Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen presents Art Amid the Ruins

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From 4 September 2023 to 14 January 2024, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen presents the project Art Amid the Ruins about artists in Rotterdam during the Second World War. How were their lives affected by the bombing of 14 May 1940? What impossible choices did they face? The exhibition in Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen features artworks from the collection that were made during the period or that have a connection with the occupation. It coincides with the publication of The Firebird Generation, a book by art historian and guest curator Sandra Smets that describes the lives of ten artists in Rotterdam during the war. Lastly, the museum is launching an interactive, digital walking map of Rotterdam that invites everyone to explore this history for themselves.


Art Amid the Ruins has been made possible in part by the Mondriaan Fund, the Pieter Haverkorn van Rijsewijk Foundation, the Gravin van Bylandt Foundation and Foundation de Leeuwenberg. 

This presentation reveals an important history of the city of Rotterdam and its artists that remains relevant today. Ina Klaassen, director of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen


Paintings and drawings in Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen

The exhibition in Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen presents a rich selection of paintings and drawings (and a few sculptures) from the MBVB collection. Most of the works are by by artists who lived in Rotterdam during the war, such as Agnes Canta, Wally Elenbaas and Dolf Henkes. They tell the story of their time: a world adrift, confusion, bombings, ruins and unexpected moments of beauty. Many of the works have not been seen for many years!

There is even one work from the collection that has never been displayed in a museum: a sculpture by the controversial artist Johan Polet, who was popular before the war and cancelled immediately afterwards because he was an active supporter of National Socialism. His Reclining Female Nude was therefore never shown. Until now. Because these darker elements are also part of the history that Art Amid the Ruins opens up for discussion.

NOTE TO EDITORS: The exhibition is being installed from 7 September 2023. At the press preview on 14 September from 3.00 pm, at which there will be opportunities for photography and filming, guest curator Sandra Smets and other MBVB staff members will be available to answer questions about the exhibition. Please register via with subject Preview 14 September.

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The book The Firebird Generation

The core of this project is the book The Firebird Generation: Artists in a Destroyed City, in which art historian and guest curator Sandra Smets delves into the lives of ten artists and art world figures in Rotterdam during the occupation. It paints a picture of a city in ruins and explores how artists put the pieces back together. The book, published by Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, will be launched at Donner bookshop in Rotterdam on 8 September from 4.00 pm. Everyone is welcome and registration is not required.

Take a walk through history in Rotterdam

In addition to the exhibition and book, the museum is launching a digital interactive map of historically relevant places and buildings that played a role in the art world in Rotterdam during the occupation years. How many of them remain and what can still be seen? The map provides inspiration for walks through Rotterdam that take you back in time. Some of the walks have been curated by Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Further information will follow soon.

About Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

The world-renowned art collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen has over the span of 170 years expanded to more than 151,000 artefacts, which includes some 63,000 paintings, photos, films, pre-industrial design and design objects, contemporary art installations and sculptures, as well as 88,000 prints and drawings.

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