The exhibition with paintings by visual artist Natasja Kensmil will be shown in the middle of the permanent presentation Group portraits of the 17th century'. Inspired by the collection of group portraits Kensmil immersed herself in the urban society of seventeenth-century Holland. Five of her works can be seen here amidst the historical portraits, with the nine-part 'Monuments of Regents' as the centrepiece. The exhibition can be seen until 29 August 2021.
Kensmil's paintings appeal to the imagination. On canvases of impressive size she portrays prominent figures, with thick layers of paint robustly painted, and yet full of details. On canvases of impressive size Kensmil paints prominent figures, with thick layers of paint robustly painted, and yet full of details. Who are these archetypes of persons portrayed on the famous seventeenth-century works, and what is going on in them? With its attention to this period, and the lives of people who are portrayed in groups: shooters, regentesses and regents, Kensmil breaks through the often still one-sided view of this heritage in museum collections.
Her paintings of a ship at sea and a tropical rainforest broaden the view to the origins of prosperity, often originating from trade and connected with a colonial system full of violence and oppression. Curator Imara Limon (Amsterdam Museum): ''Kensmil's works of art are a powerful addition to the collection of portraits of Amsterdam administrators in the permanent exhibition 'Group Portraits of the 17th Century. In her paintings the boundaries between good and evil are blurred and she shows that the past is still haunted by the present'
Monuments of Regents
The centrally exhibited nine-part 'Monument of Regents' (2019) focuses on the position of women in seventeenth-century Holland. Prosperous citizens ran institutions for the poor, orphans, the sick and the elderly. In these charitable institutions women could also do board work as regentesses. This is special, because women were incapable of acting before the law, and depended on their father, partner or male guardian to be able to do business. Well-doers wanted to be positively remembered, and had themselves immortalized on lists of names, coat of arms and group portraits in order to create a lasting memory of their charity as a virtue. What remains so invisible is the colonial system that made that prosperity and care possible. Kensmil puts the ambiguity of their charity work at the center of her work.
Wealth and oppression
The colonial past, which is inextricably linked to the accumulated wealth of the historical figures portrayed, is also visible in Kensmil's work. With the painting White Elephant (2019), a seventeenth-century ship at sea, she focuses attention on Dutch colonial shipping and trade. In the famous paintings of ships braving storms, adventure and heroism are central, but in Kensmil's work the white contours of the ship loom up surrounded by symbols of power and status.
The recently completed painting Selva Amazone (2020), a landscape, suggests a parallel between the prosperity of the seventeenth century at the expense of overseas territories and today's prosperity at the expense of the rainforest.
Natasja Kensmil (1973) shows in her paintings a fascination for history. For her, painting is an investigation to get that which is not told to the surface from a consciousness that history is more complex than it is reflected in our heritage and that this consciousness is still relevant today.
Interventions in permanent presentation 'Group portraits of the 17th Century
Together with the Rijksmuseum, the Amsterdam Museum has displayed the largest collection of group portraits in the world in the exhibition 'Group Portraits of the 17th Century' in the Hermitage since November 2014. The group portraits of Amsterdam shooters and regents hang in an impressive large hall that forms the centrepiece of an exhibition about life in Dutch cities in the seventeenth century. After Jörgen Tjon A Fong's controversial intervention in 2019, this is the second time that the Amsterdam Museum has invited a contemporary maker to realize an intervention in the presentation 'Group Portraits of the 17th Century' and to provide this Amsterdam heritage with new perspectives.
The Amsterdam Museum acquired the work 'Monuments of Regents' with the support of the Mondriaan Fund.