I set forth on my brainwashing mission six months prior to the trip. On our weekly trips to the Palo Alto Children's library, I started to toss children's art history and artist biography books in our basket. We read biographies of Rembrandt, da Vinci, and Monet and I brought out my coffee table books on Van Gogh and the Getty Museum. We solved jigsaw puzzles of Monet's water lilies and the Garden at Sainte-Adresse and played the Art Memo concentration game.
My son decided that Van Gogh was his favorite artist and my daughter was eager to visit Monet's garden at Giverny just like Linnea did.
Our first art stop was the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, our kids made a bee line for Rembrandt's Nightwatch. They wanted to see if they could discern where the canvas was repaired after a maniac slashed it in 1975. They wanted to see for themselves just how big it really was and they wanted to imagine the painting before it was cut off on all four sides in order to fit it between two columns. They mourned the fact that two characters were lost due to this unfortunate "cropping" of the painting.
Throughout our trip, our read-aloud book every night was From the Mixed-Up Files from Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, a book about a brother and sister who ran away from home to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Our children laughed with glee when the main characters crossed the velvet rope to sleep in a sixteenth century bed and they were curious to see a sarcophagus like the one where Claudia hid her violin “suitcase”.
I used Rick Steves' Mona Winks: Self-Guided Tours of Europe’s Top Museums for all practical information like museum hours, location, and for tips on getting the best deal on ticket prices. Steves’ hint to use the side entrance to the Louvre saved us precious time. The book does a very good job giving the lay of the land up front and then describes the most famous works of art within the walls of these museums. He gives a brief history of this hit parade of art with accompanying black and white thumbnail pictures. I followed his suggestion to break apart the book at the binding (this is very counter-intuitive if you are a publisher) and only carried relevant chapters with me.
Now, nine years later, my son still enjoys going to museums every few months, but my daughter, except for major exhibits like King Tut, prefers to go shopping with me.