Rotterdam: her port, her ships, her skyscrapers… A picture postcard. Really? Completely destroyed during the Second World War, the city was rebuilt from scratch based on the New York grid model. Even though this recent reconstruction sometimes makes the city appear somewhat fake, some buildings, Rotterdam Central railway station in particular, are definitely worth a visit. The Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum should be viewed with the same mind-set, as a priceless crown jewel of Art in an ever-changing city.
On his deathbed in June 1847, Franz Jacob Otto Boijmans decided to bequeath his vast art collection to the city of Rotterdam. The Boijmans Museum opened its doors on July 3rd, 1849. Unfortunately, in 1864, a fire destroyed most of the collection. In 1935, the Museum’s director Dirk Hannema thought it was high time to give these exceptional works a new lease of life. He therefore entrusted Ad Van der Steur with the design of a new building, which was swiftly erected in the Museumpark. In 1958, the huge collection expanded further still thanks to a donation by Daniël George Van Beuningen, whose name was then appended to the museum’s. No more Boijmans Museum. Posterity would now remember the name of Boijmans Van Beuningen, putting the final nail in the coffin of a century of artistic philanthropy. Now well established, the collection keeps growing as a result of – public or anonymous – donations…
But enough history, let’s talk art
True enough, the exterior of the Boijmans Van Beuningen does not look like much; yet, a church porch beckons the visitor out of the weather into a cosy lobby. This opens up into a timeless building, in sharp contrast with the city’s relative modernity. Divided into two wings, the museum houses, in addition to its permanent collection, temporary exhibitions (of varying quality to be honest). By paying two or three euro more, the visitor does not take a huge risk and yet is offered an unexpected perspective.
With the risk of being accused of misusing emphatic language, we have to say that the museum is a must-see. Just leaf through the huge catalogue of artists’ works on display and you will agree: Breughel, Rubens, Rembrandt, Degas, Monet, Dali, Picasso, Van Gogh… complemented by Kandinsky, Cézanne, Magritte and another Rothko: that’s all?! From this point of view, there’s no doubt that the Boijmans will allow you to mentally cross out some names on your bucket list of must-see art. Beyond this avalanche of names, its impressive collection also offers an unparalleled look at the evolution of Dutch painting throughout history. Indeed, presented in chronological order, the exhibits themselves demonstrate the superior quality of pictorial art in the Netherlands. No need to hurry through: the museum only reveals itself to those who take the time to linger there. Don’t make the mistake of visiting it at a fast pace. All you will get from seeing all that art too fast is some kind of huge blur. Sit down, stroll, this can only improve your visit.
Each new room you enter opens up onto the influences and styles of the artists it is dedicated to. The whole complex is definitely organised in a coherent way and provides a very good overview of developments and controversies that peppered art production from the Middle Ages to the present. You will come out from the permanent collection with mixed feelings. Sure, you won’t stop marvelling at the level of details of The “Little” Tower of Babel painted by Brueghel the Elder, or Claude Monet’s incredible vision, but some anonymous works will manage to move you a lot more than some of the headliners. Food for thought, considering the place given to these sidekicks, forgotten in the teachings of Art History with capital letters. If great artists invariably leave their mark on their era, good paintings are, for their part, timeless.
Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum