Rijksmuseum highlights the work of female artists for the first time

Memorial Portrait of Moses ter Borch, 1667/1669. Gesina ter Borch (1633-1690) and her brother Gerard ter Borch (1617-1681)

For the first time in its history, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is exhibiting work by women artists in the Gallery of Honour. Paintings by Judith Leyster, Gesina ter Borch and Rachel Ruysch will soon be on permanent display among the 17th-century works by Frans Hals, Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt. This move aims to highlight the underexposure of women in Dutch cultural history.

Taco Dibbits, Director of the Rijksmuseum: Women play an important role in the cultural history of the Netherlands. Until now, however, women have been missing from the Rijksmuseum’s Gallery of Honour. It is crucial that we keep examining and enriching the Rijksmuseum’s centuries-old collection from new perspectives. We do so through both research and presentation. By asking new questions and studying a range of sources and objects, we can provide a more complete story of the Netherlands.

Research programme

The Rijksmuseum recently started a multi-pronged research programme on women’s contribution to Dutch cultural history and their representation in the Rijksmuseum collection. The study aims to establish the number of female artists, investigate their life stories and track down the frequently absent information about women portrayed in art. It also includes a survey of female collectors, patrons, donors and curators that examines how the collection has arisen, and the institutional history of the Rijksmuseum.

Jenny Reynaerts, curator of 19th-century painting at the Rijksmuseum and chair of the research programme: The museum is catching up in the field of women’s history. The Rijksmuseum’s permanent exhibition presents a picture of the culture of the Netherlands over the centuries. Remarkably little of this story, however, is told from a female perspective. This is evident both in the composition of the collection and in the lack of documented knowledge of the role of women in Dutch history.

Women’s Stories

The Rijksmuseum has lots to say about the women in its collection – for example, in various Rijksmuseum Stories about women in art and history, or in the Rijksmuseum podcast in which Janine Abbring talks (in Dutch) about Gesina ter Borch with curator of drawings Ilona van Tuinen.

The Rijksmuseum will open as soon as it becomes possible. After lockdown, the following works will be on display in the Gallery of Honour:

  • The Serenade, 1629. Judith Leyster (1609-1666)
  • Memorial Portrait of Moses ter Borch, 1667/1669. Gesina ter Borch (1633-1690) and her brother Gerard ter Borch (1617-1681)
  • Still Life with Flowers in a Glass Vase (c. 1690 – c. 1720). Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750)

Apropos of this, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles has just announced the acquisition of a major work by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-c.1654), the most celebrated woman painter of 17th-century Italy.

Watch out for the upcoming ArtsTalk Radio programme which will feature an interview with art historian Wendy Fossen of Casa dell’Arte talking with Souwie Buis about the Rijksmuseum paintings and women artists in general