Exhibition — 6 Oct until 18 Dec 2003

Necessary. Send an e-mail to reservations@stedelijk.nl, stating your full name, e-mail address, telephone number, and the date of the program you want to attend.

A project by artist and critic Cornel Bierens for Amsterdam secondary students on the upper floor of the Sandberg Wing. A 120-year-old painting by George Hendrik Breitner will be copied at 100 times the size of the original.

It involves a portrait from the collection of the Stedelijk, ‘The Eunuch’ (also called ‘The Usher’ or the ‘African Warrior’), in which an black man is to be seen from the crown of his head to just below the waist, his torso bared and with a sword before his stomach.

Under the guidance of the artist and critic Cornel Bierens the portrait will be built up literally stone by stone, because the end result will be a mosaic consisting of nearly 3000 painted tiles of 10 x 10 cm. Breitner can be thought of as the ‘composer’, Bierens as the ‘director’, and the students who will be realising the project as the ‘orchestra’.

Why ‘The Eunuch’?
‘The Eunuch’ is a magnificent painting which has unjustly been too little discussed and investigated, and therefore is less well-known than it deserves to be. This project is perhaps an unusual manner of subjecting the painting to investigation and getting to understand it better, but no less intensive for that fact. The work embodies a number of contemporary cultural tensions: it deals with history, race and sexuality. These concerns connect with the cultural diversity of our society, starting with the students who will be participating in the project.

The original
Breitner evidently painted the portrait, measuring 70 x 41 cm, in 1883, in The Hague, where in those years he was also regularly working with Vincent van Gogh. In 1882 Van Gogh wrote of Breitner in a letter to his brother Theo, ‘He draws very skilfully and very differently  than I do, and together we often do types in the soup kitchen or in the waiting room, etc. He comes around to my studio rather often, and I go around to his.’

The Ethiopian Adolf Boutar was the model for ‘The Eunuch’. Because of his race, in that day still rather unusual in The Netherlands, Boutar was much in demand as a model at the drawing evenings at the Pulchri Studio, the artists’ association in The Hague. Various artists, including Suze Robertson (1855-1922), did portraits of him. A photograph of Breitner’s painting exists on which the painter himself has written ‘Robinson’. Who did he mean? Robinson Crusoe?

The realisation
The art work will be 70 tiles high (7 m) and 41 tiles (4.1 m) wide. The students will paint them according to their own insights, following the colour but not the motif. Their painted squares will be laid out on the floor like pieces of a puzzle, and a video camera in the ceiling will make an overview possible: the monitor reproduces the work in condensed form, allowing it to be viewed as if from a distance. The upper storey of the new wing, where the artwork will be produced, will function as an open atelier, where visitors to the Museum can watch the work process live. At the same time, Breitner’s original will be seen in the Museum.

The artwork will be shown, laid out and with the support of video monitors, during the Museum Night on November 8-9. It will also be possible to compare it with the original, hanging in the same gallery. The development of the project can also be followed on the Stedelijk’s website, as well as in the Museum itself. A video documentary will be made of the whole process, and there will be a poster of the end result, but it will be 100 times smaller - that is to say, the size of Breitner’s original.

3000 are together one will be presented to the public at the Museum Night on November 8. You can follow the process of creating it via this website: education (only in the Dutch version).

The project is made possible in part by the Amsterdam Art Fund.