CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Dutch windmills: art and industry

Exhibition: 16 August - 13 December 2005

Willem Roelofs, On the Gein River near Abcoude, Rijksmuseum

From the museum website

From 16 August to 6 December 2005, the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam Schiphol will be exhibiting typical Dutch windmills. The collection consists not only of paintings of windmills by famous painters such as Gabriël, Roelofs and Jongkind, but also of a number of very ingenious 18th century models. In showing this exhibition, the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam hopes to give the thousands of passengers who travel through Amsterdam Airport Schiphol monthly a glimpse of this distinctive part of the Dutch cultural heritage and in doing so, of the richness and diversity the Rijksmuseum collection itself has to offer.

Although the Dutch did not actually invent using wind to turn mills, windmills are considered typically Dutch. The perception that windmills are typically Dutch can be traced to the 17th century Netherlands and the explosive development of the economy and the culture at that time. Using windmills to pump water from lakes and polder ditches, the lakes were converted into fertile land. What is more, windmills were a vital tool for sawing lumber for shipbuilding, transforming rags into paper, trees into boards, grain into flour and seeds into oil.

The windmills served a practical purpose, but in the 17th century they also developed into a cultural phenomenon in the Netherlands. Painters and artists discovered windmills for the first time, using them to portray the ‘new Netherlands’ at the beginning of the 17th century. Windmills remained a favourite subject until the early 20th century. Thanks to the Hague school painters, such as Jongkind, Roelofs and Gabriël, the windmill theme even experienced a boom. This movement is well represented in the exhibition at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam Schiphol. The 18th century models of polder-draining mills and sawmills are accompanied by various artefacts, including a richly illustrated 17th century map of the Netherlands, magnificent 17th century silver windmill beakers and a map signed by the famous engineer Leeghwater that he used to demonstrate how the Haarlemmermeer lake could be drained.