The Fries Museum in Leeuwarden attracted more visitors than ever in 2018, the year the city was the European Capital of Culture. No less than 350,000 people visited the museum, almost twice as many as the previous record from 2016 (175,977). The high number of visitors is mainly due to the blockbuster Escher’s Journey. Due to the unprecedented popularity of the exhibition, the museum was sold out almost daily between 28 April and 28 October. Mata Hari: the myth and the maiden ran until 2 April and drew 92,781 visitors (57,000 of whom in 2018). The museum brings 2018 to a close with Rembrandt & Saskia: Love and Marriage in the Dutch Golden Age. The exhibition received no less than five stars from the newspaper Trouw and is rated by visitors with 8.5. The museum is preparing plenty of large exhibitions for 2019, including Éric Van Hove: Fenduq, a major acquisitions presentation and We Vikings!
rembrandt & saskia
Rembrandt & Saskia: Love and Marriage in the Dutch Golden Age opened on 24 November. This exhibition about the most famous Frisian couple during the Golden Age has received rave reviews. De Telegraaf found it ‘a moving exhibition’, Trouw awarded it five stars and visitors rate it with 8.5. One of the masterpieces is Half-length Figure of Saskia Uylenburgh in Rich Apparel (1633-1642). This portrait of Saskia is one of Rembrandt’s most personal masterpieces and this is the first time it has been exhibited in the Netherlands for more than 250 years. The exhibition forms the prelude to the thematic Rembrandt Year 2019 and is open to the public until 17 March 2019.
In addition to Rembrandt & Saskia, the Fries Museum presented eleven other larger and smaller exhibitions in 2018. In the exhibition Phantom Limb: Art beyond Escher, ten contemporary artists from the Netherlands and abroad transport visitors to a world where nothing is what it seems, by playing with contrast, light, order, perspective, infinity and spaciousness. De Volkskrant, Trouw and Elsevier awarded the exhibition four stars. Phantom Limb can still be seen until 6 January 2019. The presentations Fries Land, Frisians and De Elf Steden complement the permanent exhibition Ferhaal fan Fryslân. In addition, three smaller presentations opened, with works by contemporary artists from Friesland but also far beyond.
2018 = m.c. escher
From 28 April to 28 October the Fries Museum brought M.C. Escher back to his hometown of Leeuwarden with the exhibition Escher’s Journey. Using more than 80 original prints, approximately 20 drawings and various photographs and objects, visitors could follow his development from a graphic talent to a world-famous artist. The exhibition was popular from the start. The museum was sold out almost every day and therefore extended its opening hours several times. Escher’s Journey was well received by the press, and visitors rated the exhibition with 8.4. Of the visitors, 96% came to the museum especially for the Escher exhibition. Escher also came to life outside the museum walls through the community project Planet Escher, with 3D street art, Escher in the grain, and the world’s largest crocheted blanket.
Research shows that 249,000 visitors came to Leeuwarden especially for the Fries Museum. Together they spent at least 13 million euros in the city and the region. In addition, 35,000 visitors stayed one or more nights. The museum thus provided more than 66,000 overnight stays in the region. There were 35,000 visitors from abroad and 76,000 – or no less than one in nine – Frisians.
The Fries Museum’s collection was expanded in 2018 with a few impressive works. With Day and Night (1938), the museum purchased a key work by the Leeuwarden-born artist Maurits Cornelis Escher. Locks of hair, photographs and some of her children’s personal belongings have been added to the Mata Hari collection. In addition, D9T (Rachel’s Tribute) (2015) by Éric Van Hove (Algeria, 1975), a complex and layered work based on the engine of a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer, has been acquired. Van Hove dismantled the engine and asked several craftsmen to recreate the individual parts using various materials from all over the world. The D9T will be on display from 2 February 2019 in Éric Van Hove: Fenduq. The existing collection has also received special treatment: for Rembrandt & Saskia, 20 paintings were restored with the support of the Wassenbergh-Clarijs-Fontein Foundation. As part of the Kolleksjesintrum Fryslân, the museum has become a generous partner for loans. Some of the more than 1800 currently loaned works can be seen in the exhibition Frysk - 100 Years of Painting in Friesland in Museum Belvédère, which the Fries Museum co-produced. The museum has also contributed to the furnishing of the Van Eysingahuis, which has been opened as a museum house by the Hendrick de Keyser Association.
The extensive range of educational activities on offer resulted in more than 15,000 school visits in 2018. Intermediate vocational students from ROC Friesland College visited Mata Hari: the myth and the maiden and then worked on a collage that included their portrayal of Mata Hari. Students from D’Drive organised an event around the exhibition with songs, dancing, music, theatre, an exhibition, films and fashion. Over 7300 pupils marvelled at Escher’s Journey and Phantom Limb, and 3200 pupils received a guest lesson about Escher at school. In addition, more than 13,000 children and young people paid extracurricular visits the museum, for example, for the sold-out holiday activities. This year, the museum organised a total of 170 activities for young and old, which lowered the threshold to the museum and/or offered more depth. More than 9500 visitors took part in these activities, for example, the lectures around Escher’s Journey and various art workshops.
Throughout the year the website was visited a million times. After the homepage, the Escher’s Journey exhibition page was the most visited. The reach of the museum grew on social media. On Facebook, the number of likes rose from 22,370 to 28,809. The museum has 13,182 followers on Twitter and 3330 on Instagram. A total of 4176 articles about the museum were published with a combined advertising value of 6.5 million euros.
The museum is increasingly seeking cooperation with the business community. For example, in 2017 the museum signed a multi-year partnership with Aegon. ING was the main sponsor of Escher’s Journey. This allowed more than 23,000 ING customers to buy their tickets for the exhibition at a 50% discount. A partnership with the Blockbuster Fund and the BankGiro Lottery meant that BankGiro Lottery VIP cardholders could bring a guest to the Escher exhibition free of charge. Thanks to the campaign, the museum welcomed almost 28,000 visitors. Arriva organised a bus tour of Escher in the grain for Planet Escher. In addition to the collaborations, the museum has 41 business friends. The museum’s private friends association now has 640 members who support the Fries Museum financially and in spirit. Together they contribute approximately 100,000 euros annually to special projects within the museum. The museum hosted 159 business events with a total of 10,453 participants.
With 130 volunteers and 15 new employees, the museum is ready to continue its success into 2019. From 2 February, the Fries Museum will be presenting the major retrospective Éric Van Hove: Fenduq. The Fries Museum is also busy preparing for We Vikings in the autumn of 2019. Prior to this, an exhibition showcasing acquisitions will be held at the museum.