hours: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. daily, until 8 p.m. on Thursdays. After Nov. 1, closed Mondays. Adults 14 euros ($19), children under 18 free.

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