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‘Boijmans in the War. Art in the Destroyed City verwoeste stad’
13 October 2018 – 27 January 2019.
*Open day: Saturday, 13 October, from 11:00 to 17:00 *Press conference: Wednesday, 10 October at 10:00.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen digs into its history during the wartime years.
In the autumn of 2018, #museumboijmans Van Beuningen transports visitors into the history of the then Museum Boymans during and around the Second World War. Recent research provides the basis for the candid discussion and visualisation of this past. The presentation includes wartime acquisitions, visual documentation of exhibitions ‘back then’, and Rotterdam art from the years under occupation.
From 13 October 2018 to 27 January 2019, #museumboijmans Van Beuningen is examining its own past in the multifaceted exhibition ‘Boijmans in the War. Art in the Destroyed City’, produced by curator Peter van der Coelen and guest curator Sandra Smets. One of the reasons to stage the exhibition is the conclusion of the provenance research into the museum collection, which involved examining documentation of every artwork or artefact and wherever possible ascertaining their provenance. Two publications are being released to complement the exhibition.
Museum Director Sjarel Ex: “Almost 75 years after the war, which had a huge impact on Rotterdam, it seemed opportune to provide answers to outstanding questions about Boijmans during the war for once and for all. We are making our history fully transparent.”
How do you maintain a museum’s vitality when the works of art are stowed away to protect them from the ravages of war? What do you do as an artist in times of censure and oppression? During the war, these questions were painfully relevant in Rotterdam. The bombardment of 14 May 1940 razed the historic city centre and many artists were left without a studio. Museum Boymans boasted the country’s most successful director: Dirk Hannema. Supported by the city council and private individuals, he built the museum into an institution of national significance. During the occupation he adapted pliably to the new regime, thus becoming the most controversial museum director as well.
The story of the museum in wartime is presented against the backdrop of Rotterdam’s cultural life. The city’s reconstruction offered new opportunities for artists, as did the arts policy of the occupier. However, when the Nazis started to impose rules and obligations, artists were faced with a choice: cooperate, shut yourself away or resist.
One of the exhibition’s galleries is devoted to casting light on the subject of looted art: before, during and after the occupation works ended up in the museum’s collection as a consequence of the large-scale theft of art owned by Jews by the Nazis, who came to power in 1933. This presentation reveals how the provenance of several works has been ascertained and their rightful owners traced. (N.B. See the background information provided below.)
Publications, investigations and critical debate
Scholarly biography of the then museum director Dirk Hannema: ‘Hannema: museumdirecteur’ by Wessel Krul, published by Uitgeverij Prometheus;
Boijmans Study: ‘A Controversial Past. #museumboijmans Van Beuningen and the Second World War’ by Dr Ariëtte Dekker;
Provenance investigations that the museum has conducted over recent years within the framework of the national research project “Museum Acquisitions from 1933 onwards”;
A major symposium takes place at De Doelen in Rotterdam from 13:00 to 17:00 on 9 November, with Ian Buruma as keynote speaker (and Jort Kelder as chair of proceedings).
Stories House Belvédère
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen has used an oral history project to amass first- and second-hand memories of the museum during the war in partnership with Verhalenhuis Belvédère, a social history initiative in Rotterdam. This entailed speaking to parents, grandparents, neighbours and others about their memories of the then Museum Boymans during the Second World War, as well as about the Rotterdam art scene during this period. The collected stories are presented on a website and several narratives are included in the exhibition. If you have stories to share, please submit them via: email@example.com.
With the publication by Ariëtte Dekker the museum aims to provide full transparency about its history in relation to and during the Second World War. The museum director flexibly complied to the wishes of the occupier and collectors affiliated with the museum sold works of art to the Nazis. At the same time, the museum played an important role as a hub for art, culture and cultural conservation in the blitzed city of Rotterdam.
This Boijmans Study reconstructs the role of the museum and its patrons, as well as that of director Dirk Hannema, during the war. The picture would be incomplete without addressing the earlier history of the museum, which owed the enormous expansion of its collection to patrons such as the Rotterdam port barons D.G. van Beuningen and Willem van der Vorm, as well as the Haarlem-based banker Franz Koenigs. Their collecting activities and patronage played out in an era of great shifts in prosperity, with a thriving international art trade as a result.
Author Dr Ariëtte Dekker is an independent researcher in economic history who has previously published a biography of Anton Kröller (2015) and a history of De Club Rotterdam (2008).
Scholarly biography of former director Dirk Hannema
The ambitious Dirk Hannema adapted himself to the demands and views of the occupier and cooperated with German initiatives. At the same time he used his position to help Jewish and non-Jewish artists and collectors, even managing to secure release from German detention for some. Dirk Hannema harboured an affinity with National Socialist ideology and was eventually appointed ’Authorised Representative for Museums’ in Mussert’s so-called shadow cabinet. All he wanted to do in his museum was show art, but like other Dutch museum directors he eventually had to allow Nazi propaganda into his galleries. A scholarly biography of this successful but controversial museum director, who was dismissed after the liberation for collaborating, is being released by Uitgeverij Prometheus to coincide with the exhibition: ‘Hannema: museumdirecteur’ by Wessel Krul, Professor Emeritus of Modern Art and Cultural History at the University of Groningen.
An important reason for staging this exhibition and publishing the Boijmans Study is the conclusion of the provenance research that the museum has conducted over recent years in the context of the national research project ‘Museum Acquisitions from 1933 onwards’. The museum’s collection has been investigated to determine whether it is the steward of works of art with a dubious provenance. Attention was focused on works that were acquired after 1933 or had changed hands in the period between 1933 and 1945. After the Nazis seized power in Germany in 1933, Jews were persecuted and their belongings confiscated. This developed into the widespread looting of art before and during the Second World War, which involved works of art being plundered, confiscated or sold under duress at prices that were far too low. In Austria this occurred after the Anschluss, or annexation, of 1938, and in countries such as France and the Netherlands during wartime occupation. Via art dealers, auction houses or private parties, looted art sometimes ended up in Dutch museums. In later years museums also acquired art and artefacts, without knowing that these had been looted, confiscated or sold under duress during the Second World War. Provenance research has resulted in the restitution of seven works from the Boijmans collection between 1999 and 2009. This consequence of the war is explored in a separate section of the exhibition using a number of specific cases. Several returned works are being shown, thanks to the cooperation of surviving relatives. The stories of the families concerned and how the provenance was established feature alongside, as well as an explanation of restitution process. Also on show are works of art with provenances that raise questions.
Symposium: “Boijmans in the War. Scrutinising a Controversial Past”
In conjunction with the exhibition, #museumboijmans Van Beuningen is hosting a symposium at De Doelen, Rotterdam, on Friday, 9 November 2018, presenting various investigations that are the basis for the exhibition and placing them in a broader perspective. The speakers include Ariëtte Dekker, Wessel Krul, Helen Schretlen, Sandra Smets, Claartje Wesselink and Wouter Veraart, with a keynote address by Ian Buruma. Jort Kelder serves as chair of proceedings. The fee for the symposium is €20.00. Places can be booked via the museum as well as online: www.boijmans.nl/activiteiten/sympoisum- boijmans-in-de-oorlog.
Pop-up presentation ‘Boijmans in the War. Art in the Destroyed City’ at the Bijenkorf department store in Rotterdam from 15 October
The ‘Boijmans in the War. Art in the Destroyed City’ pop-up presentation can be found at Rotterdam’s Bijenkorf department store from 15 October to 11 November. Thanks to an exceptional loan from the Bijenkorf, the presentation includes a bronze scale model of Zadkine’s ‘The Destroyed City’. The Jewish sculptor Ossip Zadkine created this renowned sculpture of a figure whose heart has been torn out and is crying to the heavens in 1947. A bronze model of this sculpture was first exhibited at Museum Boymans in December 1949. Zadkine’s embodiment of a wartime bombardment struck a chord in the city that had itself lost its heart. The Bijenkorf chain of department stores, which as a Jewish-owned enterprise had itself been pierced through its core, gifted a scaled-up version of the sculpture to Rotterdam, where it was erected near the Leuvehaven docks.
With thanks to
The ‘Boijmans in the War. Art in the Destroyed City’ exhibition is supported by Stichting Volkskracht, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds Zuid-Holland, Stichting stad Rotterdam anno 1720, Erasmusstichting, M.A.O.C. Gravin van Bylandt Stichting and an anonymous benefactor.
The accompanying publication ‘Omstreden verleden. #museumboijmans Van Beuningen en de Tweede Wereldoorlog’ has been produced with the support of Stichting “de Leeuwenberg”, Stichting Pieter Haverkorn van Rijsewijk and Stichting dr. Hendrik Muller's Vaderlandsch Fonds.
much better in the evocative rooms in the new building designed by architect Ad van der Steur than in the Schieland House, which had become far too small for the numerous recent acquisitions.
The municipal acquisition budget was limited, but Hannema, the director, succeeded in securing many donations and bequests. For major acquisitions, he was able to appeal to the wealthy entrepreneurs from the Rotterdam Port, such as D.G. van Beuningen and Willem van der Vorm, or from sources outside the city, such as the Haarlem banker Franz Koenigs. Hannema had an eye not only for old masters but also for modern art, such as the abstract Mondrian. But none of the acquisitions had the status of ‘The Supper in Emmaus’ which was added to the collection in 1937 as an undisputed Vermeer.
The opening of the new Museum Boymans also proved the start of a dynamic exhibition policy. Blockbusters featuring Johannes Vermeer and Jheronimus Bosch attracted international attention.
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