CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Fantasie & werkelijkheid. Diertekeningen in het Rijksmuseum

Animal Drawings Through the Ages Exhibition: 15 September 2016 - 8 January 2017

New works on display in the Print Rooms of the Rijksmuseum

From fierce predators to the tiniest of creatures, the wonders of the animal kingdom have been reflected in art for centuries. Artists have made studies from life, from their imagination or based on (tall) tales often far removed from reality. From 15 September, drawings will be exhibited, including those by Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617), Rembrandt (1606-1669), Paulus Potter (1625-1654), Rochus van Veen (1630-1693), Aert Schouman (1710-1792) and Willem Witsen (1860-1923).

Animal studies by Frans Post

The presentation ties in with the exhibition entitled Frans Post. Animals in Brazil, which can be seen in the Philips Wing from 7 October. In 1636, this artist from Haarlem travelled to Brazil to depict the landscape and native flora and fauna. He made drawings of all kinds of Brazilian animals, including anteaters, capybaras, armadillos and monkeys. His animal studies, which were recently discovered in the Noord-Hollands Archief in Haarlem, will be exhibited for the first time together with his Brazilian landscape paintings and stuffed specimen from the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden.

From life

Frans Post was in an unusual position in that he could study these exotic animals in Brazil from life. Less adventurous artists became familiar with the native flora and fauna in far-flung places thanks to stories told by the explorers and merchants of the Dutch East India Company and West India Company. In addition, newly discovered animal species – if they survived the long sea journey – found homes in the menageries of European princes.

Some artists were given the opportunity to study and draw them live there. These included the artist from Haarlem, Hendrick Goltzius, who, at the end of the 16th century, drew a rhesus monkey, recognizable by its pinkish face, framed by fur. The monkey was likely brought to Europe by a merchant visiting Asia, its native region. Rembrandt, too, drew live exotic animals if the opportunity arose, including a lion which he must have seen in the second half of the 17th century. The artist sketched the animal without hesitation, using quick strokes just before the lion moved.

Animal models

Animals in and around the house, such as cows, pigs, and dogs, were also popular subjects among artists in the 17th century. In the Netherlands, there was even a special genre devoted to this, namely the cattle piece. The greatest Dutch cattle painter was Paulus Potter, of whom a number of exceptional works on paper are exhibited by the Rijksmuseum. He not only studied cows in the meadow, but probably also used sculpted or cast models of animals, which he drew from various angles.

Scientific interest in the animal kingdom grew in de 18th century. Known, but especially unknown exotic species were systematically described and classified. Artists responded to the demand of collectors for finished studies of diverse animal species. What is more: the more brightly coloured they were, the better. The artist, Aert Schouman, from Dordrecht, was praised for the intensity of colours he used to depict toucans, parrots and birds of paradise.


With the founding of Artis Zoo in Amsterdam in 1838, artists were able to study and draw all kinds of living animals. August Allebé was a regular visitor. More than anybody else, he succeeded in capturing the character of the animals he drew. Otto Eerelman, an artist from Groningen, also paid a great deal of attention to the character traits of the dogs he portrayed. An impressive watercolour of a Newfoundlander is one example of where the friendly, loyal traits of the species are naturally and accurately reflected.

Alternating presentations

The presentations in these print rooms are changed once per year because works on paper cannot be exposed to light for too long. This offers the Rijksmuseum the opportunity to display a greater number of works from its rich prints and drawings collection.

The presentation Fantasy & Reality. Animal drawings in the Rijksmuseum can be seen from 15 September 2016 through to 8 January 2017 in the print rooms on each floor of the museum.