The Krannert Art Museum (KAM) has amassed the largest museum collection of early modern Dutch political prints outside of Europe, thanks to strategic acquisitions guided by Dr. Maureen Warren, KAM’s curator of European and American art.
During the past year, KAM has added more than 100 Dutch political prints from the late 16th to the early 18th centuries. They portray a broad range of themes and formats, and add a wide variety of printmakers to KAM’s already strong collection of works on paper.
“Krannert Art Museum has good examples, particularly in painting, of art from the Dutch Golden Age, but the collection lacked works that address political culture,” said KAM director Jon Seydl. “In one stroke, this series of strong acquisitions turns the University of Illinois into an important center for this material. We’re also thrilled to have an exhibition in the works so students, faculty and the public can see the prints firsthand.”
Warren, a leading print curator and scholar of early modern Dutch art, is curating the exhibition, planned for fall 2021 and provisionally titled “Fake News and Lying Pictures: Political Prints in the Dutch Golden Age.” The museum received a grant from the Getty Foundation to support the exhibition and an accompanying publication through The Paper Project, a funding initiative focused on prints and drawings curatorship in the 21st century. The exhibition will look at how images were used to put a favorable spin on events and persuade people to believe a certain retelling of history.
“I’d like audiences to see the 17th-century Netherlands a little differently,” Warren said. “People think of the tranquility Vermeer’s milkmaid and Rembrandt’s windmills, so they can imagine this was a peaceful landscape. Politically, it was a maelstrom. Opposing groups were fighting tooth and nail, sometimes quite violently. I’d like this exhibition to resonate with our political culture and fake news in our own age, and to lead visitors to see how we continue to be persuaded by imagery.”
Warren said some of the Dutch prints KAM acquired are not often collected by museums, even if they were made by prominent artists. Polemical images were often printed on broadsheets that would contain a large amount of text, so curators have seen them as more properly belonging to a library, not an art museum. But Warren and Seydl see the ways that visual culture and political culture are deeply connected through these works. To bring them to KAM, Warren wrote a successful application to the U. of I.’s John N. Chester Endowment Fund, which supported one-third of the total acquisitions.
“This is not a library collection. These are works by the finest artists in the 17th-century Netherlands working in the field of print,” Seydl said. “We were able to acquire a remarkable number for their quality and importance.” Such Golden Age prints are often more rare than fine art prints of the period, said Brooks Rich, the associate curator of Old Master prints at the National Gallery of Art.
In addition to political propaganda and satire, the newly-acquired prints include views of the daily lives of women that depict their relative autonomy and independence in Dutch society. Other prints show images of Dutch naval power, trade, war and crime.
[Image caption: Claes Jansz Visscher (1587–1652), The Far-famed House of Nassau or Orange, ca. 1628–1629, Krannert Art Museum, Champaign, IL.]