The Hague’s Mauritshuis: “high and low – from our depot”

The Hague’s Mauritshuis remains a firm favourite. The house itself is small, yet manages to show you a wealth of Dutch masters including Vermeer’s “Girl with Pearl Earring”, a few Rembrandts, Fabritius’ “Goldfinch”. In its new wing, one fascinating temporary exhibition is replaced by the next one.

This time, its temporary exhibition shows about twenty paintings from the museum depot. It is truly a cross-selection of “high and low”. The exhibition explains why these twenty-somethings and hundreds of others from this museum’s depot are never shown to you.

One of the themes is “too many”. Honestly, all those officers from a Stadtholder‘s army do look like that many clones! Only one portrait in this sea of sameness differs: the guy looks the other way.

Of course, there are dubious attributions and downright fakes. One King bought wholesale 20160207 MH Fake Raphaelwithout checking and acquired that many cats in one bag. Among them a Raphael, which was no Raphael. A lucky miss, for when it was restored for this exhibition, the painting turned out to be practically unique – for quite different reasons.

There is the horrid Andy Warhol, which the Mauritshuis now admits, is not in keeping with the rest of its collection. Well: this Warhol does fit in perfectly with the hideous modern painting on one of the period home’s period ceilings. Too bad the ceiling can’t be relegated to the museum’s depot!

A few paintings are occasionally exhibited when others are on loan to other museums or to prevent damage. Text explains that of a series of paintings by one painter, only the best example is permanently on show in the house. As a visitor standing next to me quite rightly remarked: “best is taste is arbitrary”.

The depot also holds damaged paintings. This exhibition shows two. One painting spent time in the tropics. The climate caused so much damage, it is beyond restoration. I noticed it was donated to the museum by an Indonesian council.

20160207 MH Wilhelmina vPruisenOther paintings “do not fit in”. One example is a  crayon portrait found in the museum’s attic. It shows a young Wilhelmina of Prussia, captured by a German artist. The portrait is a depot piece, as “the museum focusses on Dutch art”.

Like other visitors, I admired a large painting of about 2m x 2m. It used to hang near Paulus Potter’s “Bull”, which is large as well. These days, museums do not cram paintings on walls as used to be the case, so the explanation runs. The painting of dead game, including a swan, is now another depot number. In fact, the Mauritshuis officially hopes another museum is interested in it (and will kind of take it off our hands to exhibit it as a permanent-loan).

20160207 MH Dead swanAfter visiting this small exhibition, I visited the Mauritshuis proper. I wanted to see if a few of these depot pieces really were “unfit to exhibit”. Opposite Paulus Potter’s awful bull (made up of the best parts of several animals, with these best parts made to look like one bull), hangs another large painting.

It may actually be as big as the “Dead Swan” one. The “Dead Swan” I remember, but frankly: no idea what the painting opposite the stupid “Bull” depicts. It made no impact. So surely, the two paintings can be shown alternately? Or is the Mauritshuis angling for a swap of “dead swan” against some other museum’s “surplus fabulous cow”?

As for Wilhelmina’s portrait not fitting in because it’s by a “German artist” and the museum’s focus is mainly on Dutch 17th century art? The Mauritshuis has several Holbein‘s, including a portrait of a prim Jane Seymour and two of Henry VIII’s courtiers, on permanent display.

While sauntering through the Mauritshuis proper, I was looking for the hilarious series of Hogarth-like scenes by Troost. No joy: another of his series was on show, depicting scenes from a Dutch play with a “She stoops to conquer” theme. Compared to Troost’s other series, these theatre-ones are dull and tourists won’t understand them.

Crayon drawings need to be regularly changed to limit damage. But if my favourite Troost series is not on show, why not exhibit the five depot pieces on the five senses? Fine if they hang in a different place, but both series do share a very naughty sense of humour.

A sense of humour is also needed while reading the English texts of the temporary exhibition. As usual, the Mauritshuis did not deem it necessary to invest in a decent English translation. Practically all shields contain examples of Dutchified English or literal translations (used Google Translate to cut costs and corners?): unnecessary downright shoddy work.

The temporary exhibition “In and Out of Storage” can be visited till the 8th of May 2016. It is a small exhibition, so do try to combine your visit to the Mauritshuis proper with a quick look at these twenty-odd depot pieces in its new wing. My advise is, to first visit this exhibition and then visit the permanent collection in the Mauritshuis proper. You can then decide for yourself, if what is kept in depot does not merit to be seen and what is on show is truly “the best-of-the-best”.

History of Art student or graduate, or interested in museology? Then this certainly is a must-see exhibition!

Mauritshuis Museum The Hague

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