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Amsterdam Museum presents exhibition on urban renovator Van Eeghen

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From 29 March to 30 June 2024, the Amsterdam Museum on the Amstel hosts the exhibition The Amsterdam of Piet van Eeghen: How a merchant changed the city on display. The nineteenth-century businessman and philanthropist Van Eeghen left his art collection to the city and is now part of the Amsterdam Museum's collection. The paintings, drawings and prints can now be seen together as a collection for the first time. As the founder of the Vondelpark and the Prinsengracht Hospital, with his involvement in the establishment of the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk Museum, and through his housing initiatives, he left his mark on the city. The exhibition reflects on Van Eeghen as an Amsterdam benefactor, art collector and banker. He made his money with colonial trade, among other things. What does this mean for our contemporary view of his philanthropic work? And what roles did women play in his activities?

Silent innovator

The great changes that took place in the nineteenth century were brought about not only by public administrators, but mainly by the citizens themselves. Behind the scenes, silent innovators changed Amsterdam and its prestige. One of the most important was Christiaan Pieter van Eeghen (1816-1889), scion of the well-known patrician Van Eeghen family. Baptist merchant Piet van Eeghen was a pivotal figure in Amsterdam society. Van Eeghen used his extensive network and family relationships to develop his initiatives. His influence has shaped Amsterdam to this day. Although all these activities substantially changed the face of the city, he was not part of the city council. However, his uncle Jan (1789-1838) and his eldest son Pieter (1844-1907) were members of the Amsterdam Council. In addition, his wife Cato Huidekoper (1822-1879) was daughter of the first Baptist mayor of Amsterdam.

Reason for the exhibition

The reason for the exhibition on Van Eeghen is the recently published thesis by Dr Laura van Hasselt, former curator of the Amsterdam Museum, entitled Piet van Eeghen and the metamorphosis of Amsterdam, 1816-1889. The exhibition of which Van Hasselt is guest curator places the thesis in a critical and transhistorical context. Van Hasselt: ''Moreover, the museum is taking the opportunity to also display Van Eeghen's art collection, which was donated to the city by his children after his death. That collection is a good example of what wealthy Amsterdammers collected in the nineteenth century and also reflects the thought processes of a wealthy nineteenth-century Amsterdammer like Piet van Eeghen. It is unique that this collection will now be on display.''

Initiatives across Amsterdam

Van Eeghen developed his work from a deeply felt love for his city and a Baptist conviction, in which charity was paramount. Working with other citizens, often from his own circle, he implemented many important social and cultural reforms, such as affordable housing and accessible healthcare. The construction of entire streets of working-class houses and the Prinsengracht hospital, but especially the development of the Vondelpark, had a lasting impact on the city. He was also involved in the establishment of several museums, such as the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk Museum. His bequeathed private collection was donated to the city by his children and is now part of the Amsterdam Museum's collection.

Moral tension

Van Eeghen's initiatives improved the city, but at the same time maintained existing power structures. Women, workers and dissenters could benefit from the improvements, but were generally excluded from active participation in the renewal process. Moreover, his struggle to increase the social freedoms of citizens focused only on Amsterdam. He kept away from initiatives of a transnational nature, such as the abolition of slavery. Although the firm Van Eeghen & Co did not involve itself in the slave trade as far as we know, the still-existing trading house did make money from slavery, by trading in products grown using slave labour. The moral tension between Van Eeghen as an Amsterdam benefactor and as a colonial merchant make him a complex and interesting figure.

Present and past connected

In the exhibition The Amsterdam of Piet van Eeghen: How a merchant changed the city visitors are introduced to all these facets of Van Eeghen. They will consider his family history, his most important projects and his motivations. The traces he left in today's society and parallels with contemporary urban problems and challenges. In the audio tour, individuals give their views on Van Eeghen's projects and their underlying themes, such as urban nature, prostitution, colonial trade or housing and gentrification.

The Van Eeghen collection

The Amsterdam Museum holds 93 paintings from Van Eeghen's collection. Together, they form a high-quality collection typical of collections of the time. Van Eeghen mainly collected romantic nineteenth-century painting. From the Netherlands, but also from abroad, especially France. Among the highlights are works by Jacob Israëls, Ary Scheffer, Nicolaas Pieneman and Alexandre Calame. Very special is the large collection of drawings and prints by draughtsman Jan Luyken, which was also donated to the city of Amsterdam by Van Eeghen's children. As a result, the Amsterdam Museum owns the largest Luyken collection in the world. The exhibition opens up the extraordinary collection of romantic art to a wider audience.

Publish 

A digital publication containing essays on Van Eeghen's bequeathed collection of paintings will be published simultaneously with the exhibition. Besides essays on the significance of the collection as a whole and the special roles of women artists in the collection and in the Van Eeghen family itself, some of the paintings are highlighted.

The exhibition The Amsterdam of Piet van Eeghen: How a merchant changed the city can be seen from 29 March to 30 June 2024 at the Amsterdam Museum aan de Amstel (Amstel 51).

The exhibition was made possible by the Cultuurfonds, Fundatie Van den Santheuvel, Sobbe and the Catherina Halkes Fund. The Amsterdam Museum is structurally supported by Main Beneficiary Gemeente Amsterdam, Founder VriendenLoterij and Main Partner Education ELJA Foundation.

 

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