Opened in 1683 as the world’s first public museum, the Ashmolean Museum is named after its founder, the lawyer and antiquarian Elias Ashmole. His collection came from two gardeners, John Tradescant, father and son, who had gathered botanical, geological and zoological items as well as man-made objects from across the world. Since then, the Ashmolean has expanded greatly which resulted in the move of some of the founding collections to Oxford’s other university museums. Amongst almost a million objects spanning archaeology and art history, the Ashmolean holds the UK’s second largest collection of Dutch and Flemish art, including paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, ceramics and decorative arts. Most of these were acquired through gifts and bequests in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, such as Francis Douce’s bequest in 1834 containing thousands of old master prints and Chambers Hall’s 1855 gift of oil sketches, drawings and prints by artists such as Rembrandt, Anthony van Dyck and Peter Paul Rubens. Particularly impressive is the Daisy Linda Ward bequest which includes about 100 still-life paintings from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and which are on display in a dedicated gallery. The Ashmolean remains active in acquiring Dutch and Flemish art with a focus of late on Symbolists works on paper. Most recently, one of Van Dyck’s portrait paintings from his first Antwerp period was acquired through the Acceptance in Lieu of Inheritance tax scheme. Portrait of a Woman, possibly Gertrudis Wiegers is an early rare portrait, in that it portrays a non-aristocratic sitter in a full-length format.
An Van Camp, Christopher Brown Curator of Northern European Art (July 2021)