Female artists take center stage at Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum

·2-min read
The Rijksmuseum Gallery of Honor is now home to several paintings by female Dutch artists.

For the first time in its history, the Rijksmuseum will hang artworks by female Dutch masters in its most prestigious gallery, giving pride of place to artists all-too-long overlooked. The initiative seeks to give more visibility to female artists, according to the Amsterdam museum.

A high point of any visit to the Rijksmuseum is evidently the Gallery of Honor, a vast nave-like space that's home to Dutch Master paintings of the 17th century, such as Rembrandt's "The Night Watch" and Johannes Vermeer's "The Milkmaid." Now, the gallery is also home to works by female artists, including "Serenade" by Judith Leyster, "Still Life with Flowers in a Glass Vase" by Rachel Ruysch and "Memorial Portrait of Moses ter Borch" by Gesina ter Borch.

The arrival of these three paintings in the Gallery of Honor marks a turning point in the history of the Rijksmuseum, which is seeking to reexamine the role of women in Dutch culture. "The museum is catching up in the field of women's history," says Jenny Reynaerts, curator of 19th-century painting at the Rijksmuseum, in the statement. "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."

Where are the female artists?

As well as hanging paintings by female Dutch artists in its main gallery, the Rijksmuseum recently launched a research program on women's contribution to Dutch cultural history and women's representation in its collection. According to Artnet News, the museum's curators have already identified 29,311 objects by almost 3,000 women, including 158 paintings -- or less than 1% of the paintings housed by the museum. However, the experts don't know how many works by female artists are represented in the Rijksmuseum's one-million-piece collection.

In recent years, the question of gender parity in museums has been a subject of much interest in the art world. In 2019, research from the US looked at the composition of the collections of 18 major US museums. Overall, the study found that 87% of artists in the museums' collections were male. The same year, another report from Artnet and In Other Words revealed that just 11% of artworks acquired by the country's leading museums in the previous decade were by female artists. Faced with these figures, certain cultural institutions, like the Baltimore Museum of Art, pledged to acquire only work by female artists in 2020.

Caroline Drzewinski