Wednesday 22 March 2023

‘Cigar smoking old men’ back on Leiden university wall – for now

The painting in question. Photo: Leiden University

A painting of ‘cigar smoking old men’ at the centre of a row at Leiden University has been restored to its former place amid a row over its relevance.

The painting, a depiction of the 1974 university board, had been removed after a number of female staff had objected to its presence because it represented male dominance and showed smoking. ‘I hate the smoke, even if it’s only painted,’ law dean Joanna van Leun said on Twitter.

The move divided staff, with some saying artist Rein Dool’s depiction has an element of mockery of the men’s importance in it, and others siding with Van Leun.

The row created a stir outside the university walls as well. ‘Are depictions of men now banned?’ VVD MP Hatte van der Woude asked, while former Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen, son of the one of the offending board members, offered to do ‘a short lecture’ on the painting and its context.

Rein Dool’s painting of the board is ‘dominates the small meeting space’, a spokesman for the university told the Volkskrant. ‘You can almost feel those men looking over your shoulder. It’s no longer relevant to today and is a source of irritation for some members of staff.’

Meanwhile the university, which called the spat ‘the starting point for a discussion’ about whether art that offends some modern sensibilities should be removed, has put the painting back on the wall.

‘The painting has been – temporarily – returned to its spot to protect it’, the spokesman said. ‘The university is not swayed by a couple of Tweets but we cannot turn a blind eye to the discussion among staff. We will decide what to do with it after a broad discussion,’ he said.

Artist Rein Dool called the university’s action ‘stupid and sad’.

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