Universiteit Leiden

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Rein Dool painting in new place in the Academy Building

The painting by Rein Dool, depicting former board members of Leiden University, has been moved to the Reception Room of the Academy Building. An explanatory description is now displayed next to the 1974 painting, titled Het College van Bestuur van de Rijksuniversiteit (The Executive Board of Leiden University), outlining the historical context and the controversy about the work.

At the end of 2022 a fierce controversy arose within and beyond the university about Rein Dool’s 1974 group portrait of the Executive Board. At that time, the painting was hanging in the Grachtenkamer (Canal Room), one of the meeting rooms in the Academy Building. It was first taken down from the wall and placed on the floor, because some people felt that its portrayal of exclusively white men, some of whom are smoking cigars, was non-inclusive and also that it excessively dominated the meeting room. However, other people disagreed with this. At the request of the Executive Board, the painting was reinstated on the wall, on a temporary basis.

Treasure trove

In response to this commotion, the Executive Board created an ad hoc committee, chaired by art historian Kitty Zijlmans, which recommended that the painting would benefit from being displayed in a different place and that it should be provided with an explanatory description. A symposium was also held on 26 May 2023 about the issues relating to the artwork.

Zijlmans is pleased that the painting is now hanging in the Reception Room of the Academy Building. ‘It’s an open social space where everyone can see it.’ The art historian is excited to see the effect that a painting can have on people and that art can be used for talking with one another about the present and past. ‘The university has a real treasure trove in its large collection of paintings. We should use this to inspire debates and tell stories.’

Debates about art

Those debates are another aspect of the advice given by the committee led by Zijlmans. A new Art and Debate Committee for the Academy Building will be created; its members will be announced in the near future. This new committee will be the point of contact for questions about artworks and exhibitions at the university, in the Academy Building in particular, and will liaise with the faculty art committees. It will also be tasked with making proposals for the regular reconfiguration of the Academy Building and, if possible, organising debates on art and its effects. Finally, on the advice of the Zijlmans committee, the Gewelfkamer (Vaulted Room) of the Academy Building will be arranged as a debate and exhibition space.

Photos: Dagmar Aarts

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