Information from the museum, 15 December 2015
The Mauritshuis is famous for its Dutch and Flemish paintings dating from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries, as well as a small number of German works from the sixteenth century. The collection offers a comprehensive and compact overview that. Most of the roughly 850 works in the collection are paintings, of which around 250 are on permanent display in the Mauritshuis itself, with a further 150 in the Prince William V Gallery. In addition, 150 works are on long-term loan to museums in the Netherlands and abroad. Only 300 remain behind closed doors in storage. Yet it seems a shame that these works are never, or rarely, put on display. This is why the Mauritshuis has decided to show a selection of the best and worst works from 4 February to 8 May, which will be taken off their racks especially for the occasion.
The Mauritshuis sets the bar high when it comes to the quality of its exhibited works. This is a result of the limited space available in the museum, as well as the fact that the collection contains so many masterpieces. Paintings that would be hung without a moment’s hesitation anywhere else have to be kept in storage for shorter or longer periods, simply because the available exhibition space is limited.. These works are often used to replace pieces when, for example they require have to conservation treatment or are loaned to another museum for an exhibition.
Why in storage?
A selection of twenty-five paintings will be presented in groups In the exhibition. The central question is always: why are those works not on display in the galleries? It will reveal how conservation treatment can promote a piece from storage to a gallery, as is the case with Merry Company in a Park by Esaias van de Velde. Dimensions, condition and numbers can also explain why a work does not form part of the permanent display at the Mauritshuis. For example, a series of 25 officer portraits by Hague painter Jan van Ravesteyn dating from the early seventeenth century will be displayed in its entirety for the first time since the eighteenth century.
The selection of paintings contains a number of surprises: Andy Warhol, for example, is probably not a name you would associate with the Mauritshuis. His Portrait of Queen Beatrix was purchased in 1986 since it is customary in Dutch government buildings to have a portrait of the head of state displayed. A trawl through the works in storage sometimes offers up surprises for the curators, who are very familiar with the collection. Paintings that were removed from the galleries over the years and so disappeared from sight can suddenly seem a perfect fit for the permanent display, as was the case with Imaginary Landscape with St. John on Patmos by the Flemish painter Hans Bol.
Some paintings, such as an anonymous small work on copper depicting Simeon and the Christ Child, will never leave storage because they are simply not good enough to be put on show. Others cannot be displayed because they are in such poor condition. The Portrait of a Man by Karel Slabbaert, for example, hung in less than ideal conditions for many years in the then Dutch East Indies. Among other problems, the extreme climate caused the painting’s paint layer to crack dramatically.
Sometimes a celebrated purchase later reveals itself to be a ‘royal’ mistake. In 1821 King William I acquired a collection for the Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis that included works by great masters such as Raphael, Titian and Velázquez. Unfortunately it turned out to be a collection of inferior works that would quickly be sold on. One of the few paintings that did remain in the Mauritshuis was a highly optimistic attribution to Raphael. This Female Figure is now thought to be the work of an anonymous Italian artist and the painting has not left storage for many years.