CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Jane Turner

Reflections of an Old Master Curator, 1978–2018:
Was the Grass Really Greener 40 Years Ago?

Jane Shoaf Turner, Head of the Print Room, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam


The origins of the proverb “The grass is always greener on the other side” date back to Ovid (Art of Love, 1 bc), who said: “the harvest is always richer in another man’s field.” The proverb was updated by the Dutch humanist and theologian Erasmus, whose Latin version, Fertilior seges est alieno semper in arvo, was first translated into English by Richard Raverner in 1545 as: “The corne in an other mans ground semeth euer more fertyll and plentifull then doth oure own” (“The corn in another man’s ground seems ever more fertile and plentiful than our own does.”)

It is all too easy to look back with nostalgia at the way museum activities associated with the Old Masters were different four decades ago. But was it always better? Was the grass really greener 40 years ago? Is it just a myth?

What, in fact, have we lost? What have we gained? This will be a light-hearted (and serious) look at the challenges we face today in our roles as curators of Old Masters. How best to embrace the reality of our current situation? The secret to our future success, if we are to believe Buddha, is to learn to appreciate the opportunities that we have and not to regret what we no longer have.

About Jane Turner

Jane Turner, a specialist in Dutch sixteenth- and seventeenth-century drawings, has been head of the Rijksprentenkabinet since 2011, a position she combines with that of Editor of Master Drawings, the leading international journal in the field of Old Master drawings. Having studied art history at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, she began her career in 1978 at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York, where she was one of the three authors of the permanent catalogue of Netherlandish and Flemish drawings (1991) and the main author of their catalogue of Dutch drawings (2006). From 1985 until 2001 she worked for Macmillan Publishers in London, serving as the Editor in charge of the 34-volume encyclopedia, The Dictionary of Art. Her recent academic projects include co-authoring the permanent collection catalogue of Dutch and Flemish drawings at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (2014); co-editing the Rijksmuseum exhibition catalogue Home and Abroad: Dutch and Flemish Landscape Drawings from the John and Marine van Vlissingen Art Foundation (2015–16); and organizing the Rijksmuseum exhibition Frans Post: Animals in Brazil (2016). On Rembrandt’s birthday in 2017 (15 July), her updated and edited texts by Peter Schatborn of the Rijksmuseum’s drawings by Rembrandt were launched in the first of the RPK’s online collection catalogues.

Jane Turner has been a member of CODART since 2010