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If you consult the website of the Mairie de Paris and search for museums, you will not find l’Institut Néerlandais (the Dutch Institute), nor would you have found it on the very long Liste des Musées Parisiens on the French Wikipédia. As of yesterday, the Wiki now has it, thanks to my colleague and Wiki editor Joseph Lestrange—but I’m afraid it will be another time, and a long one, before the Mairie catches up with one of the finest small exhibition spaces in Paris. That also seems to be the sad case of the Anglophone Wikipedia, which has nothing about it. A pity and a shame, but now BonjourParis will let me tell you about it.
The building is the former mansion of Baron Turgot, the eighteenth-century liberal economist and politician, who said in 1778, “The Americans are the hope of the world. They may become its model.” After World War II, the Dutch collector and scholar Frits Lugt bought the building to be the Fondation Custodia and began housing his private collection of Dutch paintings, drawings, and prints in it. Ten years later, he opened the Institut which, since then, has acquired more works and, most significantly, has become an exhibition machine.
This last spring, I saw an exhibit of Dutch prints from various public and private German collections that must have been une corvée to organize, given so many different collections and owners. But the result was wonderful: slightly more than one hundred works on paper, chiefly late Mediaeval and Renaissance images, ranging from the high-minded (Pieter de Kempenen’s “Death of Absalom”) to the astonishingly grotesque. The best of these, in my view, was an engraving by Cornelis Dusart called “Wy zint zeven” (We Are Seven) showing a cook, a lunatic, a little boy, a pig, a mule, and an owl—odd bedfellows, but only adding up to six. The seventh is the viewer, i.e., me at that moment. I guess we’re known by the company we keep.
Earlier in 2011, the main exhibition, “Rembrandt and His Circle,” was taken entirely from the Institut collection—which gives you an idea of how extensive and exceptional Lugts’ taste was. Overlapping it, there was a show of contemporary Dutch artists, with more scheduled.
George Hendrik Breitner exhibition through January 22, 2012
There will be a show of street photography by George Hendrik Breitner from November 3, 2011-January 22, 2012 and another featuring twenty-four Dutch children’s book illustrators. A broad palette. Periodically, there are musical events and lectures. You can also study Dutch.
Let me underscore two things I said above. Lugts’ collection is not always on view, even parts of it. If you are interested, it is important to keep your eye on l’Institut Néerlandais to see when some of the works will be shown. The size of the shows tends to be something a normal person—average eyesight, ordinary patience, decent shoes—can take in comfortably and intelligently without getting double vision, ants in the pants, or fallen arches. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show with more than about one hundred fifty pieces. The building itself is also a treat and easy to get to. It’s right next door to the Assemblée Nationale, though some people consider it a bad neighborhood when the députés are in session.
L’Institut Néerlandais (Cultural Centre of the Netherlands)
Tél: 01 5359 1240
121, rue de Lille, Paris 7th
Exhibitions open 1-7pm Tuesday-Sunday; closed Mondays
Métro: Assemblée Nationale
Bus: 63, 73, 83, 94
RER: Invalides, Orsay Museum
City of Paris list of cultural centers in Paris
Agnès Dupont is a retired Paris native who enjoys visiting and writing about Paris museums for BonjourParis, such as the Zadkine Museum, another hidden gem in the Paris. Please click on her name to learn more about Agnès.
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