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Buying for Boijmans: the story behind a recent museum acquisition

4 April 2014

TEFAF’s new chairman has described last month’s art fair in Maastricht as ‘like a huge eclectic museum where everything is for sale’. Some of those things eventually make their way into actual museums, whose staff visit the fair on the search for new acquisitions. One such work was The Balcony Room at ‘Spurveskjul’ by Vilhelm Hammershøi, purchased from Daxer & Marschall on behalf of the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen.

How do museum curators, faced with an art fair full of high quality works, decide what to buy for their permanent collections? We asked Sjarel Ex, the director of the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, to tell us more:

Could you tell us a bit about The Balcony Room at ‘Spurveskjul’? Why did you want to acquire it?

This painting by Vilhelm Hammershøi is an oil paint sketch made in 1911 of a room in his favourite summerhouse close to Copenhagen. Later he used that same spot and situation for a self-portrait. The sketch shows especially the architecture and the light in the space, there is no figure or figuration around. The work is done in shades of black and white, in grey colours too, and painted with big, open brush. You see the light form the woods; more precisely the darkness of the neighbouring woods, entering the room. It is a remarkable work that studies the light in all its features.

The painting connects with 17th century works in the museum collection by De Hooch, Metsu, Saenredam and has the same kind of atmospheres of a Morandi still life; very slow and contemplative. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen recently acquired an installation by Oscar Tuazon, made in 2013, consisting of a gallery wall and a door that is permanently opened. Even this works connects in a very special way with this acquisition. Schoonhoven, or a not so well known artist like Ad Dekkers, or maybe a Robert Ryman, will be great in a room with these works. We look very much forward to working with the painting.

How will it complement the work already in the museum’s collection?

It will open a new realm of connections and associations. It is the first Hammershøi in a Dutch public collection.

Were you looking for specific works or artists to acquire at TEFAF?

Not in particular, the first time we thought it would be worthwhile to acquire one of the great painters from Scandinavia, and Denmark in particular, was about 10 years ago though, when we finished our present plan of acquisitions. The artistic connections between both countries from the 17th century onwards are so obvious and the quality of Danish painting around 1900 is impressive.

Could you tell us a bit about how you organise the acquisitions budget, and how it sits within the broader development of the museum?

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen has an annual acquisitions budget of 50.000 euros. Cultural foundations, the BankGiro Lottery, private fundraising, tax deduction facilities and so on, supply us with the extra means the museum needs. Last year the museum bought for 2,2 million euros, the years before in general too. In this particular case the Rembrandt Association gathered on request around the work in the first hours of TEFAF, which made it possible for the museum to purchase this work directly.

Vilhelm Hammershøi.

The Balcony Room at ‘Spurveskjul’ (Sparrow’s Nest) Vilhelm Hammershøi. Collection Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

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