A dutch national museum that was never meant to be

In the 1870s, after the Franco-Prussian war, the art and sciences budget of the Netherlands increased dramatically. If the Dutch ever had an Victorian age in which some dreamt of cathedrals of science, it was then. In 1872-3 nearly 1,5 million guilders (quite a lot at that time) was reserved to upgrade Leiden University and the State Museum of Natural History. The university would get a new zoological laboratory and a new main building (academiegebouw), the state museum would be able to move to a bigger building as well. 

First a new building was envisioned for all three of them. To put the museum and the university laboratory in one building was a major breakthrough but also something to be expected. The relation between the state museum and the university zoologists was at that time better than it had ever been before. Both were lead by German friends of the late Wilhelm Moritz Keferstein (1833-1870).  The state museum’s director was Hermann Schlegel (1804-1884); the chair in zoology at the university was Emil Selenka (1842-1902).

But a new zoological laboratory was soon built somewhere else; Selenka had been asking for it since 1868 and when the money was finally allocated he didn’t want to wait for the others. He had at that time grown impatient with the civil servants of the Dutch state. Maybe he foresaw things.

In the mean time, civil servants decided that it would not be wise either to join the academiegebouw with the new museum, and so they decided to build two new buildings and, well, why not put two committees on it?

A team was sent out to study museums of natural history in other large cities, like Berlin, Paris and London. This team existed of three members. The first was  J. B. A. J. M. Verheyen, a roman catholic and conservative member of parliament. The second was the famous architect Pierre Cuypers, who had developed many churches, who had also developed the new Rijksmuseum and who was to develop the new Amsterdam central train station. The third member was one of the museum’s curators, the liberal evolutionary biologist Ambrosius Hubrecht who also happened to be the son of the secretary-general of the ministry of the Interior. They wrote a report on these foreign musea and based on these visits they came up with a design for the new museum.

They created this:

In my dissertation on late nineteenth century Dutch biologists and the imperial state I will look into the matter with a bit more detail. What I can tell you at the moment is that it was not built in the end. (Well, that is a fact easily induced from the absence of such a building in Leiden.)  

The director of the museum, Schlegel, came with a competing design himself; Hubrecht would leave the museum to pursue a career at the university of Utrecht as professor in zoology; Cuyper would work on other projects. In the 1880s, the allocated money was silently taken away from the national budget. Why?

Was it because Dutch and national museums never were and never will be a winning team?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: