Groninger Museum

20 April 2024

If you have been living in Groningen for some time you may have already seen the Groninger Museum, even if just from the outside (but we definitely recommend visiting the collection!). If you are new, then look out for a very interesting looking building with a tall yellow pavilion right across the train station. It definitely captures your attention with its contemporary design, and the collection inside is just as colorful and fun. Even today, the design of the building takes visitors by surprise because they do not expect something so modern to be a part of a city full of old buildings and centuries-old monuments like the Martinitower. But as modern as the museum looks today, it did not start out this way.

Groninger Museum

The Groninger Museum originally opened its doors to the public in 1890, which was
a big step in the city becoming a culture center in the province. However, it was
nothing like what it is today. In fact, it wasn’t even called the Groninger Museum,
but the ‘Museum van Oudheden’ which translates to Museum of Antiquities. The
original building of the museum was located in Praediniussingel 59 and it still
stands there today. The building is no longer connected to the museum but is now
the location of the Frank Mohr Institute of the Minerva Academie, which is the fine
arts academy of Groningen, part of the Hanze University of Applied Sciences. Next
time you are near the building, observe the name on top which still says
‘Groningsch Museum’ in gold letters, but it is not so noticeable at first sight.

The old museum was as different on the inside as it was on the outside. As its
original name suggests, its collection was all about antique objects from the 16th to
18th centuries to preserve the culture of the region, so it was more of a history
museum than an art museum. There was a major change in 1896-97 when there
were eight modern art exhibitions held there, including one dedicated to Vincent
van Gogh, who was not so famous back then. This exhibition was held almost seven
years after his death and the residents of Groningen loved it. There were 128
artworks by the artist displayed on the first floor of the old museum building and
Van Gogh’s exhibition had 1600 visitors in only six days. Other than him, some other
modern art was also displayed in the museum including another famous Dutch
artist named Jan Toroop. You can say that Groningers had seen the old objects for a
long time and were happy to see something very different and modern for that time.
There was a lot more color in the old building that year and Groningen’s cultural
history became a lot brighter.

So the museum has a longer and a very different history than how we know it today.
The new building was built in the location it is in now in 1994, which is quite recent.
This time, rather than going for an old style, it was built in a Postmodernist design
with the chief architect being Allesandro Mendini, one of the most important
Postmodern designers from Italy. Being right across the train station, the museum
is the first thing you see when you enter the city and it instantly tells you that
Groningen is well connected with Postmodern art and design. Next time you visit
the Groninger Museum, take a moment to look at all the different structures and
designs and colours of the building and remember how it once used to be. Even if
you don’t study at the Minerva Academie, you may still have seen the Frank Mohr
Institute. If not, we definitely recommend walking by there and looking at the roots
of the Groninger Museum which is such an important part of the city’s heritage.