The Restoration of Rembrandt’s Syndics

A Nineteen-Thirties Cleaning Controversy


  • Esther van Duijn



This article focuses on the reason why a cleaning controversy about the restoration of Rembrandt’s Syndics broke out nearly two and a half years after the work was completed in 1929 and how Rijksmuseum director Frederik Schmidt-Degener dealt with the challenges. Initiated by local artists from the Amsterdam artist society Arti et Amicitiae, the controversy was fuelled by provocative questionnaires circulated among artists and restorers by the daily De Telegraaf. A vindictive letter by Rijksmuseum restorer Pieter Bakker, who restored The Syndics in 1929, but left the museum on mental health grounds in 1930, fanned the flames still further, even though it was not published in the end. This cleaning controversy was not unique; arguments about the supposed dangers of cleaning paintings were fought out in public in European countries throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. After a cleaning controversy about Frans Hals paintings in Haarlem – which dragged on between 1909 and 1927 – The Syndics cleaning controversy was the second in the Netherlands. It was also the last. This previously unexplored episode in the Rijksmuseum’s conservation history carries a lesson in open communication regarding the restoration of cultural heritage. It is a lesson that is still valid today.


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Author Biography

Esther van Duijn

Esther van Duijn is a paintings conservator. Between 2015 and 2018 she carried out research into the conservation history of the Rijksmuseum’s paintings collection. This research was financed by the Luca Fonds / Rijksmuseum Fonds.




How to Cite

van Duijn, Esther. 2018. “The Restoration of Rembrandt’s Syndics: A Nineteen-Thirties Cleaning Controversy”. The Rijksmuseum Bulletin 66 (4):346-61.