About the RKD

The RKD is the knowledge centre for the visual arts of the Low Countries and provides worldwide access to knowledge, research and information to museums, academic community and general public



The RKD opened its doors in The Hague in 1932 as the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische en Ikonografische Documentatie (National Bureau for Art-Historical and Iconographic Documentation). In practice, however, the public were not yet able to access the collections, which in those early years were spread across five locations in the city. At the end of 1936, the Institute moved into the monumental building on the corner of Korte Vijverberg and Tournooiveld. Over the years the various departments became dispersed, until in 1982 they were all brought together again in the current premises in the Royal Library (KB) complex.

Three diverse collections

At the core of the RKD’s holdings are three collections of visual documentation and catalogues which came to the RKD as generous gifts. The first belonged to the art historian Cornelis Hofstede de Groot (1863-1930), who bequeathed a large quantity of documentation including some 100,000 photographs of Northern and Southern Netherlandish art from the seventeenth century. Before the official opening, a donation came from the collector and art expert Frits Lugt (1884-1970), comprising more than 100,000 reproductions, 22,000 auction catalogues and several thousand books. A third collection, consisting of material about Dutch portraiture, was entrusted by Eltjo van Beresteyn (1876-1948).

Additions and new directions 

Shortly after the Second World War, the foundational collections of documentation on old Netherlandish painting and graphic art were expanded to include nineteenth-century, as well as Dutch and international modern and contemporary art, and sculpture. These were supplemented by an extensive collection of press cuttings and archival material. By strengthening its original holdings and adding new collections, the RKD has been able to grow into a versatile knowledge institute of international stature, with visual documentation in analogue and digital form, a library and archives. In 2014, to highlight its versatility, the Institute’s name was changed to RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History. By 1995 it had already become an independent foundation, managed according to the Cultural Heritage Act and charged with maintaining this unique collection on behalf of the Dutch State.