CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Backers over de vloer: een Amsterdamse familie in beeld

Backers in residence: a portrait of an Amsterdam family Exhibition: 26 October 2010 - 13 November 2011

From the museum press release, 16 November 2010

Opening on 26 November, Willet-Holthuysen Museum presents Backers in Residence, an exhibition about the Backer family, a patrician family in Amsterdam. Series of portraits and various objets d’art illustrate the family’s history. The Backer Family collection, on loan to the museum, is one of the best preserved family collections in the Netherlands.

To mark the foundation’s hundredth anniversary this remarkable heritage is shown for the first time since 1951 in all its splendor.

With the appointment of Willem Backer (1595-1652) to the post of burgomaster, the family entered the highest political circles. One of his claims to fame was his – unsuccessful – campaign for the completion of the Nieuwe Kerk tower. In fact part of its base still stands. His grandson, also called Willem Backer (1656-1731), took no part in political life, devoting his time instead to studying his own family history. He commissioned Nicolaes Maes to paint portraits of himself and his wife. He also commissioned Jan van Mieris to paint a modernized portrait of his grandfather and copies of portraits of his father and father-in-law.

The next generation of Backers continued the family tradition of collecting ancestors. Additions were made to the extraordinary family album of dozens of family portrait drawings. The importance that members of the family attached to these portraits is evident from the legal battle that erupted in 1731 between the Backer and De la Court families for control of Willem Backer’s estate. The latter’s daughter Catharina, a gifted painter of flowers, found herself caught between the conflicting claims of her brother and her husband.

The collection owes its breadth to the generations of Backers that commissioned artists to make additional items for the portrait gallery and who treasured and preserved the collection. It was they who ensured that it remained largely intact. In 1910, Johan Ferdinand Backer founded the Backer Foundation, as stipulated in the will of his late father, Cornelis Backer (1828-1908). This guaranteed the survival of the collection. In 1954, it passed to Willet-Holthuysen Museum on permanent loan. Since when, selections from the collection have regularly featured there.


Backer. Een Amsterdamse familie in beeld
Femke Diercks, with S.A.C. Dudok van Heel and Norbert E. Middelkoop
96 pp., 70 illustrations, paperback
Publication in conjunction with an exhibition held in Amsterdam (Museum Willet-Holthuysen) in 2009/10
Zwolle (Waanders) 2010
ISBN-13: 9789040077173