Guest blog: Treasures from the East
By Krisztina Lackoi, on 2 August 2012
Guest blog by Stefanie van Gemert
Have a look at this print from the UCL Art Museum’s collection. What do you think this man is staring at? Do you recognize any of the objects he is surrounded by? Who do you think he is?
Rembrandt van Rijn, Abraham Francen, Art Dealer, etching, EPC1709 ©UCL Art Museum
This is an etching from 1656 by the Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669). We can see Rembrandt’s personal friend, Abraham Francen, staring at, perhaps, another etching, mirroring the gestures and concentrated look of the contemporary art viewer. Francen was a pharmacist in 17th-century Amsterdam, who saw Rembrandt’s fame rise from close-by. Though he was not very affluent, Abraham was a keen collector of paintings, prints and curiosities. I used this print as a starting point for the community workshops I held at the UCL Art Museum over May, June and July 2012, because ‘collecting’ was a core theme in my narrative about Dutch colonial history, global encounters and 17th-century art.
My name is Stefanie van Gemert; I am a PhD candidate and teaching assistant at the UCL Dutch Department, and this summer I contributed to an HLF-funded community project called Treasures from the East. This project takes place at the Wallace Collection (one of the national museums), not so far from UCL, and involves a year-long engagement with several London community groups. The groups – mainly women from a minority background – visit the Wallace Collection’s Dutch art on a regular basis and use the Dutch 17th-century paintings there as an inspiration for creative art works that will be exhibited from November 2012 onwards. The project focuses on the Dutch East India Company as a major force behind the boom in the arts in the Netherlands’ golden age.
When I heard about this project, I was immediately enthused, and wanted to contribute to this project as a young researcher and teacher with specialist knowledge about Dutch history and culture, and postcolonial theory. Together with the Collection’s Audience Development Officer, Sophie Martin, I took on the challenge of developing 4 day-long workshops at UCL Art Museum and the Wallace Collection. To this end I researched in-house resources from UCL Art Museum and UCL Special Collections; raised funds, and prepared and coordinated the workshops at UCL. It was great to work with and teach to different audiences, in an informal setting, without the pressure of exams: just for the sake of creating an engaging learning session around wonderful objects.
The Art Museum was an apt place to invite and welcome the community groups to. Through their previous visits to the Wallace Collection, they were already familiar with a large national gallery. They had seen lots of Dutch oil paintings, in a beautiful – though at times imposing – family house. It is hard to think o f a more different setting than the UCL Art Museum: an intimate working museum space, on a university campus, developed with research and teaching in mind. The prints from the Art Museum and books from UCL Special collections offered a diversified image of ‘art objects’, and what one could consider ‘Treasures from the East’.
What a surprise as well to find Dutch links in the Art Museum’s collections. There is the Grote Collection: donated by George Grote (1794-1871) to UCL in 1872. Like Abraham Francen, Grote’s Dutch grandfather Andreas Grote (1710-188) collected prints and drawings, and his grandson bequeathed his albums to the university. There were also plenty of Rembrandt etchings in the UCL Art collections (like the Abraham Francen-print from the museum’s Vaughan Collection).
If you would like to learn more about the workshop programme, please read my Wallace Collection’s project blog entries. I truly enjoyed this challenge of challenging a national colonial history, through focusing on cultural exchanges and global encounters, and discussing diverse art objects with a diverse audience in the Art Museum of a global university.
The partnership programme ‘Treasures from the East at UCL’ was made possible with the help of the UCL Step Out fund.