High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands


High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands

12 x Erwin Olaf in Rijksmuseum
© Rijksmuseum
© Rijksmuseum © Rijksmuseum

12 x Erwin Olaf in Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum has been a major source of inspiration for Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf since his early youth, with Rembrandt, Jan Steen, Breitner and other Dutch artists being hugely influential on his work. To mark the transfer of his core collection, the Rijksmuseum is staging the exhibition 12 x Erwin Olaf, in which Olaf places his photographs in dialogue with Dutch paintings. This is the first time that his work will be displayed alongside that of his great examples.

This exhibition is being held to mark the transfer of Erwin Olaf’s core collection. Last year the museum received almost 500 objects from the artist, including prints, portfolios, videos, magazines, books and posters. The vast majority were gifted by the artist, and some were acquired thanks to BankGiro Lottery players.

60th birthday

The opening celebrations take place on 2 July, the artist’s 60th birthday, and the exhibition will open to the public the following day. Olaf says: "It fills me with pride that on my 60th birthday I will be surrounded by an abundance of the beauty that has inspired me since my earliest youth. This is the root of my artistic expression."


Working in collaboration with the Rijksmuseum’s director Taco Dibbits, Erwin Olaf has selected eleven photographs and one video installation for display alongside eleven paintings and one print from the Rijksmuseum collection. Their combined presentation bears witness to Olaf’s effortless ability to bridge past and present. All artists face the same challenges and use the same instruments: light, expression, texture. Erwin Olaf: "I recognise myself in these paintings; the inner need for self-expression, says Olaf, I find this exploration of the interior the toughest of all, but also the most enjoyable."

Portrait of a Girl Dressed in Blue by Johannes Cornelisz Verspronck, for example, will be coupled with Erwin Olaf’s Hope – Portrait 5. The photographer chose Verspronck’s painting for a variety of reasons. The girl looks directly at the viewer. Her eyes may be composed of just a few strokes of paint, but as a viewer you feel like you are looking right into them – the painter’s rendering of the light in her eyes is utterly compelling.

Olaf was also very affected by the texture of the fabric in this painting. There are striking correspondences between the two works: the blue and yellow dresses; the girl and the young woman. What is more, in their essence the compositions are fairly simple, with little of note to be seen apart from the subjects themselves.

Without prompting, the model in Olaf’s photograph made precisely the right gesture: the hand seeking support from the wall. Such moments cannot be planned. Olaf regards this photograph and Verspronck’s painting as the results of a synergy between artist and model.

The print Nude Woman by Rembrandt will hang alongside Erin Olaf’s 1987 photograph La Penseuse (Squares). At the core of print and photograph alike is the depiction of the subject’s skin, which in both cases is finely rendered. Like Rembrandt, Olaf made the conscious choice to portray an imperfect body. To the artist, this model’s skin is far more interesting than that of a young, unblemished and perfectly proportioned body that is not yet in decline; that has not yet lived a life.


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