Important archives of artists' associations are being digitised


The RKD will start digitising several archives of Dutch artists' associations from 1839-1950, including the archive of the influential Amsterdam society Arti et Amicitiae, which was donated to the RKD last year. This digitalisation project will be carried out in cooperation with the Haags Gemeentearchief (Hague Municipal Archives), which houses the archive of the Pulchri Studio painters' society. The digitisation will happen as part of the national conservation programme Metamorfoze, aimed at the preservation of works on paper.

Renowned artists' associations

The artists' associations Arti et Amicitiae in Amsterdam and Pulchri Studio in The Hague were founded in 1839 and 1847 respectively. These associations set out to professionalise the role of the artist in the Netherlands. They offered the opportunity to exhibit and sell artworks and facilitated the shipment of works to foreign exhibitions. This was of great importance at the time, as the professional art trade in the Netherlands was still in its infancy. Arti et Amicitiae and Pulchri Studio brought artists and art buyers together. Almost every artist in the nineteenth and early twentieth century became a member of Arti et Amicitiae sooner or later, from Barend Cornelis Koekkoek and Jozef Israëls to Jan Sluijters and Piet Mondrian. The Hague School painters were able to establish their reputation on both a national and international scale through Pulchri Studio's network.

1. Benjamin Prins, A princely visit, c. 1890-1911, company collection on loan to Pulchri Studio
2. Thorn Prikkert exhibition in Pulchri Studio, c. 1930, Haags Gemeentearchief, Pulchri Studio archive
3. Arti et Amicitiae Exhibition Galleries Committee: G. Poggenbeek, N. Bastert, F.M. Heyl, J.S.H. Kever and G.H. Breitner, 1893, collection RKD, Arti et Amicitiae archive

De Onafhankelijken

Not all artists found their place in these two artists' associations. After 1900, association life splintered. All kinds of movements and groups in art felt the need to show their own, often very individual, views on art. In 1912, these artists formed a new artists' association with an open character: De Onafhankelijken (‘The Independents’). At this association, radical exhibitions were organised that were not subject to prior judging, allowing artists with different views on art to exhibit there as well. De Onafhankelijken had a very international character and by 1914 was already showing works by Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky and Ossip Zadkine. Well-known Dutch members of De Onafhankelijken were Kees van Dongen and Charley Toorop.

Unprecedented information

Whereas the members of Arti et Amicitiae and Pulchri Studio became established names, the members of De Onafhankelijken were indispensable in the renewal of Dutch art. Together, the archives provide a good overview of Dutch artists' associations and their members. Besides correspondence, the archives include annual reports, membership lists, publications, exhibition files, cashbooks, drawings, posters and photographs. The archives offer an unprecedented amount of information and data on a large number of individual artists, as well as on art dealers, art collectors and art connoisseurs, and their relationship to each other. The accessibility to the soon to be digitised material will be a huge impulse for art historical research.

1. List of attendees at the ‘Honour diner offered to sir G.H. Breitner’, 24 November 1901, collection RKD, Arti et Amicitiae archive
2. Opening of the Members’ Exhibition, 11 May 1929, in the photo, among others, mayor of Amsterdam Willem de Vlugt, artists Marinus van Raalte and Lizzy Ansingh, collection RKD, Arti et Amicitiae archive
3. Otto B. de Kat, Poster of a De Onafhankelijken Exhibition in 1932, collection Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam

Digitisation project

Although all three artists' associations are still in full operation today, they have housed their archives at the RKD (Arti et Amicitae and De Onafhankelijken) and the Haags Gemeentearchief (Pulchri Studio). Over the next two years, all archival records from up to 1950 will be digitised. In total, this covers almost 30 metres of documentation material. Hoogduin Papierrestauratoren will preserve all the material so that it can be safely digitised and stored permanently. Digitisation is done by the specialised company GMS. Depending on the items, it will be done in different ways. Most materials will be placed under a glass plate and photographed with a finetuned camera. A time-consuming job, and from this summer the archives of the Maatschappij Arti et Amicitiae and De Onafhankelijken will not be consultable at the RKD. However, it is for a good cause. The archival material will be available in the RKD's databases from 2026, making it digitally accessible to researchers all over the world.