National museums in the Netherlands

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Publicerad: 2011-09-30


ISSN: 1650-3686 (tryckt), 1650-3740 (online)


Geographically speaking; national museums in the Netherlands constitute of a group that is; comparative to other countries; more evenly distributed between the country’s major cities than is generally the case - reflecting; to a certain extent; the nation’s origins in a union of individual provinces. Although an important branch of national museums developed in the Hague in the nineteenth century as the direct initiative of the monarchy founded in 1815; this has not been; as in Belgium; the unique driving force of nationally representative museums – and there has been no concentration of national museums in the capital – as Amsterdam was not the main seat of the royal house. So it is that some of the oldest museums; related to the monarchy; are situated in The Hague; but that Amsterdam and Leiden both constitute important centres for national museums. The creation of the museums in each of these cities is related to different forms of initiative and origins. One can; in a sense; historically relate more civic and private initiatives to certain museums in Amsterdam; in the case of The Hague; the most important museums relate directly to the projects of the monarchy and in Leiden; to the development of the University. This is something we will show in our twinned case studies; by considering in parallel the evolution of the national beaux-arts museums in Amsterdam and in The Hague and museums related to ethnography and the colonial enterprise in Amsterdam and in Leiden.

The Dutch central government developed a generous though somewhat uncoordinated system of museum subsidisation in the twentieth century and the network of national museums was very much expanded during this time thanks to the initiative and generosity of private collectors (Rovers; 2009). Indeed; a strong tradition of private patronage has helped the national museums develop since the beginning of the nineteenth century and one might mention Teylers Museum or Tropenmuseum but it is also the case of certain art collections (Krul; 2009).

The number of museums currently under the administration of a central government agency is about 50 in total (Ministry of Education; Culture and Science; 2006: 75). Of these; 30 are related to the Ministry of Education; Culture and Science; 11 to the Ministry of Defence and others; such as the Ministry of Finance; run the Dutch coin museum in Utrecht or the Tax Museum in Rotterdam for example; whilst the Ministry for Foreign Affairs finances the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam (cf. Table).

A plan for the modernisation of collection management of Dutch museums called the Deltaplan (1992) has been implemented since 1988 to achieve greater efficiency in terms of museum and collection management; initiating major renovation and inventory schemes. In parallel; a plan was implemented to completely reorganise state museum financing in a way that has led to increasing financial autonomy and also independence of management generally. Since 2005 however; the state has gone back to a more general system of subsidisation that allows for any museum (be they attached to a central government ministry or not) to apply for state funding.

Out of the thirty nationally-owned state museums; our choice of the most important museums in the Netherlands was made to reflect the geographical spread of these institutions and the principal values that they tend to project. Indeed; as shown by our short study of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Mauritshuis in The Hague (two of the most frequently visited Dutch museums); Dutch national culture seems to be predominantly represented by the paintings of the Golden Age. The rising sense of nationalism related to the First World War is considered with the case of the Open Air Museum of Arnhem; all the more interesting as it has tried to modernise its foundational concept; moving from a nostalgic vision of country life; to a museology that also uses recent developments in habitat as a means to address social and political issues more pertinent and relevant to contemporary Dutch society. Generally speaking; one finds few museums dealing with issues of religious conflicts – although this might be expected given Dutch history. Dutch relations to its very important colonial past; which formed the basis for the country’s wealth and economic growth up until the decolonization that followed the Second World War; will be considered in a parallel study of the two principal ethnology museums in the Netherlands. The most recent creation in terms of national museums; the Zuiderzee Museum deals with more politically neutral but important environmental issues. Not all museums of importance for national identity can be dealt with in the context of this report; such as the Vincent Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam; one of the most frequented museums in Holland. In the category of small museums; which however do seem to relate to essential aspects of Dutch history; one should mention: Anne Frank House and the Dutch Resistance Museum (see Annex table).


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Mauritshuis: http://www.mauritshuis.nl/

Openluchtmuseum; Arnhem: http://www.openluchtmuseum.nl/en/

Riksmuseum Amsterdam: http://www.rijksmuseum.nl/?lang=en

Tropenmuseum: http://www.tropenmuseum.nl/-/5853/Tropenmuseum

Zuiderzeemuseum: http://www.zuiderzeemuseum.nl/en/4/the-museum/

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