In order to introduce students to the visual arts, and as a means of brightening up employees’ rooms and public areas of the university in an aesthetically responsible fashion, Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) has been collecting art for several decades now. It all started in 1964 and was initiated by professor P. Sanders with the purchase of contemporary prints by Dutch and foreign artists. There was deliberately no preference for a particular art movement or trend, nor was there any attempt to acquire a collection that was intended to reflect every variant of the graphic arts. The only criterion, in fact, was quality.
Why prints? Primarily because there was no comparable collection anywhere, but also – let’s be honest about it – for financial reasons. Prints, after all, are generally produced in limited numbers. For that reason the purchase price is relatively low, unlike that of unique works of art, such as paintings.
Acquisitions spanning more than 40 years have resulted in a rich collection in which many artistic movements from that period are represented, including pop art, op-art, constructivism, realism, surrealism and Junge Wilde. The collection includes works by well-known artists like Armando, Beuys, Escher, Lohse, Lucebert, Picasso, Hockney and Warhol.
Graphics is the generic term for a variety of printing techniques. The most important techniques represented in the EUR collection are:
- Screen-printing. Ink is pressed through a fine gauze screen, but only through the sections that are not covered by wax (saturation);
- Lithographic printing. The image is created by partly treating a stone with oils and then ink (the ink will only adhere to the oily sections) and by pushing it under pressure through a press using paper (planography);
- Etching. The image is waxed or scratched directly onto a metal plate, which is then inked (the ink remains only in the grooves), before being run through an etching press using paper (engraving);
- Woodcut or linocut. Here, the part of the image that has not been cut away is treated with ink before being printed (relief printing);
- Computer prints. The image is designed on a computer screen.
There are now over 1,900 high-quality works in the collection. This is not merely an evaluation made by the EUR itself: it was confirmed by the Minister of Education, Culture and Science in a 1996 report on academic heritage entitled, “Om het academisch erfgoed”, in which 20% of our collection is classified in category A: ‘completely unique in terms of quality; nowhere else in the Netherlands is a comparable object or partial collection to be found.’ The other works of art are classified in category B: ‘aesthetically attractive or spectacular.’