Painting of smoking men at a table hangs on the wall
The painting by artist Rein Dool depicts a 1970s Executive Board. (Photo: Leiden University)

After a storm of criticism, the removed painting depicting university executives smoking cigars has been put back on the wall at Leiden University. It is temporary, though.

Lees in het Nederlands

The painting was reportedly ‘spontaneously’ removed from one of the university’s meeting rooms, according to its website. The board calls it a ‘tongue-in-cheek action with a serious undertone’.

“We see the action as the start of a discussion on the matter but are pressing pause for now”, says Executice Board Chair Annetje Ottow in the statement. “We will hang the work back on the wall for the time being.”

The work in question is a painting of an Executice Board from the 1970s. “It is an impressive artwork and we are proud of the past administrators who are depicted in the painting”, Ottow stated. “The action does not change that.”

‘As it hangs now, it lacks context’

But there has allegedly been discussion about the painting by artist Rein Dool for some time. “Not everyone feels represented by this iconic work”, Ottow believes. “As it hangs now, it also lacks context.”

A diverse committee must now ‘figure out the best approach for ensuring the work is done the justice it deserves’. On that committee, Ottow would like to see a university historian, an alumnus, art historians, other experts and students.

In university magazine Mare, professor Remco Breuker, known for WOinAction, recounts (in Dutch) the progressive and democratic ideas of the board at the time. The painting includes then-rector magnificus Dolf Cohen, who had to go into hiding during the war. He is the father of former Labour Party leader Job Cohen, who has now offered to update the current Executive Board on history.

The PhD student who asked on Twitter what she should think of the painting received a flood of hateful and xenophobic messages. She has since defaced her Twitter account.

HOP, Bas Belleman