CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Ronald De Leeuw to Step down as General Director of the Rijksmuseum in 2008

Museum press release, 4 October 2007

Ronald de Leeuw (1948), who has served as General Director of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam since late 1996, will step down in the summer of 2008. He will go into retirement and will end his career as a museum director. During this period, the Rijksmuseum embarked on the large-scale renovation, which will culminate in a completely revamped museum. Although the Supervisory Board has approved Mr De Leeuw’s resignation, it regrets his decision to leave the Rijksmuseum after serving for more than eleven years as General Director. According to Chairman Thony Ruys, “We would have liked to see the renovation project through to completion under De Leeuw’s directorship, but we respect his wish to stand down. He chose a good time to leave; we recently received the building permit at the end of the permitting procedure and a definitive design will be drafted from the plans for the new exhibition layout.


After studying art history in Los Angeles and Leiden, Mr De Leeuw worked from 1977 to 1985 at the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage in The Hague (“Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst”), where he organised exhibitions for venues in the Netherlands and abroad. Starting in 1986, he served for 11 years as Director of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and also worked as a special professor of museum policy and history of collection at VU University Amsterdam from 1994.  

The New Rijksmuseum

De Leeuw’s directorship was marked to a significant extent by the renovation project. In addition to an extensive renovation of the buildings, which will bring them up to date with the current climate control and safety requirements, The New Rijksmuseum project will also involve the creation of a completely new layout. Under his leadership, a main circuit with the motto “a feel for beauty, a sense of time” was designed, which provided a chronological overview of the Dutch art and history from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. Combining art and history in the same exhibition was also new, as these had previously been shown in separate departments.


During the early years of Mr De Leeuw’s directorship (1996-2003), the Rijksmuseum offered a varied programme, consisting of 15 to 20 temporary exhibitions. Highlights included Adriaen de Vries (1566-1626) in 1998, The splendour of the Golden Age in 2000, when the museum celebrated its 200th anniversary, and The Dutch encounter with Asia in 2002, which marked the 400th anniversary of the Dutch East India Company’s establishment. In late 2003, the main building was closed for renovation and the exhibition The Masterpieces was opened in the Philips Wing.

It was Mr De Leeuw’s ambition to continue showing the collection to as wide a public as possible during the renovation. Therefore, large portions of the collection remained on display in ten satellite museums in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany and exhibitions were organised in other Dutch museums, such as Masters of the Romantic Period, Dutch painting 1800-1850 in 2005 in the Kunsthal Rotterdam museum. In 2006, which was dubbed “Rembrandt Year” in honour of the painter’s 400th birthday, the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum joined forces to organise the exhibition Rembrandt-Caravaggio, which drew 400,000 visitors.

At the end of 2002, Mr De Leeuw added a Rijksmuseum annex in a unique location, when the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam Schiphol opened its doors at Schiphol airport. The annex features a permanent collection of ten artworks by famous 17th century masters, plus four temporary exhibitions a year.


A great many works were added to the Rijksmuseum’s core collection during this period. The 2004 acquisition of A burgher of Delft and his daughter by Jan Steen was a milestone: at 11.9 million euros, it was the museum’s most expensive purchase to date. Several years earlier the Rijksmuseum acquired three portraits by 17th century Flemish painter Jacob Jordaens.

Mr De Leeuw’s acquisition policy was directed particularly at international art and the 20th century collections which, until recently, were limited to historical artefacts, drawings and prints. In 2003, the museum acquired the painting Harbour scene at sunset by Frenchman Claude Lorrain. Important 20th century art acquisitions included Oostzijde mill on the Gein by Moonlight by Piet Mondriaan, the Portrait of Marie Jeanette de Lange by Jan Toorop, Johannes by Carel Willink and the Diepraam/Kempadoo photograph collection.

Research and publications

Over the last 11 years, the Rijksmuseum has issued many publications, ranging from free booklets for visitors and exhibition catalogues (approx. 50) to comprehensive catalogues featuring the silver and gold pieces from Amsterdam and hanging tapestries, amongst others, as well as the first parts of the catalogues of Golden Age drawings and paintings. In 1999, the Rijksmuseum also entered the digital age with the launch of its website, for which the museum has received international awards nearly every year since. At the end of this year, the Rijksmuseum will introduce OOG (‘eye’), which is a magazine about art and history that caters to a broader target group.


The museum’s fundraising efforts of recent years can also be deemed successful. Made possible in part thanks to agreements with its founder Philips Electronics and presenting partners BankGiro Loterij and ING, the Rijksmuseum itself contributed 45 million euros to the renovation. In addition to the donations accepted for The New Rijksmuseum, the museum also received contributions from both businesses and private parties which will go towards acquisitions, exhibitions and publications. Over 20 new funds were established in the names of the donors, and a friends’ organisation was founded in 2006.