Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen – Google Cultural Institute
A visit to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is a journey through the history of art. Dutch and European masterpieces provide a comprehensive survey of art from the early Middle Ages to the 21st century, from Bosch, Rembrandt and Van Gogh to Dalí and Christo.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is one of the oldest museums in the Netherlands. In 1849 the lawyer Boijmans left his art collection to the city of Rotterdam. With the acquisition of the Van Beuningen collection in 1958 the museum got the second part of its name. The museum houses a unique collection of paintings, sculptures and everyday objects. The collection of prints and drawings is one of the best in the world. The museum also organises a diverse programme of spectacular temporary exhibitions throughout the year.
Old and modern masters
Marvel at the beautiful works by Bruegel the Elder and Rembrandt. Follow the development of Impressionism and Modernism in the paintings of Monet, Van Gogh and Mondriaan. Lose yourself in the dream world of the Surrealists Dalí and Magritte. And the art is not only inside: the museum has a wonderful view of the sculpture garden.
Contemporary art and design
The museum shows how everyday objects have changed over the last eight hundred years, from medieval jugs and glassware from Holland’s Golden Age to Rietveld furniture and contemporary Dutch design. A young generation of visual artists such as Eliasson and Cattelan bring the museum’s art collection up to date.
The museum’s monumental building opened in 1935. It was designed by the municipal architect Van der Steur specially to house the collection. The stately redbrick building contains both large galleries where art can be viewed in daylight and more intimate spaces. The building survived the bombing of the city in 1940 and has been extended several times over the years. To this day the building’s tower remains a beacon in the city.
In Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen exhibitions and the collection each have their own
wing. The collections building contains extensive displays from the museum’s own
collection. The chronological displays feature art from the late Middle Ages to the present
day, punctuated with several thematic accents. The displays, featuring masterpieces
from the collection, are changed every three years. The tour begins on the first floor with
mainly painting and sculpture and continues on the ground floor with mainly decorative
arts and design. Throughout the building are galleries where contemporary artists make
interventions that give the visitor a little ‘wake-up’.
Through variations in shape, format and atmosphere, the collections building from 1935,
designed the municipal architect Ad van der Steur, creates an environment in which the
visitor can enjoy the art works at their best. The designer and stylist Maarten Spruyt has
enhanced this through his sensitive hanging and varied application of colour. His
installations do justice to the architecture of the Van der Steur building, partly by creating
spots where no art is displayed, thus freeing the architecture from its purely functional
The Museum’s Architecture
The museum comprises three wings, each with its own function and character:
The Collections Building, 1935
The collections building was designed by the municipal architect Adriaan van der Steur
(1893-1953). He and Dirk Hannema (1895- 1984), the museum director who
commissioned the new building, shared a common goal: the new museum building
should be a place where people could come to enjoy art. It must set itself apart from the
outdated seventeenth-century Schielandshuis, where the museum’s collection had
previously been housed, with its overcrowded walls and poor lighting. It must be a
modern building fit for its purpose. To this end, extensive experiments with an ingenious
overhead-lighting system were carried out in a temporary structure on the building site.
Much attention was paid to the formats of the galleries and to their subtle detailing. Van
der Steur was inspired by the domestic interiors of private collectors and thus opted
primarily for small, intimate spaces. Indeed, many of the works of art in the museum’s
collection had come from such surroundings. Sightlines, variations in the size and shape
of the galleries, and the alternation of galleries with spaces in which the visitor could rest
and enjoy the surrounding park were designed to avoid tiring the visitor. Despite the fact
that many modernist architects were active in Rotterdam at the time, the City opted for a
more conservative style of architecture and for traditional materials such as brick, natural
stone and copper. The stately entrance, marked by a tower, was typical of this
architectural approach and the prevailing conception of a museum. In the evening a
lantern illuminated the top of the tower, ensuring that the museum was a prominent
landmark in the city by night as well as by day.
The Temporary Exhibitions Building, 1972 - 2003
The building for temporary exhibitions was designed by the architect Alexander Bodon
(1906-1993) and was opened in 1972. The dynamic of a programme of constantly
hanging exhibitions gives this wing an entirely different character. But it also has another
ambience: no subtle detailing, just three enormous flexible spaces, which can be
reorganised according to the needs of each exhibition. Bodon realised his ‘new wing’ in a
period in which modern art demanded more space, both literally and figuratively. The
galleries are white and have diffuse toplighting. Bodon excluded anything that might steal
our attention from the works of art on display, with the exception of the large window that
affords a splendid view of the garden. In 2003 the Belgian architectural practice
Robbrecht & Daem extended the Exhibitions Building with a series of new galleries that
encircle the large galleries of the Bodon wing. The new spaces make use of clear and
frosted glass, concrete and occasional vestiges of existing brick walls. Together with the
handsome library facing the street, this is the most recent expansion of the museum’s
The pavilion, 1991
The pavilion designed by Hubert-Jan Henket (1940) is a freestanding element to the
south of the Collections Building. It was designed specially for the Van Beuningen-de
Vriese Collection that was donated to the museum in 1981. This collection of pre-
industrial domestic artefacts is displayed in the basement gallery. Its enclosed character
is in marked contrast to the highly transparent nature of the ground- floor space with its
extensive use of glass and its silver-coloured steel roof construction. In this space, which
provides a wonderful location for the restaurant, you are always aware of the museum’s
garden that was laid out in the 1930s.
What’s in a name?
A small mediaeval travelling altar, a double steel cage by the contemporary American
artist Bruce Nauman, an exquisite chased silver salt cellar dating from 1613 and a
tubular steel chair produced some three-hundred years later - these are just a few of the
more than 140,000 artefacts in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s rich collections. The
collections are striking in their diversity, housing old master and modern paintings
alongside product design and the applied arts, and encompassing the full range of media
from painting and sculpture, prints and drawings to photography, video and film. There
are unique pieces and items that have been mass produced in their hundreds, thousands
or even millions. This diversity, which sets Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s collection
apart from the other great Dutch museums, was already a feature of the museum in its
infancy around 1850. Since its establishment the museum’s history has been shaped in a
critical way by he activities of private collectors, two of whom have furnished the
institution with its doublebarrelled name. The Utrecht-born lawyer F.J.O. Boijmans
bequeathed his collection to the City of Rotterdam in 1847, so laying the museum’s
foundations. In 1958 the museum acquired the collection of the shipping magnate D.G.
van Beuningen, also a native of Utrecht. This was such a milestone that the museum’s
name was changed to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. The museum is indebted to
many other private collectors, whose varied interests have informed its diverse
collections and whose passion means that ours is the only museum in the Netherlands
that contains paintings by the Van Eyck brothers, Titian, Bosch, Bruegel the Elder, Dalí
and Magritte. In the post-war period the museum has had increasing funds to pursue its
own acquisitions policy, but it continues to profit from the generosity of private collectors.
In 1981 Mr and Mrs Van Beuningen-de Vriese endowed the museum with a vast
collection of pre-industrial domestic artefacts and the museum has recently benefited
from its partnership with H+F Patronage in acquiring an outstanding installation by the
Danish-born Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson.
F.J.O. Boijmans Frans Jacob Otto Boijmans
1767 – 1847
F.J.O. Boijmans was an avid collector of paintings, drawings, prints and porcelain.
Indeed he often allowed his appetite for quantity to overshadow his eye for quality. When
the City of Rotterdam took charge of his collection in 1847, it immediately sold many
pieces because of their poor quality. Another considerable portion of the collection was
lost in a fire at the museum in 1864 with the result that only 127 paintings remain from
Boijmans’ original collection. The confident ‘self-portrait’ by Carel Fabritius is one of its
Daniël George van Beuningen
1877 – 1955
The shipping magnate D.G. van Beuningen was one of the members of Rotterdam’s elite
upon whom the museum could rely for financial support for important acquisitions in the
1920s and 1930s. Van Beuningen also amassed his own large collection of master
pieces including Bruegel’s famous painting The Tower of Babel. Following his death in
1955, his heirs offered the collection to the museum on the condition that the City of
Rotterdam pay the inheritance tax. Thus the museum gained 189 paintings, 17 drawings,
30 sculptures, 5 pieces of silverware and the second part of its double-barrelled name.
Three masterpieces from the collection:
from collector to museum
When works of art are shown at their best in a museum – carefully placed and lit – it is as
if they have always belonged here. However, their presence in the museum should not
be taken for granted. The art works in the collection have come from far and wide.
Sometimes the road from the studio to the museum was long, sometimes short, but in
each case the works have reached their destination through a combination of
coincidence and bold vision, good management and well-exploited opportunities. Many
of the art works have a fascinating story to tell.
Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450-1516)
The Pedlar (detail), 1490-1505
oil on panel, 71 x 70.6 cm
Sometimes the acquisition of a work of art is a question of sleepless nights, patience and
determination. That was certainly the case with The Pedlar by Hieronymus Bosch. The painting
came up for auction in Berlin in 1930. The museum’s director at the time, Dirk Hannema, was intent
upon purchasing it for the museum but faced competition from the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.
However, neither museum had the required sum of 385,000 German marks. Hannema convinced the
Dutch art dealer Jacques Goudstikker (1897-1940) to buy the painting privately and to reserve it for
him. A year of fundraising amongst private benefactors ensued. Sometimes Hannema was given a
frosty reception, for example by the chairman of Royal Dutch Shell, Sir Henri Deterding (1866-1939),
who had no intention of, “making a gift of this ugly tramp,” and who said he had something better up
his sleeve for the museum. Hannema eventually succeeded in raising the necessary funds and the
museum acquired the painting in 1931. In 1936, a year after the opening of the new museum
building, Hannema organised a major exhibition of works by Hieronymus Bosch and the Northern
Netherlandish Primitives. The Pedlar, which was then known as The Prodigal Son, functioned as the
icon for what was one of the first ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions in the Netherlands.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525-1569)
The Tower of Babel, c.1565
oil on panel, 59.9 x 74.6
The Tower of Babel underwent an extraordinary journey from the moment it left Bruegel’s studio
more than 440 years ago until its arrival in the museum in 1958. We are still able to trace its steps
for part of this journey. Around 1600 the painting was in the collection of Rudolf II in Prague. The
Holy Roman Emperor was a great admirer of Bruegel and had several paintings by the artist. It may
have been stolen shortly after this date by Swedish soldiers and came into the possession of Queen
Christina of Sweden. By 1620 the painting had certainly made its way to Antwerp. We know from a
seal on the reverse of the panel that a century later it was in the hands of Elisabeth of Parma, the
second wife of King Philip V of Spain. Thereafter the thread is lost until the painting resurfaced on
the Parisian art market in 1935. The following year the collector D.G. van Beuningen bought the
painting for the vast sum of 120,000 guilders. He gave it a place in the living room above the stove,
on which, according to his children, he would fry himself an egg on Sundays. The painting was
acquired by the museum together with the majority of Van Beuningen’s collection in 1958.
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)
Titus at his Desk (detail), 1655
oil on canvas, 77 x 63 cm
In the years between 1910 and 1940 the collection grew in spectacular fashion, both in terms of
quantity and quality, mainly due to the efforts of the museum’s director Dirk Hannema. Time and
again he managed to motivate collectors to support the museum and thus, in his words: “to achieve
something of lasting value for the community.” Some of these patrons were reluctant to give money
to a state-funded institution such as Museum Boijmans for political reasons. One of these was the
shipping magnate Willem van der Vorm (1873-1957), to whom Hannema often turned for support.
Van der Vorm was instrumental in establishing a private foundation dedicated to the museum’s
growth. The foundation’s first acquisition, immediately after its establishment in 1939, was a recently
discovered painting by Johannes Vermeer entitled Christ at Emmaus. Despite critical approval from
the art-historical profession, the painting was later exposed as a forgery. The Foundation’s second
purchase that same year has remained an undisputed highlight of the collection: the much sought
after portrait of Rembrandt’s son Titus was acquired with additional support from the Rembrandt
Society and ‘120 friends of the museum’.
Mission and vision
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen aims to stimulate everyone’s enjoyment of art and design in its collections and exhibitions. The museum intends to provide an environment in which knowledge, beauty and innovative and controversial ideas are presented to their best advantage.
As a museum with world-renowned collections and exhibitions and international ambitions, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is working on a new role and identity in society at a local, national and international level: a relevant, active and dynamic programme based on the proven world-class quality of its collections. The staff of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen apply their knowledge, skills and energies so that every visit to the museum is an educational, stimulating and unique experience. They work to communicate their passion for art and design directly to the public.
The museum has an international profile. With its world-class collections, it has won a place among the top three art museums in the Netherlands. Our minimum aim is to maintain and reaffirm this position. The collection areas are: old masters, prints and drawings, modern and contemporary art, and the applied arts and design. These collections are made accessible to the public in an attractive manner. We undertake this with well-established, proven means as well as those afforded by the digital age.
The museum would be unable to exist without the support of Rotterdam city council. However, the museum organisation is enterprising and takes initiatives in order to avail itself of additional funds, in particular to increase its acquisitions budget. The support of collectors and donors has always been decisive in this respect. We have taken a variety of new initiatives in this area, of which the recent addition of H+F Patronage to our list of patrons is an important example.
The collections must be preserved under optimal circumstances and to this aim we have ambitious plans for a Collections Building that can be used by more parties than just the museum alone. The museum is more than just a storage place with a shop window. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is a stage within the city, but also sees the city as a stage. Museum activities can also be conducted beyond the walls of the museum building. Of course this has cost implications and can be realised only in collaboration with others. For example, since the summer of 2010, in partnership with the Port of Rotterdam, the Submarine Wharf in the RDM complex has been transformed into the largest exhibition space in the Netherlands.
The museum attempts to deliver a coherent programme. For this reason we follow the developments of individual artists and designers over a longer period. We are concerned with art and design that leaves a lasting impression. The museum opts for a broad, encyclopaedic and interdisciplinary set-up of the collections and exhibitions. Forging connections between historical, modern and contemporary art and design helps to strengthen each component. This leads to idiosyncratic displays that place the various aspects of the collection in a surprising perspective. Interventions by contemporary artists within the historical collections have proved to be an intriguing addition to our exhibitions policy. Every object within the collections has its own story and the museum wishes to make these stories available to and understandable for everybody. The art of looking is something that we all possess and it is given every opportunity to flower within the museum. With the support of the VSBfonds we have created an educational knowledge centre. It is our intention to make everybody welcome here and to allow him or her to undergo exciting experiences. On Wednesdays entry to the museum is free. This is a pragmatic interpretation of the notion of cultural participation. We have more than achieved our ambition to welcome more than 200,000 visitors in 2009. In particular we have seen a sharp rise in the number of young visitors, from all aspects of Rotterdam’s community.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen sees the financing of culture not as benevolence but as an investment that is rewarded, also in an economic sense. The museum is an attractive investment for a variety of institutions, the business community, industry, individuals and the government. For this reason, the museum continues to search for meaningful partnerships with diverse parties. The value of our collection is of great importance in this respect. We receive a constant stream of requests for loans from other museums all around the world, confirming the museum’s reputation time and time again. These valuable partnerships makes it possible for us to exchange exhibitions and to bring extraordinary works of art to Rotterdam.
In addition to collecting and organising displays and exhibitions, research is an important aspect of the museum’s activities. This research takes place largely behind closed doors, but its results must be made visible. Through a series of art-historical publications – the Boijmans Studies – the findings are made available for experts and other interested parties. The results of this research also appear in public information such as gallery texts, the digital newsletter, in multimedia guides and the stories recounted in our guided tours. Precisely because this information is made available at a variety of levels and through various media, it is essential that we work on a project basis so that information is shared within the museum and is made available to all. The digital cataloguing of the collections contributes to this and is an ideal way of keeping the public informed. The museum wishes to be accessible to all in the most adequate fashion. This requires a broadening of the palette both in the direction of the expert and the uninformed visitor. More so than every before, this is ‘a long stretch’.
The museum organisation acquires significant additional financing through its patrons and funding bodies such as the BankGiro Loterij, the Mondriaan Foundation, the Rembrandt Society, VSBfonds, the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, the SNS REAAL Fonds and numerous other parties. A less successful period of fundraising leads immediately to a considerable reduction of possibilities. The museum has a realistic view of this situation and places trust in its reputation, vigour and strengths to achieve its aims every time. The museum aims in as far as is possible to be a self-earning organisation and succeeds in forging links with people who can help it achieve this aim: from friends to patrons. Commercial activities such as gallery hire, corporate entertaining, catering and the museum shop also make a contribution. Our starting point in this respect is that all revenues benefit the museum’s principle remit.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen has a service-oriented and visitor-friendly approach. Our starting point is the homo ludens – the ‘playing man’ who, both as maker and viewer, is more than welcome here.