Exhibition | Rijksmuseum & Slavery

Posted in exhibitions, museums by Editor on August 4, 2021
Hendrik van Schuylenburgh, The Trading Post of the Dutch East India Company in Hooghly, Bengal, 1665, oil on canvas, 203 × 316cm
(Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum)

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This project, aimed at reconsidering objects in the permanent collection of the Rijksmuseum, coincides with the major exhibition Slavery: Ten True Stories:

Rijksmuseum & Slavery: New Light on the Permanent Collection
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 18 May 2021 — February 2022

Many of the works in the Rijksmuseum’s permanent collection have links with the Netherlands’ slavery past. It’s a relationship you probably won’t notice at first glance and one you won’t typically read about on a museum label next to an object: from the nutmeg harvested by enslaved people, to an enslaved woman shipped off to the Netherlands; from the image of a dance party on a Surinamese plantation that hides critical messages about the slaveholder, to the pulpit from which an 18th-century legal philosopher made the case for abolishing slavery.

Rijksmuseum & Slavery is adding 77 museum labels to paintings and objects in the permanent collection. The new labels will remain in place for a year, until February 2022. All of them focus on the colonial power of the Netherlands, which from the 17th century onwards was inextricably bound up with a system that included slavery. Some of the labels tell the stories of people who, under Dutch rule, were enslaved and put to work, and had their status reduced to that of objects, while others highlight people who profited from slavery, or spoke out against it.

When the Slavery exhibition and Rijksmuseum & Slavery have ended, the museum will evaluate both the pre-existing labels and the new ones. Wherever possible, the new information will be integrated into the museum in order to do greater justice to the Netherlands’ complicated history. The labels are collected in a booklet available free of charge in the museum. The booklet can also be downloaded here. In addition, all the labelled works are available online as a collection in Rijksstudio (in two parts: 1500–1650 and 1650–1960).

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Hendrik Keun, The Garden and Coach House of 524 Keizersgracht in Amsterdam, 1772, oil on panel (Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum).

From the booklet: first the original label and then the newly added one:

Nicolaas Doekscheer, who lived at 524 Keizersgracht, built a grand, Rococo coach house on the Kerkstraat, which adjoined the back of his garden. He is here depicted conversing with the gardener, while his wife speaks to a maidservant. The two young men are Doekscheer’s nephews and heirs. The painting is still in its original Rococo frame.

The 18th-century Dutch elite benefitted greatly from the slavery-based plantation economy.[1] So did Nicolaas Doekscheer and his associate Hendrik Steenbergen, both depicted here in a garden. They financed no less than fifteen plantations in Berbice, Demerary, and Essequebo (all three part of present-day Guyana, South America).[2] Thanks to these loans, plantation owners were able to set up their coffee, cotton, and sugar plantations, while in Amsterdam Doekscheer and Steenbergen made a substantial profit from the interest.[3] See booklet for the footnotes.

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