Modern Times: Photography in the 20th Century

Modern Times: Photography in the 20th Century was the first exhibition focussed on artists of the 20th century to be held by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The show, whose title is also Modern Times in Dutch[1] and which ran from November 2014 to January 2015,[2] was also the first exhibition to be held in the re-opened Philips Wing, a part of the museum that was remodeled to host temporary exhibitions. It was the museum's second photography exhibition after its successful A new art: Photography in the 19th century, held in 1996.

A timeline of all the photographers with works in the exhibition
George Hendrik Breitner is an example of a cross-over artist who used photography as a basis for his paintings. His photographs of Amsterdam such as this view of "Oudezijds Kolk" can be seen as an artist's sketchbook. This photograph is one of three in the collection that first made their way into the museum Highlights guide in 1995.


The Rijksmuseum published a jubilee book in 1985 celebrating 100 years of its history.[3] This contained numerous old photographs of construction and early museum displays that could not be attributed to individual photographers, but uncovered several gems in the collection that needed curation. The museum highlights guide produced in the same year did not yet include any of the museum's 130,000 photographs of the 19th century.[4] Photography was apparently still considered a secondary art, and, as such, not deserving mention in the guidebook. It wasn't until 1994, when the museum appointed the current (as of 2014) curators Mattie Boom and Hans Rooseboom for its growing photography collection, that a shift in appreciation began. The highlights guide published in 1995 included three photographs: one by each of Gustave Le Gray, Eduard Isaac Asser, and George Hendrik Breitner.[5] The next step was to hold a photography exhibition, which became A new art, a collaboration with the Van Gogh Museum in 1996.[6]

The 20th century in photographsEdit

The museum's collection of over 20,000 20th-century photographs includes images of government-sponsored works such as bridges and sluice gates, and images of inspection visits by paid agents to foreign lands. Many early photographers could not afford to make prints without government sponsorship of some kind. Besides works acquired from defunct government agencies, works have been donated by photographers' families and other purchases have been sponsored by friends of the museum. The exhibition is meant as an overview of the museum's 20th-century works, most of which have been acquired since 1994.

The oldest photos in the exhibition are by the oldest artist in the show: Eadward Muybridge's motion studies of a horse (Sallie Gardner at a Gallop). The first photograph in the show is a portrait of Susan Sontag by Peter Hujar. Her collection of essays On Photography was quoted as one of the sources of inspiration for the show ("To collect photography is to collect the world"). The last works in the show are color portrait photos taken in Suriname by the youngest artist in the show, the Dutch photographer Viviane Sassen.

The list of artists represented in the show is presented on the gallery wall as a timeline. In order of appearance (sorted by birth date), they are as follows:


  1. ^ "Modern Times", Rijksmuseum. (in Dutch) Accessed 25 December 2014.
  2. ^ "Modern Times", Rijksmuseum. (in English) Accessed 25 December 2014.
  3. ^ Honderd jaar Rijksmuseum, 1885-1985, by J. Braat, J.W. Niemeyer, P.C. Ritsema van Eck, J.B.E. Stokhuyzen, P.J.J. van Thiel, A.A.E. Vels Hein, with foreword by S. H. Levie, Van Holkema & Warendorf, Weesp, 1985. ISBN 9026944756
  4. ^ Treasures from the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, by Emile Meijer, with foreword by S. H. Levie, Rijksmuseum-stichting & Scala, 1985, ISBN 9780856672156
  5. ^ Rijksmuseum Amsterdam: Highlights from the collection, by Wouter Kloek, Rijksmuseum-stichting, 1995, ISBN 9789066111745
  6. ^ A new art: Photography in the 19th century. The photo collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, edited by curators Mattie Boom and Hans Rooseboom, preface by Peter Schatborn and Ronald de Leeuw, essays by Jan Piet Filedt Kok, Mattie Boom, Hans Rosenboom, Robbert van Venetie, Hedi Hegeman, Andreas Blühm, Saskia Asser and Annet Zondervan, Rijksmuseum & Van Gogh Museum, 1996, ISBN 9053491937