Willem II – King of Art

A week ago I visited the exhibition Willem II – Kunstkoning at the Dordrechts Museum in Dordrecht, The Netherlands. The museum managed to bring back an important part of the special art collection of King Willem II of the Netherlands (1792-1849) in one big exhibition on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The exhibition could already be seen in the Hermitage in St Petersburg, and after Dordrecht will be on display at the Villa Vauban in Luxembourg. On 4 March the exhibition was personally opened by King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands. It will be open until 15 June 2014.

Willem II collected art and in his collection he had paintings and drawings from Italian, French, Spanish, Flemish and Dutch masters, including paintings by Rembrandt and Jan Steen, and drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Peter Paul Rubens. He also collected 19th century-art. He showed his collection in the Gothic Hall of his palace at the Kneuterdijk in the Hague. After his death it turned out he had huge debts.Not long before his death he had borrowed one million guilders from his brother-in-law Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, with the collection as pledge. After Willem II’s death his brother Prince Frederik of the Netherlands paid back the debts, but on the condition that the art collection would be sold. The collection was auctioned in 1850, which is why it was pretty well documented, which items were part of his collection. Most of the pieces went to museums and collectors abroad.

What delighted me most was that the exhibition in Dordrecht is not only about his collection. Also on display are some bigger and smaller portraits of himself and his wife Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna of Russia, as well as from other family members. I even came across a few Habsburgs and a Spanish King. Furthermore the King’s favourite horse, Wexy, which was mounted after his death, can be seen. I loved the court dress of Queen Anna, which even after 150 years or so still looks wonderful.

For sure you don’t have to be a lover of art to visit this exhibition. If you only love royal history there is already more than enough to see. And if you have time left, I certainly wouldn’t forget to visit the rest of the museum. The museum also has a nice little shop and a café. If you go in a weekend, you should better be in time. Sometimes it is necessary to queue.

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