Leiden UniversityThe painting by Rein Dool at the Law Faculty of Leiden University.
A painting depicting white, smoking men must remain at Leiden University. That is the advice of the committee that was set up by the university after a fuss about the canvas last autumn. If it is up to the committee, the painting will be given a prominent place, but with context.
The committee’s advice has not yet been officially announced, but was explained today in a symposium at the university. There, experts, staff and students discussed the issue and the purpose of art at the university in general.
In November last year, a fierce discussion arose about the painting that hung on the wall of a meeting room of the law faculty. A PhD student and a professor had expressed their dissatisfaction with the work on Twitter. The 1976 painting depicts six men, some smoking. They formed the board of the university almost 50 years ago.
In the tweet, the PhD student wondered what signal the painting was sending. An ironic or self-critical note next to the painting would not be out of place, she thought. To that, professor of criminology Joanne van der Leun responded: “I’ve spent most of my career in academia in rooms with men and paintings of men. Besides, I hate the smoke, even if it’s just painted.”
Some university employees subsequently decided to remove the painting. “An action with a wink, but with a serious undertone”, the university responded at the time. This led to discussion on social media and even to parliamentary questions. The university decided to hang the painting back pending a decision on the future of the canvas. A diverse committee would investigate how the work could best come into its own.
“We recommend that the painting should be given a place where people can actually see it, but in any case with a clear story to go with it,” said committee chairman Kitty Zijlmans to Nieuwsuur. “Below this advice is that huge discussion about what it means to feel represented. You can’t make 30,000 people feel represented, but you can give them a feeling of: you are welcome here.”
The committee would also like to see an art committee set up. “This debate must be ongoing. Also with new generations of students and also with non-academic staff. Because they are also part of this university.”
The maker of the painting, the 89-year-old painter Rein Dool, found it incomprehensible that his work had been removed last year:
Woke discussion in Leiden about old men who smoke cigars
During today’s symposium, several points were mentioned that the committee would like to include in its advice. “What does this say about our power structures and the way the university is built, for example? Those are things that we want to tighten up a bit more in the advice,” says Zijlmans. She says that the advice will soon go to the university’s Executive Board.
Stop blowing up
University professor Remco Breuker attended the symposium and says he is pleased with the committee’s advice. After the commotion about the painting in November, he already told Nieuwsuur: “They are indeed older white men in the painting, but is that all they were? Doesn’t that take away the whole context, their whole identity?”
The professor believes that something that is part of the university’s history should not be erased. He says he hopes that the advice will again lead to discussion at the university. “These are such fundamental topics about what we are as a university and what we don’t want to be. We all think very differently sometimes. I wouldn’t mind at all if this advice caused a stir.”