CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Dutch Art in a Global Age: Masterpieces from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Exhibition: 19 April - 14 July 2024

The exhibition brings together more than 100 paintings, prints, maps and decorative art objects spanning the seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth centuries by the period’s leading Dutch artists, including Rembrandt, Jacob van Ruisdael, Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Willem Kalf and Rachel Ruysch. Representing the highest artistic achievement, these works are considered in the context of global exchange and colonialism. The display explores how Dutch preeminence in international maritime trade and the influx of new goods and information transformed life in the Netherlands and led to a remarkable cultural flowering. The art of this period reflects how the Dutch wished to represent themselves, their ideals and their concerns. Few artists addressed the human toll of colonialism head-on, but many paintings reveal the influence of international expansion on Dutch art and society. The exhibition addresses these complex histories through up-to-date scholarship, contextualizing seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Dutch art in a fresh, compelling way.

The presentation is organized into six sections that address not only the positive image the Dutch wished to project but also the dark side of their new prosperity. This includes urban poverty and the Netherlands’ role in the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism. These topics have rarely been addressed in important art exhibitions.

  • The World at Home” begins with still life paintings that demonstrate the outstanding technical prowess of Dutch artists. Juxtaposing still lifes with examples of Chinese porcelain, Dutch Delftware and intricate silver objects, this section foregrounds the foreign origins of new luxury products that shaped daily life.
  • The World Beyond” illustrates the establishment of trading posts and colonies in various foreign countries and investigates the exploitation at the heart of these enterprises. Images of the sea, foreign landscapes, harbors and ships evoke global trade networks dominated by the Dutch East India Company, the world’s first multinational corporation, founded in 1602, and the Dutch West India Company, established in 1621.
  • Amsterdam as a Cosmopolitan Hub” showcases the prosperity and explosive growth of the urban environment. Paintings and prints evince Amsterdam’s new position as a trading center through views of a new stock exchange, warehouses, shipyards, churches, newly constructed neighborhoods and the ambitious canal system that connected them all.
  • “Global Citizens” reviews the evolving identity of the Dutch. Its society was one of the most diverse in Europe, encompassing immigrant groups of religious refugees, itinerant laborers and displaced minorities, including Amsterdam’s African Atlantic community of sailors, soldiers, craftspeople and servants. This section features superb painted portraits and a rich selection of Rembrandt etchings.
  • “Celebrating the Familiar” reflects the renewed pride in the beauty of the Dutch homeland as a counterweight to global expansion. Artists such as Jan van Goyen, Jacob van Ruisdael, Philips Koninck and Hendrick Avercamp developed new styles of naturalistic landscapes that took inspiration from the distinctive local terrain, while others specialized in humble scenes of domestic animals.
  • “Conspicuous Consumption” refers to the immense riches many Dutch individuals amassed and the resulting changes in consumer habits. Some paintings seem to endorse new products — including sugar, tobacco, coffee and tea — central to this ethos of cosmopolitan prosperity, while other images seem more critical.

This exhibition was curated by Anna C. Knaap, assistant curator of paintings; Frederick Ilchman, Mrs. Russell W. Baker curator of paintings and chair of art of Europe; and colleagues at the MFA. Many of the included works are recent gifts or loans from Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo and Susan and Matthew Weatherbie, whose donations have elevated the MFA’s Dutch holdings to among the finest in the world. This exhibition is organized in partnership with the Center for Netherlandish Art (CNA) at the MFA. Christopher D. M. Atkins, the Van Otterloo-Weatherbie Director of the CNA, edited the innovative publication that accompanies the exhibition. Through an expansive library, a residency fellowship program and an active slate of public and academic programs, the CNA shares Dutch and Flemish art with wide audiences in Boston and beyond; stimulates multidisciplinary research and object-based learning; nurtures future generations of scholars and curators in the field; and expands public appreciation of Netherlandish art — especially works from the seventeenth century.