Water and the Dutch

Feb. 14, 2012 – June 10, 2012 Deze tentoonstelling is afgelopen
Han Singels, Uiterwaarden bij Graaf
Water is the single most defining element of the Dutch identity. The ease with which the Dutch deal with water and their low-lying country is a source of wonder to the rest of the world. With a hundred and twenty artworks, the Kunsthal Rotterdam illustrates the affinity that the people of the Netherlands have with water.

Top historical pieces by Old Masters such as Willem Maris and Salomon van Ruysdael are exhibited alongside remarkable works by modern artists including Theo van Doesburg and Edgar Fernhout, and contemporary artists such as Marijke van Warmerdam and Daniëlle Kwaaitaal. This varied selection of artworks provides an insight into the essential role that art plays in our perception of water. Visitors to Sweet&Salt can ‘experience' the Dutch waterland in all its diversity, be they young or old, novice or expert. 


The myth of unspoilt Dutch polder landscape is one of grazing cows and wide sweeping views. In ‘Sweet&Salt', the countryside depicted in the photographs of contemporary photographer Han Singels appears to be no different to that in 19th century paintings by Willem Roelofs. In addition to visual art, the exhibition includes iconic media images of events embedded in the Dutch collective memory such as the North Sea Flood of 1953 and the building of the Afsluitdijk (the Ijsselmeer Dam). On the basis of five themes (struggle, alliance, gain, leisure and myth), ‘Sweet&Salt' takes a closer look at various aspects of the Netherlands' relationship with water, from water that must be tamed and which the Dutch have learned to live with, use and enjoy, to water as an element of beauty and spiritual significance.

The ‘Creatable' Landscape

Dikes, the Delta Works and the Afsluitdijk form the necessary protection against the turbulent water in and surrounding the Netherlands. The Dutch landscape seems to be entirely ‘creatable' thanks to constant improvements in technology. The exhibition, together with a book of the same name, clearly illustrates how safety and flood management are increasingly making way for water maintenance and the theme of living in harmony with water. ‘Sweet&Salt' invites the general public, planners and policymakers to take a fresh look at the way in which water and landscapes are portrayed in art, to gain inspiration with regard to the management, maintenance and continually changing structure of the Dutch waterland.

Special Cooperation

Sweet&Salt is a project that comprises an exhibition in the Kunsthal and a publication of the same name by Tracy Metz and Maartje van den Heuvel, published by NAi publishers. The exhibition has been compiled by guest curator Maartje van den Heuvel, art historian and curator of Special Collections at Leiden University in the Netherlands.  The main lenders to this exhibition are the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage, and the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo. In the publication, Metz examines in detail contemporary developments in the Netherlands in the field of water, and the international position and relevance of water. The book contains five illustrations sections, which serve as a catalogue for the exhibition, and an introduction written by Van den Heuvel about the role of art and the media regarding the significance of water. The book will be published in both Dutch (ISBN 978-90-5662-847-5, €29.50) and English (ISBN 978-90-5662-848-2).

02 Hendrik Cornelisz. Vroom, Het uitzeilen van een aantal Oost-Indiëvaarders uit het Marsdiep, ca - LR.jpg
Hendrik Cornelisz. Vroom, Het uitzeilen van een aantal Oost-Indiëvaarders uit het Marsdiep

With the support of:

Province of Zuid-Holland, Evides Waterbedrijf, Netherlands Architecture Fund, Vitens, DeltaPORT Donation Fund, Rijkswaterstaat, Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, Delft University of Technology, province of Gelderland, NWB Bank, WWF, Knowledge for Climate, City of Dordrecht, Hoogheemraadschap De Stichtse Rijnlanden, DHV, Rebel, Association of Regional Water Authorities, Royal Haskoning, Fund for Special Journalistic Projects and Hollandse Delta Water Authorities

09 Emmy Andriesse, Camperduin, 1950-1952.jpg
Emmy Andriesse, Camperduin, 1950-1952
10 Ed van Wijk, Evacuatie tijdens de Watersnoodramp, Stavenisse, 1953.jpg
Ed van Wijk, Evacuatie tijdens de Watersnoodramp, Stavenisse, 1953