The museum is closed. We hope to see you soon. Sign up for our newsletter and we will keep you posted!

Part of the
exhibition

In the Presence of Absence proposals for the museum collection

5 Sep 2020 until 31 Jan 2021

Artist Page — 2 Sep 2020

In the Presence of Absence, the bi-annual show of proposals for the museum collection, presents 23 artists (collectives). This artist page includes a text on the work and an artist contribution.

In WEDDING PORTRAIT of Johan de Witt and Wendela Bicker (2020), Natasja Kensmil uses the archetype of the 17th-century marriage portrait to critically examine power relations and wealth. Johan de Witt became Grand Pensionary of Holland in 1653, making him one of the most important national political figures of the time. In 1655, De Witt married Wendela Bicker, who like him came from a wealthy and powerful patrician family. This installation of paintings shows the couple in full length, surrounded by nine smaller canvases that include depictions of heraldic symbols and coats of arms, and a portrait of a Black man.

In the process of painting, Kensmil dwells on the question of whether humanity is by nature good or evil. She is fascinated by all that is concealed, mysterious, and obscure, as well as by mythology, mysticism, religion, and history. When it comes to history, her main focus is on themes such as power and the consequences of its abuse, an example being her series on the downfall of the Romanovs, the Russian imperial family.

WEDDING PORTRAIT of Johan de Witt and Wendela Bicker also places wealthy families in another perspective, in the context of their position of power and their place in history and art history. These powerful Dutch families were great champions of freedom and equality in the Netherlands, but while the country was leading the world in science, art, and trade, it also excelled overseas in human trafficking, exploitation, and looting. So, what exactly did this freedom amount to? At what point must the freedom of one cost the freedom of another? Kensmil reveals this multi-layered past, linking multiple realities to challenge the ambivalence of the historical and art-historical narrative. 

Illustration by Haitham Haddad after Natasja Kensmil’s “WEDDING PORTRAIT of Johan de Witt and Wendela Bicker,” 2020.
Illustration by Haitham Haddad after Natasja Kensmil’s “WEDDING PORTRAIT of Johan de Witt and Wendela Bicker,” 2020.

Natasja Kensmil (b. 1973) studied in Amsterdam, first at the Vrije Tekenacademie and the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, then as a postgraduate at De Ateliers. Kensmil’s work has been exhibited at Andriesse Eyck Galerie in Amsterdam, the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin, and Washington’s National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Natasja Kensmil, “WEDDING PORTRAIT of Johan de Witt and Wendela Bicker,” 2020, detail, 2 x 250x140cm, 9 x 100x100cm, oil on canvas. Courtesy andriesse-eyck gallery. Photo: Peter Tijhuis.
Natasja Kensmil, “WEDDING PORTRAIT of Johan de Witt and Wendela Bicker,” 2020, detail, 2 x 250x140cm, 9 x 100x100cm, oil on canvas. Courtesy andriesse-eyck gallery. Photo: Peter Tijhuis.

Artist Contribution

Natasja Kensmil, Installation view (detail), 2020. Mixed media collage on sheets from “Counts of Holland” and Art History books. Courtesy the artist.
Natasja Kensmil, Installation view (detail), 2020. Mixed media collage on sheets from “Counts of Holland” and Art History books. Courtesy the artist.