When Philine Hofman was hired a decade ago to head the merchandising and retail department at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, she was given the dual mandate of finding new ways to get the institution’s art out to the public and improving sales at the gift shop.

As an initial step, Ms. Hofman, a former product development executive in the Dutch food industry, commissioned a new line of Rijksmuseum-branded merchandise.

In addition to upgrading the postcards and coffee mugs that are standard fare at museum shops everywhere, she ordered origami puzzles styled from old masters imagery, silk scarves with the colors of those in Rembrandt’s “The Jewish Bride,” and pencil sets coordinated to the palette of “The Milkmaid” by Vermeer.

“A lot of these were, quite frankly, souvenirs,” Ms. Hofman recalled in a telephone interview from Amsterdam. “Till recently, many museum shops were really souvenir shops. A large segment of our visitors are tourists. We hope that after a meaningful experience in our galleries, they’ll buy an object based on something they’ve seen and that they can take home.”

Though Ms. Hofman’s souvenirs sold well, she longed to bring something more imaginative to the 3,200-square-foot store.

In 2012, an opportunity came her way. The Rijksmuseum trustees announced Rijksstudio, a program that involved photographing hundreds of thousands of artworks and putting the free images online.

With a vast collection now in the public domain, Ms. Hofman saw a chance to get playful. As the museum leadership organized competitions to encourage people to make products based on the Rijksmuseum’s collection, she began stocking the works of contest winners. She also initiated a series of partnerships with local corporations so that they might use the images for new types of merchandise.

Today, when visitors enter the shop, they’ll find action figures by the German toy manufacturer Playmobil based on “The Milkmaid” and on Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch.”

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The Dutch fashion brand LaDress offers clothing printed with museum imagery, available by special order from the Rijksmuseum shop. Credit Michel deGroot for The New York Times

Silk frocks by the Dutch fashion brand LaDress, printed with museum imagery, are available by special order.

The shop even has syrups, marmalades and jellies made from ingredients depicted in classic artworks. For about six euros ($7.40) one can take home a jar of chutney based on Martinus Nellius’s “Still Life With Quinces, Medlars and a Glass.”

“Museum shops are no longer just about selling things — they are about adding a new step to the museum experience,” said Diane Drubay, the chief executive of We Are Museums, a European consultancy that advises museums worldwide on marketing.

As the stores become more experimental, Ms. Drubay noted, they are evolving — as the Rijksmuseum shop has — into destinations unto themselves. “In many places,” she said, “they are a point of entry to the museum. Instead of being the last place people go after a visit, it can be the first.”

One retail experiment Ms. Drubay considers emblematic of this new trend is the annex shop of the Musée National Picasso-Paris in Paris. This shop is not in the museum itself, but occupies a four-room apartment across the street at 4 Rue de Thorigny.

It sells books about the artist and objects made in his style. The shop is a kind of Picasso-world, selling gifts and decorative items — the kinds of things he might have owned. There’s a bin of hand-carved masks from West Africa, for example.

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The annex shop of the Musée National Picasso-Paris is in a four-room apartment across the street at 4 Rue de Thorigny. Credit Yann Audino

The shop itself is decorated to reflect the style of an actual Parisian flat in which Picasso once lived. In fact, the store’s designers purchased chairs and decorations similar to those in photographs of the artist’s home.

“It’s designed like a living room and it’s just like going to a friend’s place,” Ms. Drubay said. “You have this intimate and cozy feeling and you have a feeling that you can imagine an object in your home. I remember beautiful vases and coffee cups.”

In some places, museum shops are playing a new role by filling a space abandoned by commercial vendors. In New York City, where high rents have made dedicated gift and design stores somewhat of a rarity, the shop of the Museum of Modern Art on West 53rd Street is the go-to place for high-concept tableware, furniture, lighting, jewelry and clothing.

Every piece offered has been approved by the museum’s curatorial staff, and some of what is sold is in the MoMA permanent collection. This is where you can find an Eames chaise, an Issey Miyake scarf or a Salvador Dalí-style cuckoo clock.

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At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Michelangelo exhibit spawned a bracelet imprinted with his sketch of the Libyan Sibyl.

Credit The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1924

Uptown, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 15,000-square-foot bookstore and gift shop, the offerings tend to echo what’s being shown at the museum.

During last winter’s Michelangelo exhibit, a $185 bangle bracelet imprinted with his sketch of the Libyan Sibyl, a female figure on the Sistine Chapel ceiling in Rome, was a huge seller.

At the Met shop, merchandise has often been specifically created for the store — the silk scarves styled from patterns of the pottery collection, the bracelets reproducing ancient Roman and Greek pieces, a clutch purse based on a 14th-century silk and wool tapestry.

These are souvenirs, yes. But classy ones.

“We’ve done surveys and about a third of the people who come to the museum say that they plan to shop here,” said Rich Perdott, the museum’s vice president of merchandising. “They’ve said they want to buy something that’s a tangible memory of their visit. Part of our goal always is to give them something they couldn’t get elsewhere.”

The shop offers the usual art books and posters, but it’s the impresive gallery on the mezzanine that sells original photography, Oriental rugs and limited edition lithographs and prints. Original pieces by Jim Dine, William Wegman and David Hockney can be purchased there. Last winter, when the museum staged a Hockney retrospective, the shop had vintage hand-signed prints by the artist for between $6,000 and $40,000 each.

Why would a collector spend that kind of money at the Met and not at a commercial art gallery?

“Because they know they can trust us,” said Michael Hladky, Special Collections buyer for the gallery. “Everything we sell is vetted.”

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Alec Soth’s “Disappear With Me” was part of the “Intangibles” series offered by the Walker Shop of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Credit via Walker Art Center

On the other hand, there’s at least one museum shop selling a line of merchandise that’s not at all material. At the Walker Shop of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis they’ve been offering “Intangibles,” which are described as an “online collection of art objects that have no physical form.”

In other words, the concept here is conceptual art.

For $5.99, a writer named Claire L. Evans will send out a PDF summary of “today’s most important science fiction visions.” A hearty seller has been “The Closer,” a performance piece where for $150, a buyer and a performer interact with each other for 15 minutes in a public space; $100 will buy 25 disappearing Snapchat rounds with “famed American photographer Alec Soth.”

Mr. Soth’s Intangible is no longer available. It has sold out.

Christine Teel, who manages the Walker Shop, said that the idea behind “Intangibles” originated with her predecessors. “The concept is extremely creative,” she said. “They wanted to do something outside of the box. It’s the opposite of tangible books … it’s more experiential than taking away a tangible product.”

Has the “Intangibles” line provided income for the Walker? After all, one purpose of most museum retailers is to provide additional funds for their institution’s operating budget. In a time of uncertain government funding and sometimes declining admissions receipts, the museum shop can be a valuable revenue source.

“I can’t say that revenue was the focus of it,” said Ms. Teel, adding that there were a lot of benefits to doing it. “It was something no one had done before. I always think that’s good. It gave the Walker some wonderful press. When I look at ‘Intangibles,’ I really applaud it, conceptually.”



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