A Peek at Dutch (Art) History at the Stedelijk Museum

By Danielle Carter

The Stedelijk Museum has acted as a key supporter of contemporary art in general—commissioning the first Richard Serra piece intended for public space, for example—, but has also played a particularly important role in the stimulation of Dutch contemporary art. The museum, for example, commissioned the work of Ed van der Elsken, the preeminent Dutch photographer of the 20th century, and later organised a retrospective of his work.

Despite the international nature of the collection and exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum, there are undoubtedly a significant number of Dutch works on display at any given moment. One of these – the Appel Wall, a mural made by the Dutch artist Karel Appel (1921-2006) – is permanently on view and embedded in the walls of one of the galleries.

Karel Appel, Mural (1956), in the former restaurant space, Stedelijk Museum, photo John Lewis Marshall

The colourful composition—consisting of a bird, a human figure, and a flower—could barely be contained within one wall. This former restaurant space has since been converted into a gallery and greets visitors as they enter one of the main galleries on the right hand side of the museum.


Appel is known as one of the founders of the CoBrA art movement in 1948, of which the Stedelijk museum has a distinctive collection. The CoBrA movement included risk-taking artists from Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam (hence, the name CoBrA), but was founded mainly by Dutch and Belgian artists, whose work, although not warmly welcome in the Netherlands, found favour in Denmark. In its typical artist-supporting, experimental fashion, the Stedelijk Museum held the first major exhibition of CoBrA art in 1949 under the title ‘International Experimental Art’, which caused much public disturbance and, after one night of poetry reading, a public brawl.

De Stijl

Installation view, Gert Jan van Rooij

Aside from its respectable CoBRA collection, the Stedelijk Museum is among one of the most significant holders of De Stijl artwork. This art and design movement—of which Piet Mondrian is the most famous—is characterised by its linear or geometric style and its focus on primary colours. The collection at the Stedelijk Museum includes key pieces by Theo van Doesburg and famed Dutch architect and designer Gerrit Rietveld.


Amsterdam School

Finally, furnishings from the Amsterdam School, an architectural movement of the early 20th century are also found in the Stedelijk Museum. The movement’s goal was also to create an architectural experience, blending interior with exterior; thus, furniture design uniquely reflects many of the characteristics of the architecture. Founded on socialist ideals—the architects often constructed residential buildings for the working class, government institutions, and schools— the Amsterdam School-style furniture served to expose factory workers or government employees to art on a daily basis, with the idea that this would improve their daily lives. Although Amsterdam School furniture often resembles Art Deco of the same period, the design is unique to Amsterdam because Amsterdam’s multicultural society influenced it with motifs from Japan, Indonesia, and Sweden.

The beloved former director (1945-1963) of the Stedelijk Museum, Willem Sandberg (1897-1984), was essential in moulding the Stedelijk Museum into what it is today. During his tenure as director, Sandberg sought to ‘open’ the museum, which he did by constructing a restaurant, opening a library available to the public, and initiating the establishment of educational activities for children. To this day, the Family Lab—a room in which children and families can make art inspired by the surrounding collections—is central to the Stedelijk Museum.

The renovation of the Stedelijk Museum also transformed the aesthetic and symbolism of the Museumplein. Commissioning the Dutch architect Mels Crouwel, the Stedelijk Museum sought to renew its building: the entrance was moved to face the Museumplein, the museum was extended forward onto the Museumplein, and the white addition to the building serves as an extension of the Sandberg interior that made the museum famous. Furthermore, all of the public events at the Stedelijk Museum take place in the new extension of the building, so that these events take place almost literally in the public space of the Museumplein.

Stedelijk Contemporary

Today, the Stedelijk Contemporary program ensures that young artists are represented in the museum, both by organising temporary exhibitions of their work as well as by commissioning works by these emerging artists and collecting their works into the permanent collection. In this way, the Stedelijk Museum collection is very dynamic and energetic, and continues to contribute to the formation of innovative art and artists on a global scale.

The Stedelijk Museum reveals the tumultuous and energetic recent past of Dutch history and art as well as continuing to support the development of emerging artistic talent both at home and abroad. The changing exhibitions and permanent collection are an exciting glimpse into the development of Dutch and international modern and contemporary art.

The museum is open 10:00-18:00 daily, and 10:00-22:00 on Fridays.  Join us for a private tour at the Stedelijk for a deep dive into modern art with one of our specialist private guides!


Slow Food: Still Lifes of the Golden Age at the Mauritshuis

By Claire Bown

The new exhibition at the Mauritshuis ‘Slow Food: Still Lifes of the Golden Age’ is a real feast for the senses.  It’s also the first exhibition to be devoted to the development of meal still lifes in Holland and Flanders from 1600 onwards.

The inspiration for the exhibition comes in the form of a painting acquired by the museum in 2012, ‘Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels’ by Clara Peeters. There are a total of 22 works on display with masterpieces on loan from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Washington’s National Gallery of Art, Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum and the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid.

Clara Peeters, Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels (c.1615)

The 17th century saw the rise of a new specialism in painting with artists painting richly laid tables piled high with appetising delicacies – bread, cheese, fruit, oysters, lemons and olives – alongside fine glassware, gilt goblets, earthenware jugs and fine Chinese porcelain. These depictions of prepared food – without human figures – literally invite the viewer to pull up a chair and start eating.



Nothing is unplanned in a still life. Usually painted on a wood panel but sometimes also on a copper plate, compositions are normally in horizontal format with the table extending across the entire width of the painting. Bright colours are avoided so that all the attention can be focused on the differences between materials and surfaces. A neutral background enables the carefully arranged foodstuffs and objects to jump out. Objects are placed together closely on a tablecloth (often, wool, linen or damask) and are often but not always overlapping.

An eye for details

What astonished me walking around this exhibition was the extraordinary precision with which the food has been rendered – the crumbly cheese, the creamy butter, the texture of the bread. The longer you look at these paintings, the more details you are rewarded with – light reflecting off a silver knife or a wine glass, the muted sheen of a silver tazza – all reflecting the superb craftmanship of these paintings. If you linger longer, you will also notice hidden details – Clara Peeters includes not only  her signature on the silver bridal knife in ‘Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels” but also her self-portrait. On the pewter lid of the stoneware jug, you can see the refelection of a female face with a white cap. This hidden self-portrait appears in a number of other paintings not least in ‘Still Life with Flowers and Delicacies’ (1611) where Peeter’s face appears four times on the shiny surface of the pewter wine jug.

But what do these pictures mean to today’s viewers? Art historians have attempted to attribute meanings to the genre but it is not straightforward. Are they a display of wealth, abundance and prosperity or a call for moderation? Or perhaps they provide us with a warning of the transience of life, of mortality itself? We should perhaps exercise a little caution with interpretation in this exhibition and focus instead on the astonishing detail and craftsmanship of these artists and allow ourselves to experience the paintings much in the same slow and leisurely way as you would savour a good meal.

Slow Food – Still Lifes of the Golden Age in the Netherlands runs from 09 March to 25 June at the Mauritshuis in The Hague. Book a 2 hour custom-made private tour with Thinking Museum and see both the permanent collection and the new exhibition!


Ed van der Elsken at the Stedelijk Museum

Ed van der Elsken, Meisje in de metro, Tokio (1984) Nederlands Fotomuseum / © Ed van der Elsken / Collectie Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

Observing Human Behaviour through the Camera Lens

by Danielle Carter

The new exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum explores Ed van der Elsken’s (1925-1990) infatuation with photography and film throughout his life. The exhibition takes its name from a film that van der Elsken made for Dutch TV, The Verliefde Camera (The Infatuated Camera), for which he won the national prize for film art a year later. Due to van der Elsken’s longstanding relationship with the Stedelijk Museum, the venue is the perfect fit for this remarkable reflection on his life and work as a photographer.

The exhibition walks through phases of van der Elsken’s life, which are punctuated by photographic habits, tendencies, or projects. Unlike some artists, who do not gain acclaim until later in life, van der Elsken began working in the photography sector early on. Around 1945, he picked up street photography in Amsterdam—documenting strangers that he saw in the street in a personal manner—and he began working for Magnum’s photography lab in Paris in 1950, just to quit a few years later to pursue street photography once again. Edward Steichen, the ambitious photographer and curator at the Museum of Modern Art, even selected one of van der Elsken’s photographs for the famous Family of Man exhibition (1955), which was organized as a photo essay elaborating on the human experience. The exhibition, van der Elsken’s works, and even van der Elsken himself would eventually end up touring the world for several years.

The exhibition pays due respect for van der Elsken’s favourite medium—photobooks. The rooms throughout the exhibition are generally organized by either his location—in Paris, central Africa, Asia, or the Netherlands—or by his photobook projects.

In Paris—where van der Elsken began to establish himself more professionally as a photographer—, van der Elsken documented his domestic life with his partner, Hungarian photographer Ata Kandó, and her three children, but he was also preoccupied with his paid work at Magnum Photos and with compiling his first photobook. These domestic images implicate van der Elsken as a photographer: his film strips hang from the ceiling, segmenting an image of Kandó’s children; his reflection and his direct gaze confront us in other images, especially in an image wherein he and the lens of his camera peer over Kandó’s shoulder as she scrutinizes herself in a mirror. The intimate tone of these images, as well as his urge to return to street photography, lay the foundations for the rest of his career in photography and film.

Ed van der Elsken, Vali Myers voor haar spiegel, Parijs (1953) Nederlands Fotomuseum / © Ed van der Elsken / Collectie Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

Although van der Elsken is perceived as one of the most important Dutch photographers of the 20th century, his filmic works also became a significant part of his oeuvre. Van der Elsken’s frustration with the delay in publishing his photobook documenting his 14-month around-the-world trip with his then-wife Gerda van der Veen led him to pursue film. Particularly striking is the film that addresses the illness that consumed the last months of his life. This video is very personal and honest, deliberating on his confrontation with his illness more than he did with his own family, which, in the end, seems to be a fitting opening to an exhibition in which van der Elsken’s very personal and confrontational style of photography becomes apparent.

Throughout van der Elsken’s career and throughout his travels and various photographic projects, van der Elsken remained committed to his passion for observing and documenting humanity and human nature. The themes throughout the exhibition and his oeuvre remain clear: street life, daily life, and the reality of the average human, perhaps even the commonalities among these average people despite their different ethnicities, nationalities, or appearances. Even when van der Elsken was asked to photograph an exhibition for the Stedelijk Museum, van der Elsken’s camera captured the people visiting the exhibition and their reactions to and participation in the exhibition more than the exhibition itself.

Despite van der Elsken’s adventurous spirit, he always returned to the Netherlands. Amsterdam sparked his interest in youth and the rebellious spirit that would become ever more prevalent in the ensuing decades, and he got his start with street photography in Amsterdam. His confrontational, witty, and honest method of photography might even be described as typical of Dutch character.

The variety of objects in the exhibition—the wall-sized reproductions of his photographs, the audio for interviews, van der Elsken’s films, van der Elsken’s scribbled notes as he tried to organize and design his photobooks, and digital film flipping through the pages of van der Elsken’s completed and published photobooks—provide an immersive experience in the like and work of van der Elsken.

De Verliefde Camera (The Infatuated Camera) is on show at the Stedelijk Museum through 21 May 2017. The Stedelijk Museum is a modern and contemporary art museum located on the

Museumplein in Amsterdam. The museum is open 10:00-18:00 daily, and 10:00-22:00 on Fridays. An adult ticket to the museum costs 15 euros.


Museologists, Communities, Crises and Commerce

This year I had the pleasure of co-organising two events around the 40 Year Anniversary celebrations at the Reinwardt Academy. On 11 November I was one of the Co-Curators/-Creators for the RTWA40 Years Festival and led a marathon session on building an exhibition in 11 hours. On 10 November I organised, in conjunction with two fellow Alumni Mark O’Neill and Erin Caswell, the Master of Museology Alumni Symposium on ‘Communities, Crisis, Commerce: When can Museologists Make a Difference in the World?’

Thinking Museum guide Danielle Carter attended the symposium on 10 November and reflects on the morning session here:

Museologists, Communities, Crises and Commerce: The 2016 Master of Museology Symposium

By Danielle Carter

Museums and museologists are often concerned with how museums can maintain their relevance in a rapidly changing world. The Reinwardt Academy hosted this symposium just a couple of days after the shocking and controversial United States presidential election, which made the theme of the conference—Communities, Crisis, Commerce: When can Museologists Make a Difference in the World?—especially pertinent.

The three keynote speakers each addressed one of the three sub-themes of the symposium: Marlous Willemsen from Imagine IC spoke about communities, Deborah Stolk from the Prince Claus Fund discussed crisis, and Taco Dibbits from the Rijksmuseum answered questions about commerce.

Sharon MacDonald, whose name you have likely seen as the author or editor of a fundamental museology article or book, opened the conversation with a presentation on co-criticality and creative engagement, new concepts that she is currently developing. MacDonald remained optimistic about the role of museums in the tumultuous landscape of contemporary society. Contrary to the sweeping trend of co-construction and visitors’ ability to contribute their knowledge, skills, and interpretations in the museum, MacDonald reminded us that museums should embrace expertise; not only the expertise of the museologist or the museum as a whole, however, but also the social and cultural expertise that visitors might hold as well, necessitating creative engagement with communities.

Courtesy of Anneke Groen

The Imagine IC organisation, as Marlous Willemsen elaborated, focuses on ‘heritage-making in super diverse contexts’ as well as ‘emotion networking’. Heritage can be a sticky subject in multicultural societies, but Willemsen pointed out that heritage is what we decide, it is simply what or how we give meaning to the term in reference to the past and with a conception of the future. Willemsen argued that emotion is the ‘social aspect of feeling’, meaning that heritage foundations that can instigate emotional shifts in its visitors or participants are likely encouraging these people to experience the everyday of someone else, developing empathy for different cultures.

During the question and answer panel following the speakers’ short keynote speeches, the speakers agreed that museums and cultural institutions should not try to impose a narrative, as Taco Dibbits, said ‘it doesn’t work’. Instead, these cultural and heritage institutions should encourage thought among visitors, which seems especially relevant in our increasingly polarised, ‘post-fact’ world.


The Role of Museums in an Evolving World

A Reflection on the ‘Museums, Citizenship and Belonging in a Changing Europe’ Conference

by Danielle Carter

29 November 2016

The ‘Museums, Citizenship and Belonging in a Changing Europe’ Conference took place at the Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden as part of a larger effort supported by Sharing a World of Inclusion, Creativity and Heritage (SWICH) and the Research Center for Material Culture (RCMC).

This is one of a string of conferences this year (see our recent posts on the Inclusive Museum Conference and the Reinwardt Academy Symposium) that has focused on the ethical responsibility of museums when faced with a world in which demographics are rapidly changing. In the words of Wayne Modest, the head of the RCMC, museums must seek to speak to the ‘differentiated citizens’ of contemporary Europe.

Over the past half-century, museums have steadily turned their focus more towards visitors. This becomes increasingly difficult, however, when the demographic of desired museum visitors is changing. How can museums differentiate their approaches for each individual museum visitor? And how can they do so in a way that is inclusive, significant, and meaningful?

The conference also featured a variety of speakers—reflecting the theme of the conference—, including professors and researchers in anthropology, museology, politics, and sociology; artists from Lebanon and the Sápmi tribe of northern Sweden; as well as museum professionals from Canada, the Netherlands, and beyond. This variety of perspectives moulded a nuanced voice on the history of ethnographic museums, the demographic of contemporary visitors, and the potential pathways for (ethnographic) museums into the future.

Although it is impossible to summarise the entire conference here, I found the words of Assistant Professor of Sociology, Dr. Rolando Vázquez, and the director of the National Museum of World Cultures, Stijn Schoonderwoend, particularly pertinent.

As a sociologist, Dr. Vázquez’s expertise lies within colonial thinking. Ethnographic museums have almost entirely sprung out of colonial collections; the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, for example, was established as the Colonial Museum in 1864 to display objects of cultures from Dutch exploration and conquests around the world. Dr. Vázquez, however, made a distinction between ‘colonisation’ and ‘coloniality’. Although colonisation has technically ended for much of the world, coloniality—including residual effects of colonisation such as racism, discrimination, and the dominance of the mono-cultural, Western perspective—still continues. As institutions embedded in this history—many ethnographic museums were established in order to commemorate world cultures that were soon to be erased and absorbed into or replaced with the colonising Western culture—, ethnographic museums must be especially aware of their role in educating about the history of colonisation, as well as helping to dismantle coloniality.

The director of the National Museum of World Cultures, Stijn Schoonderwoend, gave an overview of his vision for how ethnographic museums can move forward into the future, evolving from their colonial histories into a more diverse and progressive future. The ethnographic collections that he leads have formed a mission ‘to inspire world citizenship’. Rather than having a clear definition of what this is, however, he has an idea in mind of where he wants to go, a point on the horizon to which the ethnographic institutions aspire.

Significantly, Dr. Vázquez also pointed out the phenomenon of the ‘double erasure of coloniality’. This double erasure refers to the initial attempt to erase foreign cultures and replace them with the dominant colonizing culture as well as to the unwillingness to admit to the colonial past. Furthermore, he stated that there can be no justice without epistemic justice; thus museums as educational institutions have the power—and the responsibility?—to make a difference. As Schoonderwoend stated, ‘education is central in the concept of world citizenship’. In educating about colonisation as well as attempting to incorporate multiple voices into the museum and its collections, ethnographic museums can pave a brighter future for both their collections and their populations.

The SWICH project is supported by the European Union’s Creative Europe programme. It brings together ten partner museums over the course of four years (2014-2018) to discuss and develop ideas about how ethnographic museums can participate in the establishment of forward-looking practises confronting the increasingly diverse populations of Europe. You can find out more about SWICH project activities by visiting their website.

The RCMC is an institution embedded within the National Museum of World Cultures, which includes the Tropenmuseum located in Amsterdam, the Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden, and the Afrika Museum in Berg en Dal. The National Museum of World Cultures describes itself as a ‘museum over mensen’ (a museum about people), which was especially relevant for the focus of this conference. The RCMC stimulates interdisciplinary research about the ethnographic collections of the three institutions of the National Museum of World Cultures.


Impressions of Landscape: Daubigny, Monet, and Van Gogh at the Van Gogh Museum

by Danielle Carter

Van Gogh is largely known for still life paintings such as Sunflowers or small landscape paintings created from the view from his window such as Starry Night; however, Van Gogh felt most at peace when he was in nature, and many of his paintings depict rural landscapes. After living with his brother in Paris for about two years (1886-1888), Van Gogh escaped to the more rural town of Arles, positioned in the south of France. This is where he painted many of his most acclaimed paintings. He was more inspired by the landscape and environment of southern France than he was by metropolitan Paris. As he told another artist, Bernard, in a letter in 1888: as he painted, he was ‘surrendering myself to nature’.

Theo and Vincent often discussed their favourite artists in their numerous letters. Millet, one of the forefathers of Modern Art and Realism, was always on the tip of Vincent’s tongue, but Daubigny, famous for his landscape paintings, was also a favourite of Van Gogh’s through the years. Van Gogh saw Daubigny’s paintings in 1875 both at Goupil and Cie—the art dealership where he had once worked and where Theo continued to work for the majority of his adult life—and the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris. Van Gogh even mentioned Daubigny’s name, among the names of several other artists, justifying his goal to become an artist in many of his 1880 letters. From Van Gogh’s perspective, Daubigny injected feelings and emotions into his landscapes, which Van Gogh found much more relatable than the realistic, photographic depictions of landscapes of some of his peers.

Daubigny’s interest in light and reflection, as well as his loose brushwork, formed a connection between him and the Impressionists, who were about a generation younger. He was both acclaimed and criticised among established artists and critics, but his work was often shown at the Academy, which was the authority on art at the time. His position as an artist whose work was shown at the Academy’s highly acclaimed annual exhibition gave Impressionists hope. His realistic depictions and looser brushwork opened the door for other Impressionists, especially when he was on the board of the Academy and permitted some Impressionists to display their work there. This would give a lot more recognition and legitimacy to the Impressionist movement; thus, he truly served as the link between the Academy and the Impressionists.

Although Daubigny’s work began with more somber tones and colours — as can be seen in Moonrise at Auvers (1877), he began to take note of the Impressionists’ use of colour when working with reflections, light and landscapes. The Impressionists had been inspired by his loose brushwork, but they in turn influenced him as well, in much the same way that Van Gogh was inspired by the brighter colours of the Impressionists’ work after his brief period in Paris.

Van Gogh’s pleasure in painting outdoor scenes continued when he moved to Auvers-Sur-Oise near the end of his life. Daubigny had spent much of his life and career painting here, especially focusing on the Oise river that flowed through the town. He even constructed a studio boat—a project that Monet would copy in 1873, allowing him to paint the river and its surrounding landscape from a more immersed perspective, rather than from solid ground.

In 1890, Van Gogh painted two images of Daubigny’s house and garden in Auvers-Sur-Oise, even giving one, which can be seen in the exhibition, to Daubigny’s widow. The comparisons drawn among these three artists in this exhibition largely focus on the work from the last year of Van Gogh’s life, during which he worked and lived in Auvers-Sur-Oise. In some cases, Daubigny, Monet and Van Gogh painted nearly the exact same subjects. The poppy fields in Auvers-Sur-Oise, for example, or the farms bordering town.

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By focusing on the works of Daubigny, Monet, and Van Gogh, this exhibition details the evolution of the work of an artist, Daubigny, who had a great impact on the Impressionists—both politically and artistically, as well as on Vincent himself.

The exhibition Daubigny, Monet, and Van Gogh: Impressions of Landscape is on view at the Van Gogh Museum through to 29 January 2017 and is included in the museum ticket price.



Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age: What Not to Miss

The Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age: What Not to Miss

by Danielle Carter

featured image: Rembrandt (1606 – 1669)  The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Deijman, 1656

If you can’t get enough of Dutch Golden Age art at the Rijksmuseum, the Hermitage Amsterdam is a wonderful additional option to expand your knowledge with the exhibition: Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age.


image: Elvert Ezinga

From late 2014 through to the end of this year, the Hermitage Amsterdam, in collaboration with the Rijksmuseum and the Amsterdam Museum, is hosting an array of portraits from the Dutch Golden Age, including some of the oldest civic militia portraits from the period. A Squad of Civic Guards (1529) by Dirck Jacobsz. is the oldest in the gallery and features civic guards who appear far different from the likes of the men in Rembrandt’s (1642) The Night Watch, which is displayed in the Gallery of Honour at the Rijksmuseum. These older civic militia portraits reveal the typical way of painting civic militia portraits. The men are lined up in efficient rows in a manner that equally displays all of their faces. Furthermore, seeing these civic militia portraits grouped together in a hall more accurately recreates the way they would have been hung at the time. During the Dutch Golden Age, there were 20 districts in Amsterdam, each with its own civic militia. The Night Watch, along with at least seven other civic militia portraits, would have hung across from and next to one another in the Arquebusier’s headquarters; thus, viewing these portraits together at the Hermitage Amsterdam is almost a glimpse of what it would have been like to view these paintings back in the 17th century.

Highlighted in this exhibition are thirty so-called “brothers and sisters” of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. These additional thirty paintings help to give more context to the importance of group portraiture during the Dutch Golden Age, especially as these portraits were not limited to civic militia portraiture and that their function was often to display wealth and justify status in a society that largely lacked royalty and aristocracy as a means of establishing hierarchy. One example of these paintings is The Governors of the Binnengasthuis (1617-1618) by Cornelis van der Voort, which is the first portrait of a group of governors of a charitable institution. Such a painting can be compared with Rembrandt’s The Syndics, which can also be seen in the Gallery of Honour at the Rijksmuseum. As with Rembrandt’s painting, Van der Voort positions his figures around a table in order to demonstrate their administrative skills, which were important for the governors of these guilds and organisations. During this time, nearly everyone (except for the very poor) belonged to some sort of organisation or guild, but some were hierarchically more esteemed than others, demonstrating the wealth and status of its governors or board members. The surgeon’s guild was at the pinnacle of the hierarchy of guilds and Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Deijman (1656), not to be confused with his famous The Anatomy Lesson (1632) at the Mauritshuis, depicts the Surgeon’s Guild in Amsterdam performing its annual autopsy.

However, unlike the paintings displayed at the Rijksmuseum, many of the group portraits now featured at the Hermitage Amsterdam emphasise the importance of charity and social welfare during the Dutch Golden Age, both as a means of structuring society as well as a means of supporting the Netherlands economically. In other words, as with civic militia portraits, getting oneself painted as the governor of a charitable institution was a way of expressing one’s status and wealth in society. The people depicted in The Governors of the Binnengasthuis, for example, paid approximately 318 guilders each, which is equivalent to nearly 4500 euros in today’s currency. Obviously, these people had to be quite wealthy to have themselves included in these paintings, which would often then be hung in public places to further parade the subjects’ wealth.

The significance of these charitable institutions during the Dutch Golden Age also indicates the relatively high level of social welfare in the Netherlands compared with its European counterparts at the time. These social welfare institutions, such as hospitals for lepers or orphanages for children of victims of the plague, were often seen as economically responsible: social unrest was deemed as negative for the economy.

The Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age at the Hermitage Amsterdam is structured in such a way that allows visitors to follow the narratives of four residents of Amsterdam at the time, revealing the struggles of these people in attaining power and status in a time of social and financial mobility that was nearly impossible in other societies dominated by royalty and aristocracy. The entire exhibition is worth consideration, but the Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Deijman and the hall of group portraits (mostly featuring governors of social welfare institutions) are unmissable in this exhibition.

The Hermitage Amsterdam is located at Amstel 51, it is open daily from 10.00-17.00, with a ticket price of 15 euros for adults and 5 euros for children aged 6 to 16 (children under 6 are permitted free admission). For a custom private tour of the exhibition, please contact us.


The Lucas van Leyden Altarpiece in the Rijksmuseum

Danielle Carter

Images courtesy of Olivier Middendorp

Presentation in the Gallery of Honour at the Rijksmuseum is taken very seriously.  Only the most famous of Dutch artists are displayed here, often with their names adorning the arches and capitals of the hall when the museum was built in 1885, and again during its subsequent renovation from 2003 to 2013. Thus, each time a new piece is hosted in the Gallery of Honour, it is a notable event.

This year alone, Anish Kapoor’s works were hosted in the Gallery of Honour, opposite Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride and The Syndics; and a newly acquired wedding portrait by Rembrandt, known affectionately as Maarten en Oopjen, was displayed adjacent to Rembrandt’s The Night Watch before its planned restoration. Since August, the Gallery of Honour has also hosted The Last Judgement (1526-1527). For the next two years the Rijksmuseum will be home to this altarpiece by Lucas van Leyden (1491-1533). The work has rarely been seen outside of Leiden, where it typically resides at the Museum de Lakenhal, which begins major renovation and expansion this year.

It is, however, not only an honour for this altarpiece to be shown in the Rijksmuseum’s Gallery of Honour, but an honour for the Rijksmuseum to be permitted to show such a piece at all. According to the Rijksmuseum’s director, Taco Dibbits, The Last Judgement ‘is the most important surviving altarpiece in the Netherlands.’ With its nearly exclusive exhibition in its hometown of Leiden, the fact that this altarpiece has been selected to be exhibited in Amsterdam is quite notable.

Lucas van Leyden is an important piece in the puzzle during the Netherlands’ transition from Medieval to Northern Renaissance motifs and styles. He was the apprentice of Cornelis Engebrechtsz, among the first significant painters from Leiden, who is mostly known for his devotional imagery; he was in conta

Lucas van Leyden, Het Laatste Oordeel. In de Eregallerij van het Rijksmuseum. Foto: Olivier Middendorp

Lucas van Leyden, The Last Judgement. Gallery of Honour at the Rijksmuseum. Photo: Olivier Middendorp

ct with artists such as the famous German printmaker, Albrecht Dürer, who influenced van Leyden with his modelling of figures and his compositions; and he drew his inspiration for anatomically correct depictions of human bodies from Italian Renaissance artists such as Raphael. Van Leyden was also a pioneer in crafting narrative in his artworks, which is also evident in The Last Judgement, in which he depicts believers and sinners with angels or demons ushering them towards heaven or hell upon their death.

The Last Judgement is typically viewed as Lucas van Leyden’s most important and impressive work. Van Leyden gained prominence during the Northern Renaissance as a talented printmaker and engraver; however, he painted the triptych, The Last Judgement—one of the three altarpieces that he painted— near the end of his life and career (he died at the young of 39 from tuberculosis) and it has since gained much art historical clout. Another of van Leyden’s altarpieces, The Dance around the Golden Calf  (ca. 1530), is part of the Rijksmuseum’s permanent collection and can be seen in the rooms on the Middle Ages and Renaissance, precursors to the Dutch Golden Age artists whose works are typically displayed in the Gallery of Honour.

The Last Judgement was commissioned by the Catholic Church of St. Peter in Leiden in the 1520s. Due to the conflict between the Netherlands and the Spanish Kingdom, however, which was initiated largely due to Spain’s imposition of the Inquisition in the Dutch provinces, Iconoclasm endangered The Last Judgement and many other Catholic works in churches and elsewhere throughout the country. After years of suppressed Protestantism and Judaism, the Dutch lashed out against Catholicism as they gained their independence from the Spanish, often damaging or removing religious images, in general, but Catholic images specifically. In order to save The Last Judgement, the city authorities of Leiden captured the altarpiece and it has since been in the hands of the municipality. Since 1874, the altarpiece has been on display at the Museum de Lakenhal, in cooperation with the municipal collections.

For many tourists to the Netherlands, the scope of Dutch history and art history is relatively limited to the likes of Amsterdam or perhaps Haarlem and The Hague. The exhibition of this Leiden masterpiece provides a unique opportunity for Amsterdam’s visitors to have a sneak peek at masterworks from other areas of the Netherlands; notably, Leiden, which is also the hometown and birthplace of Rembrandt, who owned a complete set of van Leyden’s prints and likely saw this van Leyden altarpiece in his youth.

In the last 450 years, The Last Judgement has only left Leiden twice—during World War II, it was hidden in Limburg; and it was exhibited once at the Rijksmuseum in 1958, punctuating this historic moment in which it is displayed at the Rijksmuseum.

You can see The Last Judgement in the Rijksmuseum’s Gallery of Honour from 23 August 2016 until 23 August 2018. To book a private tour of the museum with one of our expert guides, please click here.


Reflections on the Inclusive Museums Conference

Reflections on the Inclusive Museum Conference

by Danielle Carter

The Inclusive Museum Conference was held this month from the 16th to the 19th of September at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The inaugural conference was held at the Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden, the Netherlands in 2008 prompted by the assassination of Theo van Gogh in 2004 and the controversy that followed. Van Gogh’s killer, a Dutch-Moroccan purportedly associated with a Dutch terrorist group called the Hofstad Network, attached a note to Theo van Gogh’s body that critiqued many Dutch politicians and their Jewish associates.

This prejudice sparked a lot of controversy in the Netherlands and worldwide. The Netherlands education sector reacted with the Dancing with Diversity initiative, which attempted to include a broader range of cultures and ethnicities in the heritage sector. This tension furthermore motivated the executive director of the Inclusive Museum Conference, Amareswar Galla, to found the conference and the associated Inclusive Museum Knowledge Community to encourage “strategies and have a dialogue that is inclusive for all people.” Furthermore, the goal of this knowledge community and these conferences is to help museums and museum practitioners to deal with post-colonial multiculturalism. 

The conference is hosted in a different city and country each year. This year, the conference was hosted by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Centre in Cincinnati, Ohio. The theme was urbanism, inclusion, and cultural freedoms with sub-themes of visitors, collections, and representations.

A broad range of topics were addressed at the conference, ranging from Dr. Louise McWhinnie’s presentation of how the country of the United States can be viewed as a museum in and of itself -with its hotel signs and billboards acting as museum objects within this museum space – to Sarah Graves’ presentation on volunteer motivation and retention in museums. The broader conversation throughout the conference, however, focused largely on the inclusion of various groups within the museum as well as how to include visitors of different abilities in the museum.

Regina Carswell Russo, Chief of Communications at the Contemporary Arts Centre in Cincinnati, explained how marketing and advertising can help to make a wide variety of people feel more comfortable and included into art and museum spaces. In other words, using advertising to represent a wide range of people removes a potential barrier to visiting these spaces. As Tonya Matthews also said during the conference, “When we have institutions that keep people like this out, we’re inadvertently holding ourselves back.” Tony Lawson and Jessica Urban of the Cincinnati Children’s Museum approached inclusiveness in the museum space from the perspective of making the museum more accessible for children on the autism spectrum who can often be irritated by the overwhelming sensorial experiences of interactive exhibitions at hands-on children’s museums.

The inclusion of different races and ethnicities in the museum was a hot topic at this conference – especially due to the location of the conference, the current state of racial relations in the United States, as well as the Underground Railroad Freedom Centre’s position at the historic intersection between free and slave states during the American Civil War.

The focus of the next Inclusive Museum Conference is Diaspora, Integration, and Museums and will be held the 15th to the 17th of September, 2017 at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. You can find more information, submit a proposal, or register for the 2017 conference here: http://onmuseums.com/2017-conference


‘At Home in Holland. Vermeer and his Contemporaries from the British Royal Collection’

At Home in Holland: Vermeer and his Contemporaries from the British Royal Collection
29 September 2016 – 8 January 2017

By Wendy Fossen




This autumn, at the Mauritshuis, we are welcoming back a select number of Dutch 17th century Masterpieces from the British Royal collection. It is a unique show, for her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II is very fond of her Dutch collection and the British Royal family have never before allowed so many works to leave the country. The public will be delighted by the quality of painters like Steen, Vermeer and Dou, who was by the way more appreciated than Rembrandt in his day.

Many of today’s art collections once belonged to a royal family; the collection at the Prado, the Louvre and even our own Mauritshuis (the original name of the museum is the Royal Picture Gallery!) The British Royal Collection is one of the largest collections which is still intact and still owned by a royal family. It was King George IV in particular, who spent astonishing sums of money collecting Dutch art in the 19th century. These works of art are scattered around the countryside of the UK in the Royal Palaces, the most famous of these being Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. The British Royal Collection can boast 8000 pieces, whereas the Mauritshuis only has 800.

As far as Dutch 17th Century art is concerned, the British royals seem to have had a preference and fondness for scenes of everyday life, and in particular comic scenes. These genre pieces, as we call them, feature Dutch folk chopping onions, selling grapes, or fighting in front of an inn. Also popular were the scenes with a sexual connotation. Rich townspeople, and maybe also King George himself, will have amused themselves and their company with these naughty and comic scenes.

Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman ('The Music Lesson') by Johannes Vermeer. On loan to the Mauritshuis collection, The Hague.

Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman (‘The Music Lesson’) by Johannes Vermeer. On loan to the Mauritshuis collection, The Hague.

Many of these 17th Century  scenes – which were not only amazingly well painted – had a moralistic meaning which often remains quite hidden for the modern viewer. Gerard Terborch, for instance, painted scenes with moralistic messages which were not always immediately clear, not even for his contemporaries. One of the highlights in this exhibition is also such a puzzling piece: The Music Lesson by Johannes Vermeer. This work was bought by George III in 1762 and shows a lady and a gentleman at a virginal. The room is lit by the stained glass windows from the left, there is a chequered black and white marble floor, and on the right we see a table covered by a Persian rug. The warm colours of the rug contrast beautifully with the brilliant white jug placed on the rug, Against the back wall we see the two figures standing near a virginal, a sort of piano. When we look closely at the painting we see that the lady is looking in front of her, but her reflection in the mirror, which hangs against the back wall, shows a different position: she is looking at the man standing next to the virginal. Why did Vermeer do this, what was he suggesting? Or should we forget about these presupposed hidden meanings and simply enjoy the beautiful perspective, light and colours for what they are?


Jan Steen (1626-1679) ‘A Woman at her Toilet’, 1663 Courtesy of Mauritshuis, Den Haag

Subtleness is certainly not to be found in the works by Jan Steen. He usually is not so secretive in showing the meaning of the painting, it more like ‘what you see is what you get’. My favourite is Woman at her Toilet. As a voyeur we look through an arched doorway, very richly decorated with garlands and Corinthian columns, and we see a lady sitting on a canopy bed. Once again a chequered floor, this time black, white and red, leading up to the bed with a floor mat and again a table with a Persian rug on the right. All this is painted with sublime technique and beautiful colours, but the scene distracts you from this. The lady is taking off her stocking and the marks above her calves show she has worn them all day. Is she smiling at us as if we were her customer walking out of the room and glancing back one more time?
This work by Jan Steen, and the 22 other works in the exhibition, offers us just a glimpse of the magnitude of the British Royal Collection – this exhibition is an opportunity not be missed! Go and see ‘At Home in Holland: Vermeer and his Contemporaries from the British Royal Collection’ at the Mauritshuis in The Hague from 29 of September until 8 of January next year. If you are interested in finding out more about these hidden meanings, join us for a private guided tour in English. Contact us for more details.

Wendy Fossen Casadellarte26LRArt historian Wendy Fossen holds degrees of the Universities of Leiden, Amsterdam and Canterbury, UK. Wendy teaches art history in Dutch and English and works as a museum guide for Thinking Museum as well as at the Mauritshuis and the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague. When she is not at home, she works as a tour guide in Italy for SRC Cultuurreizen and SNP Wandelvakanties.  For more information please take a look at Casa dell’Arte’s website.