Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category


1921 painting "Odalisque" by Henri Matisse from Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam


Posted on Nov 1 2013 – 11:00am by Randy Gener

In a shocking revelation, Dutch museums say that about 139 major works of art, including dozens of paintings by Henri Matisse, Paul Klee and Vassily Kandinsky, all presently hanging in their buildings may have been Nazi loot, all of it likely having been taken forcibly from Jewish owners.


The revelation is the result of a major in-house investigations of Dutch art acquisitions since 1933, a review that focused explicitly on pieces for which there was any gap in their ownership record during the years that Germany’s Nazi regime was appropriating works from Jews, either by forced sale or outright seizure.


Critics are wondering why it has taken the museums nearly 70 years to examine their collections in a systematic way after World War II.


“These objects are either thought or known to have been looted, confiscated or sold under duress,” said Siebe Weide, director of the Netherlands Museums Association. He said returning them is “both a moral obligation and one that we have taken upon ourselves.”


The tainted art involved 69 paintings, including French artist Henri Matisse’s 1921 “Odalisque” painting of a half-nude reclining woman, which hangs at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, one of the country’s top tourist draws.


All Dutch museums that hold art from before the war participated in the review. They have identified names of 20 definite looting victims and linked them with 61 of the works. The museums said they are in the process of contacting or seeking the heirs, including those of Jewish art dealer Albert Stern, the deceased owner of the Matisse.


The museum had purchased the Matisse painting from Lieuwe Bangma, Stern’s Dutch representative, in 1941. But Stern was its owner before the war and the Bangma family is known to have given aid to his granddaughters during the war.


The Dutch are not the first to undertake such a review in the wake of a 1998 international conference on looted art in Washington, D.C. that found previous attempts to return looted art didn’t go far enough. Attendees from 44 nations proclaimed the Washington Principles, declaring that “every effort should be made to publicize art that is found to have been confiscated by the Nazis” and have it returned.


Many American and British museums have already conducted thorough investigations that have led to the return of looted art, though nothing has been done on a nationwide basis. In Germany, a government-led, nationwide investigation is underway.


The main association of Dutch museums is also launching a website to help explain the existence of art of dubious provenance in their collections and assisting heirs in claims. Visit the website on the Internet here.

Click here for riginal article.


By RUSSELL SHORTO in the New York Times

It only recently occurred to me that one very fine if not exactly intentional purpose for historic preservation is to keep dead people alive. Having spent the past several years living in Amsterdam and researching a book about its history, I now find that virtually anywhere I walk in this city, whose center has been so tenderly and smartly maintained, I am jostled by ghosts.

Some of the ghosts never actually lived in Amsterdam but rather are perennially passing through, eternally re-enacting a moment they spent here.

Every time I cycle down the medieval Oudezijds Voorburgwal canal, for example, and turn to look through the stone gate that leads into the courtyard of the Grand Hotel, I get a glimpse of the reassuringly stolid figure of Winston Churchill, decked out in top hat and overcoat, beaming, tapping his cane on the pavement.

The building that the hotel occupies was a convent in the 16th century, and many other things after that; for much of the last century it served as City Hall, and after World War II, in which the Dutch suffered so much and which the British prime minister helped lead with his special intensity, he made a celebratory appearance here.

Whenever I’m heading west on the Haarlemmerdijk, meanwhile, I encounter a crowd of 19th-century proletariat types coming the other way, eagerly and nervously surrounding a serious man with a wiry mass of gray hair and beard: Karl Marx, who arrived in 1872 to urge workers to unite.

The train station used to be at the other end of this street; the leader of the Communist movement disembarked and headed this way, and lodged in my mind are the reports of the policemen who were assigned to follow his movements.

Not all the ghosts who populate my travels in Amsterdam are famous ones, though most seem to have done fairly consequential things in life. Walking down a narrow, dark alley called the Nes, which extends from the harbor toward the city center, can be a vacant experience — there are some interesting restaurants and bars but few tourist sites, and almost nothing seems of historical note.

But when I’m on the Nes I feel I’m about to run into a tall, handsome, wily man who in his day favored lace collars and a twisty little mustache. His name was Dirck van Os, and, while history has forgotten him, his house on this street (which, alas, no longer exists) could be considered the birthplace of capitalism.

Dirck van Os (Antwerpen 13 maart 1556 – Amsterdam 20 mei 1615) was een Amsterdams koopman.

For four months in 1602, Amsterdammers streamed into his parlor to buy pieces of a new kind of corporation, one that allowed backers to sell their portion at a later date, at a higher (or lower) value. The Dutch East India Company transformed the world, and it made Amsterdam, briefly and improbably, the most powerful city in the world.

But its biggest contribution to history may be in the fact that in this little alley van Os and his merchant colleagues gave birth to the concept of “shares of stock.” A few years later, a little farther down the street, came the first stock exchange. Things would never be the same.

Some ghosts are not attached to a particular street or neighborhood but are coaxed into being by a mood that settles over the city. In the 1870s a mercurial 24-year-old Dutchman from the southern part of the country spent a year here.

He came intending to train for the ministry, but discovered that he wasn’t suited for it. Instead, he roamed Amsterdam’s quays and harborfront, seething, fuming, confused, occasionally erupting with joy at things he observed: “these old, narrow, rather somber streets,” “a canal lined with elm trees,” “a stormy sky with big clouds reflecting in puddles on the ground,” “gnarled undergrowth and the trees with their strange shapes.”

He didn’t realize it, but Vincent van Gogh, though not yet an artist, was already painting, with words. For me, today, a heavy cloud reflected in a canal or a set of twisted tree trunks will summon, if not the artist himself, a manic flash akin to his.

Another vanished van Gogh, meanwhile, retains a spectral presence over the Linnaeusstraat, a broad avenue that runs along the Oosterpark. Vincent wrote the above observations to his brother, Theo, his closest confidante. A descendant of Theo’s, also Theo van Gogh, was a famous, and in many ways infamous, Amsterdam filmmaker and societal gadfly of recent memory. He was murdered here, on the street in front of his house, in 2004, in reaction to an anti-Islamic film he made. The event shocked the city and touched off waves of angst in Europe over immigration, which have yet to settle.

Of all the ghosts of Amsterdam, though, two stand far above the rest. I encounter one or the other almost daily. Somehow, their lives were lived in this city with such an intensity that they seem to have become part of it.

In the heart of Amsterdam a little iron drawbridge crosses the Kloveniersburgwal canal. Standing in the middle of it gives a panorama of views: up and down the canal, through a tiny cafe-cluttered street, down yet another street, through an ancient gateway into a courtyard, and to a place where the waters that flow through and around the city execute a complicated branching maneuver. As Gary Schwartz, an American-born Rembrandt scholar, once pointed out to me, from this spot you take in the Amsterdam that the greatest-ever Dutch master experienced.

Rembrandt van Rijn was born in Leiden, 30 miles away, but came to Amsterdam in his 20s, drawn by the city’s rapid rise and the many upwardly mobile merchants who would be likely customers. And once he arrived, he seems not only never to have left, but by and large to have restricted himself to this little zone. Virtually everything important Rembrandt did he did within a few minutes’ walk of this bridge.

Rembrandt figures so thoroughly in Amsterdam, I think, because he is intimately associated with the city’s greatest achievement. Amsterdam in his era pioneered many of the concepts embedded in the term “liberal,” which I mean not in the sex-and-drugs permissive sense (though that would come too) but, more deeply and broadly, as a philosophy based on the individual and individual freedom: the essence of what makes us modern.

Amsterdam led the rest of Europe away from the dogma that all authority came from monarch and church; rather, this new philosophy held, truth was based on reason — in the words of the Frenchman René Descartes, who also lived in Amsterdam — on “the mind and its good sense.” Central to this was a new awareness of oneself as an individual distinct from the group. And an outgrowth of this awareness was a sudden fascination with the human face — with portraits.

Rembrandt fed the portrait craze. We remember him for his dizzying output and his dexterity with so many styles of painting.

But his fame among his contemporaries came from his way with faces: his ability not just to paint what people looked like on the outside, but also to give a sense, which was shockingly and exhilaratingly new at the time, of the person within. In one two-year period, he churned out 42 portraits, many of people who lived in the houses in this neighborhood.

Rembrandt was a man on the rise, and he felt it appropriate that he live in this same area. He married Saskia van Uylenburgh, the cousin of his art dealer, and the two moved into a rental house just around the corner from the little iron bridge. The site of their house is now a big, modern airy cafe called De Jaren, where I spent a good portion of time writing my history of the city, and it was impossible, while doing such work in this spot, not to imagine the ambitious, arrogant artist barreling in and out of the place.

From his house it was a moment’s walk around the corner and over the bridge to a building on the left side of the street that housed, of all things, the board responsible for maintaining quality control on textiles that the city shipped out. Not a very exciting occupation, but even these men wanted their likenesses captured, and Rembrandt managed to give these seemingly quashingly bland officials an air of brooding mystery. “The Staalmeesters” (“staal” being Dutch for “sample”), while considered a masterpiece, eventually achieved a second kind of immortality when it was adopted as the logo for Dutch Masters cigars.

Just behind the bridge, meanwhile, a corner building (now a hotel) was the headquarters of one of the civic guard companies that were given the task of patrolling the city streets. They too were mad for images of themselves; they commissioned Rembrandt to paint their group portrait, and, love it or hate it, the result, “The Night Watch,” is considered one of the world’s great art treasures.

The ghosts of Rembrandt’s friends populate this neighborhood as well, and they too have associations with the city’s liberal heritage. The focus on the individual and the secular put Amsterdam at the cutting edge of science.

The square called the Nieuwmarkt, a short distance away from the bridge, is dominated by a squat medieval building called de Waag, or Weigh House, which has had many functions through the centuries.

Today its ground floor accommodates a restaurant; in the 17th century its upper chamber was the city’s anatomical theater. Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, the city’s chief physician and one of its most revered residents, performed public dissections here, and in the winter of 1631-2 (dissections took place in winter because the cold kept the stench down), the young Rembrandt tramped up here to make studies for what would be his first great painting. “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp,” in highlighting science, the human body and the distinctive personality of the physician, is a kind of trifecta of Dutch liberalism.

As Rembrandt reached the height of his fame, he bought a house a few streets away (the building is now the Rembrandt House Museum) that cost more than he could afford. That, plus the arrogance that eventually caused his patrons to flee, set off his slide into eventual bankruptcy.

In this house his wife died in childbirth. Here, too, he began a tempestuous affair with Geertje Dircx, the nurse he hired to care for the child. He tried to end the affair, but Geertje refused to be cast aside. He solved the problem by using his influence to have her committed to a workhouse.

For all the world-historic insight into humanity that his portraits show, he revealed himself, at the sad end of his life, to be adept at quite inhuman behavior.

Two years ago, my daughter and I took a walk together across Amsterdam, following in the footsteps of the historical figure who has become, so to speak, the city’s most famous export. Eva was 14 at the time, the same age as Anne Frank when she set out on her much more somber walk.

Probably every visitor to the city knows the Anne Frank House, where the girl and her family, along with a few other people, hid from the Nazis, and where Anne wrote her diary. That building, on the Prinsengracht, one of the grand central canals, was not the family’s normal residence but her father’s place of business.

They lived in the Rivierenbuurt, then a newly built area to the south of the central canal zone. In her diary Anne describes the day she, her father and her mother left their apartment for good, and walked to her father’s company, where a secret space had been built to house them. (Her sister, Margot, went separately, by bicycle.) Anne didn’t give the exact route they took, so Eva and I made a guess.

We started at Merwedeplein, the little plein, or square, that the Franks’ apartment looked out on. The apartment is today owned by the city, which honors the memory of its former inhabitants by making it available to foreign writers who have fled persecution.

We sat on a bench in the square and (at my urging) Eva read aloud the passage about the family’s departure: how they wore layers of clothing because carrying suitcases would tip off the Nazis that they were going into hiding. Then we set off. The neighborhood, which used to be the heart of Jewish Amsterdam, is a peaceful one. The buildings, dating from the period just before the Franks moved in, are surprisingly modern-looking.

Crossing a canal, we entered De Pijp, and things livened up. De Pijp is a ragged, busy neighborhood of falafel stands, artists’ lofts, yoga studios, Surinamese restaurants and coffee shops with reggae and pot smoke coming out their windows. It was a warm spring day and the sun gave the city an uncharacteristically drowsy feel.

The city the Franks walked through had been surprisingly calm for a time after the Nazi invasion. But then came the gray-and-green military vehicles of the occupiers. The razzias, roundups of Jews, began. The Franks were on foot that morning because Jews had been barred from public transportation (and from parks, libraries and restaurants). The great gift of the age of Rembrandt — the ennobling of the individual human being — was about to be ruthlessly stripped away.

Worse still, Amsterdammers themselves assisted in this violent betrayal of their liberal tradition. The city’s efficient administrators made it easier for Nazis to identify and remove Jews. As a result, a much greater percentage of Jews were murdered during the war than those of any other country. Amsterdam before the Holocaust had 80,000 Jews; today there are about 15,000.

Anne and her parents made it safely to the placid district of the central canals, the main tourist zone today, which had been built in the city’s Golden Age heyday. They slipped into the building where Otto Frank, Anne’s father, worked, and remained there until, two years later, they were caught and shipped off to concentration camps.

Eva and I walked past the Anne Frank House (which we’d visited several times before), and found a canalside cafe. Of course, our walk had been in part a typical parental ploy to instill something meaningful in a child. I asked Eva what she thought about it. She answered by saying, “Have you read Oliver Sacks? He’s amazing.”

I instantly recognized the non sequitur as a classic teenage gambit to thwart parental pedagogy, but it still worked. I was disoriented: surely it hadn’t been that long ago that she was enthralled by “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” Since when had she grown up to become a reader of neuroscientific case studies? Who was this person?

Then I recalled something that Otto Frank had written. He was the only member of the family to survive the war. He’d been stunned when he read the diary that his teenage daughter had left behind, and said it made him feel that he had never really known her.

What surprised him, was, I think, the very thing that made the diary an international sensation. It vividly displays both what Amsterdam’s history has always been about and what the Nazi occupation so vibrantly threatened: the mysterious complexity that is the individual human being.

This girl who would soon have the life crushed out of her represents not just the others who died without leaving words behind, but all of us. She showed us what human individuality is. And she did it, surprisingly enough, in the same way Rembrandt did: by painting a portrait.

As her father was shocked, and embarrassed, to discover, her diary reveals a full, deep, complicated person, who insists on continuing with her adolescent’s journey of self-discovery even as the swastikas paraded by outside: “It’s funny, but I can sometimes see myself as others see me. I take a leisurely look at the person called ‘Anne Frank’ and browse through the pages of her life as though she were a stranger.”

If ghosts who represent stages in the rise of individual freedom still haunt the streets of Amsterdam, making the city itself far greater than the sum of its museums and tourist sites, for me the spirit of this girl stands out above all the others because, in addition, she showed how fragile that freedom is.

Click here for the original article.

Tim's Vermeer

SEPTEMBER 2, 2013 | 10:14AM PT

Penn and Teller’s uncanny crowdpleaser begs the question, is it still a masterpiece if an amateur could do it?

Senior Film Critic@AskDebruge

So entertaining that audiences hardly even realize how incendiary it is, “Tim’s Vermeer” stirs up a flurry of scandal in the hallowed realm of art history. Obsessive inventor Tim Jenison has a hunch that the only explanation for the photorealistic quality evident in the work of 17th-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer is that he “cheated,” using lenses or some other technological apparatus to achieve such remarkable detail. Jenison devises a five-year science experiment to test his theory, emerging with an uncanny crowdpleaser — the secret weapon in Sony Pictures Classics’ fall arsenal — that plays like the ultimate episode of “MythBusters.”


Generally speaking, Americans like their art easy to understand and difficult to make. Walk up to an all-white canvas or a minimalist watercolor, and the average spectator thinks, “How can this be art? Even I could paint that!” The tighter the technique, the more people seem to admire the craft, which is one reason Vermeer is held in such high esteem, having left behind nearly three dozen paintings that astound in their accuracy, despite having been rendered a century and a half before the daguerreotype (but not before the camera obscura).

So what if someone told you that anybody could paint as well as Vermeer? Is it still a masterpiece if an amateur could do it? Jenison has millions of ideas and just as many dollars, which affords him the luxury of indulging his pet theories. Here, for the benefit of magician friends Penn and Teller (the latter serves as director, while Penn Jillette supplies a fair amount of on-camera context), Jenison resolves to prove that one needn’t possess any God-given artistic talent to achieve what Vermeer did, if only he could pin down the combination of lenses, mirrors and other 17th-century tools the artist used to commit the scenes he composed in his studio to canvas.

As “The Da Vinci Code” proved a few years back, people love to uncover the secrets locked away in the masterworks of art history, and though “Tim’s Vermeer” does nothing to interpret Vermeer’s work, it sheds new light on the way he might have gone about it. Technically, the notion that Vermeer might have used a camera obscura as an optical aid has been around for years, backed up by mathematical calculations in Philip Steadman’s book “Vermeer’s Camera.” Jenison proposes an even simpler solution involving a simple hand mirror, enlisting both Steadman and “Secret Knowledge” author — and artist — David Hockney to test his theories as he goes.

But Teller’s inventor/subject goes one step further than the scholars did, attempting to reproduce Vermeer’s “The Music Lesson” himself — and this is where the film crosses over into a fascinating tale of obsession, as Jenison uses his primary expertise (as founder of NewTek, he revolutionized the fields of computer graphics and digital video) to re-create the artist’s studio in a San Antonio warehouse. Using rendering tools to calculate the exact dimensions of every object seen in the original painting, from stained-glass windows to the models’ costumes, Jenison then constructs everything by hand and positions it just right in the room — a 213-day job, short by comparison with the actual task of painting.

One can’t help but laugh as Jillette supplies a running commentary on his friend’s lunatic scheme, for which (if Penn is to be believed) he even learned to read Dutch. Getting a perfectly calculated musical assist from master orchestrator Conrad Pope, whose score conveys the sheer intensity of Jenison’s focus, Teller observes the dedicated inventor grinding his own lenses, mixing period-appropriate oil paints and sitting down for months on end to create what, for all intents and purposes, amounts to a hand-painted color photograph of the scene.

“Tim’s Vermeer” is no mere art doc, however, as it places more attention on Jenison’s experiment than the process he’s attempting to uncover or the painter who inspired this bizarre journey. And though Jenison’s findings raise terrific questions about the nature of art (is Vermeer’s achievement in any way diminished if he used mirrors?), the extent of his genius (surely composition accounts for a great deal, no?) and the interpretation of his paintings (how to account for his presumed self-portraits?), Teller leaves such issues for someone else to consider. The result is just about the most fun you can have while learning, partly because it strips away any tangents beyond the task at hand, offering a lean, 80-minute account of how this crazy guy erected his own Everest and then proceeded to climb it.

Telluride Film Review: ‘Tim’s Vermeer’

Reviewed at Telluride Film Festival, Aug. 30, 2013. (Also in Toronto Film Festival — TIFF Docs; New York Film Festival.) Running time: 80 MIN.


(Documentary) A Sony Pictures Classics release presented in association with High Delft Pictures of a Penn & Teller production. Produced by Penn Jillette, Farley Ziegler. Executive producers, Peter Adam Golden, Glenn S. Alai, Tim Jenison, Teller.


Directed by Teller. Camera (color, HD/video), Shane F. Kelly; editor, Patrick Sheffield; music, Conrad Pope; re-recording mixer, Larry Blake; associate producer, Natalie Jenison.


Tim Jenison, Penn Jillette, Martin Mull, Philip Steadman, David Hockney, Colin Blakemore. (English, Dutch dialogue)

Original article found here.

Visitors can once again see Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” in all its glory following the reopening of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. Queen Beatrix has reopened her country’s national museum after a 10-year renovation.

Thousands cheered outside the Rijksmuseum on Saturday as Queen Beatrix officially declared the Netherland’s most-famous museum to be reopened. The move comes after a decade-long, 375 million euro ($480 million) renovation.

Fireworks marked the occasion, which saw the 75-year-old Queen Beatrix in one of her final official appearances before abdicating the throne to her son Willem-Alexander at the end of the month. The queen turned a golden key, opening the building to the cheering crowds.

Masters on display

The Rijksmuseum is home to works by Dutch masters Jan Steen, Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt van Rijn, among many others.

Rijksmuseum opens its doors after ten years

The Spanish architectural firm Cruz y Ortiz aimed to bring light into the dark, castle-like museum, as well as modern displays. By all accounts, they succeeded, as the renovation and new layout have been getting rave reviews in the media in recent weeks.

Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch,” widely viewed as the artist’s greatest work, is the only of the museum’s 8,000 works to be returned to its original display position. The canvas depicts an Amsterdam civic guard setting off on a march. It is approached along a Gallery of Honor, which also features works such as Vermeer’s “Woman Reading a Letter” and “The Merry Drinker” by Frans Hals.

Other of the museum’s prize possessions have been displayed in new sites under the new layout, with related paintings, furniture, silver and ceramics arranged in close proximity to each other.

A long wait

The renovation work took longer than expected and ended up costing more than originally estimated, with designers having to incorporate an existing bike path into their design. They also had to ensure that spaces below sea level in the museum would not flood.

The Rijksmuseum was originally built in 1885 and hosted 200,000 visitors annually. Prior to the renovation, one million visitors walked the museum’s halls each year. Following the reopening, museum administrators hope to double that to two million.

As many as 30,000 visitors were expected on Saturday alone, with the museum offering free entrance all day to mark the occasion.

Read the original article here.

AMSTERDAM — Rembrandt’s iconic masterpiece the “Night Watch” has been painstakingly returned to the main building of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum before its re-opening next month after a decade of renovations.

Removing the priceless painting from a temporary wing and moving it to the main building Wednesday was an operation of almost military precision.

Dozens of police stood guard as it was slid into a climate-controlled crate and cranes were used to lift it out of one gallery and into another.

The 1642 oil painting of one of Amsterdam’s citizen militias, officially titled “The Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch,” measures 3.79 meters by 4.53 meters (12.43 x 14.86 feet) and weighs 337 kilograms (743 pounds).

Read the original article and view a slideshow here.

Original Reuters article found here

By Robert-Jan Bartunek and Thomas Escritt

BRUSSELS/AMSTERDAM | Mon Dec 3, 2012 10:26am EST

(Reuters) – The Netherlands and Belgium are two countries that pride themselves on progressive laws and open societies, but critics say they are stuck in the dark ages when it comes to depictions of Santa Claus and his helpers.

Saint Nicholas, or “Sinterklaas” in Dutch, brings presents to children on December 5 in the Netherlands and on December 6 in Belgium, and is always accompanied by at least one assistant dressed in 17th century costume who has a blackened face.

Saint Nicholas (L) is followed by his two assistants called 'Zwarte Piet' (Black Pete) during a traditional parade in central Brussels December 1, 2012. REUTERS-Francois Lenoir

The tradition has been difficult for Dutch and Belgian people to explain abroad, where “Zwarte Piet” (Black Pete) is viewed with either outrage or ridicule.

Dutch pub “De Hems” in London opts for blue face paint instead. Sinterklaas celebrations in western Canada organized by the Dutch community were called off last year and former Dutch colony Suriname has said Zwarte Piet is not welcome this year because of concerns over racism.

For most Dutch and Belgians Zwarte Piet is an innocuous fairytale character who assists the popular Sinterklaas and hands out candy to children, but some there too argue he is a harmful stereotype best done away with.

“It was about six years ago when my mum came home from work and phoned me,” performance artist Quinsy Gario, who was born on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao, told Reuters.

“On the phone I could hear her trembling. She was upset, livid, and said someone at work had called her Zwarte Piet.”

In 2011, Gario decided to protest against the tradition by standing with a “Zwarte Piet is racism” T-shirt in a crowd watching a Sinterklaas parade in the Dutch town of Dordrecht. His subsequent arrest made headlines in Dutch media.

Film by a bystander showed three police officers pinning him to the ground and kneeing him in the back. Gario also said he had pepper spray sprayed in his eyes.

“I spent six and a half hours in a jail cell for freedom of expression,” he said.


Nevertheless, Zwarte Piet remains popular in 2012, and his traditional arrival by boat with Sinterklaas a few weeks ahead of the actual celebration was witnessed by thousands of starry-eyed children in Brussels and Amsterdam.

Sinterklaas, the presents he brings, as well as the traditional food and candy sold around this time are also good business for companies such as toy stores and supermarkets.

“Families with children are a very important customer group of ours. How would you explain to your children that Zwarte Piet is no longer allowed?,” said Chief Operating Officer Sander van der Laan of Albert Heijn, the Netherlands’ largest supermarket.

Dutch anti-discrimination organisation RADAR said that it would talk to retail organizations in the coming months about how to make Zwarte Piet less racist.

“We believe that you have to go to Piet, not Zwarte Piet, to leave the celebration intact but get rid of the stereotypes,” said Margriet Maris, a lawyer at RADAR.

Formal complaints are still quite rare. Belgium’s centre of equal opportunities said that of more than 4,000 complaints it received a year only one or two were related to Zwarte Piet.

RADAR said it had received about 25 related complaints this year, still only a fraction of the 1,000 it dealt with overall.

The tradition of St Nicholas exists in other European countries, including Austria and Germany. But he is only accompanied by black helpers in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Celebrations were depicted on paintings of 17th century Dutch artists Jan Steen and Richard Brakenburg, but Zwarte Piet only made his first appearance in a mid-19th century illustrated book by Dutch teacher Jan Schenkman.

Entitled “St Nicholas and his servant,” it showed a short, dark-faced man dressed in a Moorish costume a few steps behind an imposing white man with a white beard and bishop’s outfit.

“There’s a theory that says that important people had a black servant, it was a status symbol. Sinterklaas was an important man, so he needed one too,” said John Helsloot a researcher at the Meertens Institute in Amsterdam.

“Somebody who dresses up as Zwarte Piet is not a racist but it is a fact that he’s part of a tradition which gives a stereotypical, racist image of black people,” he said.

Pressure on Zwarte Piet seems to be increasing in 2012 and even well-known conservative blog “Geen Stijl” (No Style) has written that it’s time for Sinterklaas to find a new helper.

“It’s 2012, people,” wrote GeenStijl in a post that attracted much attention. “We’re better than Zwarte Piet.”

(Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, editing by Paul Casciato)

original DutchNews article found here

Wednesday 20 July 2011


A government committee looking into the origins of works of art taken by the Nazis during World War II has recommended two sculptures in the national art collection be returned to the heirs of their original Jewish owners.


The national Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has been ordered to return a bronze statue of Hercules to the heirs of the German art trading couple Jakob and Rosa Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer had been forced to sell the statue at auction by the Nazis in 1935 when his business was liquidated.


It was donated to the Rijksmuseum three years later.



The Catharijne convent museum in Utrecht has also been told to return a 15th century wooden Pieta to its rightful Jewish owners.


Banker and art collector Fritz Gutmann gave the carving to an art dealership in Paris for safekeeping in 1939. There, the object was seized by the Germans, after which it became part of Hermann Göring’s art collection.


In 1945 it was found on a train along with other works of art by American soldiers and ended up as part of the Dutch national art collection.


Culture minister Halbe Zijlstra has accepted the committee’s recommendations.






Treasures in the Royal Attic

Posted: February 23, 2011 in Culture, History, Monarchy

Originally from this Wall Street Journal article


Columnist's name

The Dutch royal family cleans out the attics in its palaces.

Sotheby’s Amsterdam will offer property from the estate of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands (1909-2004) in a four-day sale from March 14-17 at the RAI Theater Congress Center.

Courtesy of Sotheby’sA set of four Chinese Doucai ‘South Sea Bubble’ plates (circa 1720).Estimate: €7,000-€9,000



The 1,725-lot auction will include furniture, porcelain, glass, silver, paintings and drawings. Most items come from 17th-century Palace Soestdijk, where Queen Juliana lived with Prince Bernhard for all of her married life. The remaining pieces are from the attics and stores of six other palaces.

The auction will be conducted on behalf of Queen Juliana’s four daughters: Queen Beatrix, Princess Irene, Princess Margriet and Princess Christina. The proceeds will go to charities, including the Red Cross, with which Queen Juliana had a long-term relationship.

The property to be sold was only partly collected by Queen Juliana. The larger share was accumulated by previous kings and queens, beginning with King Willem I (1772-1843).

Although all the lots in the sale have a royal provenance, a high proportion of items will have affordable estimates of €100-€1,000. At the highest end will be pieces expected to fetch between €40,000 and €60,000.

“This sale is for everybody,” says Mark Grol, managing director of Sotheby’s Amsterdam. Although the sale will have particular appeal for Dutch buyers, Sotheby’s is also expecting international interest as many of the lots have an international provenance.

The royal sale is taking place at a convenient time, as Tefaf, the world’s most prestigious fine art and antique fair, will open in the Dutch town of Maastricht that same week (March 18-27).

In the royal auction, a rare and extensive Doccia Ginori porcelain dinner service from circa 1780-1810 is estimated at €40,000-€60,000. Decorated with Italian landscapes, the service was manufactured in Doccia, near Florence, at a famous factory founded by Marchese Carlo Ginori in 1735. A lively porcelain offering will be four Chinese Doucai plates from circa 1720, each painted with a comedian satirizing the South Sea Bubble of the same year. The bubble, a notorious financial disaster, started in England and spread to France and Holland (estimate: €7,000-€9,000). Doucai is a porcelain that combines a blue-and-white underglaze with an overglaze decoration. A pretty porcelain item will be an English Staffordshire flower-encrusted bouquet in a pot from the first half of the 20th century (estimate: €50-€100).

Metal objects offer plenty of variety. Top lot will be a rare medallion with an unidentified patron saint in the middle that was made for a guild in the early 16th century (estimate: €40,000-€60,000). There will be a nice choice of cutlery with, for example, 39 18th-century silver knives that are estimated at €4,000-€8,000 for the set. Miniature silver toys are also on hand, such as a Dutch canon made by Arnoldus van Geffen in 1740 (estimate: €2,000-€3,000). A fun item is a metal jug for pouring water, with a crowned “E” for Queen Emma, the grandmother of Queen Juliana (estimate: €100-€150).

Among the lots is nicely priced glass. An extensive, 19th century, frostedglass drinking service enameled with green rose-bud branches, including flasks, goblets and various glasses, is estimated at €2,000-€3,000. Champagne flutes seem to offer a bargain. A set of 25 20th-century glasses, for example, is expected to fetch €100-€200.

As for furnishings, there will be a wealth of chairs, cupboards, tables, screens, lighting and clocks. A large 18th century, Dutch, ebony table clock, which can play 12 tunes, is valued at €10,000-€15,000. A wonderfully elegant, Oriental-style enamel table centerpiece from circa 1870 is estimated at €1,000-€1,500. An impressive Dutch marquetry, rosewood and porcelain four-leaf screen from circa 1886 is valued at €6,000-€8,000.

For animal lovers, there will be some life-like sculptures, notably a bronze puma on the prowl by Luxembourg artist Auguste Tremont from circa 1925-1930 (estimate: €8,000-€12,000).

Write to Margaret Studer at


See the original article: Why Anne Frank’s tree stood for so much –

By Danna Harman, Correspondent / August 24, 2010

A day after the 170-year-old chestnut tree that stood outside the Anne Frank House was felled by stormy weather, I called Hans Westra, executive director of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, to talk about how and why a tree falling down can become such front-page news.

Anne Frank, the teenage Jewish girl who chronicled her experiences hiding in an attic in Nazi-occupied Holland, received international acclaim when her diary was discovered and later published after her death in a concentration camp. The chestnut tree outside her Amsterdam hideout was a frequent feature of her bleak picture of World War II in Western Europe.

“It’s a tree with a long history,” he begins. “All the other windows in the house were covered by curtains, and the attic was the only room out of which Anne Frank could properly see without fear of anyone seeing her. So, she would sit there and look out at the sun and the top of the chestnut tree. All her longing for freedom came to be tied up with that tree.”

I wanted to know: Do we need tangible aids to help us comprehend and remember the Holocaust? When Anne Frank’s chestnut tree falls, as has just happened, or, even more to the point, as the survivors pass away, is it then harder for new generations to connect with and understand the Holocaust?

“We are doing everything we can to keep this story alive,” says Mr. Westra. “For example, we have created a website where you can see the original tree and also go through the rooms of the house and into the secret annex. And we have also captured testimony from many of the witnesses to Anne Frank’s story on film.”

Westra marvels at the legacy of Frank’s experience over time. “What is remarkable actually is how much the younger generation remains interested in this history,” he says. “Our visitors are typically six or seven years younger than the visitors of any other museum in the city. And this is not a story that speaks only to Jews or Dutch. People come here from all over the world – from China, Argentina, Russia … everywhere.”

How, in general, does one explain the enduring power of the Anne Frank story? Why do so many people still come to Amsterdam to visit the house, and continue to read her diary?

“Anne Frank’s suffering stands as a symbol of a much larger story, and people want to connect to that,” responds Westra. “Moreover, she was a fantastic writer and her diary is a lovely story that people relate to. It’s a story of a young girl, having trouble with her mother, interested in boys, and wrestling with her future. It’s such a normal story, mixed up with the tragic story going on outside – and it has become a window on the Holocaust that people can identify with.”