The art collection of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (BZ), which presently consists of around 12,000 works, is housed in 300 Dutch embassies and residences abroad. The collection came into being in the 1950s and features works of art from various periods and disciplines. Each work is unique, yet they all contain a Dutch element or refer directly to the country in which they are on display. The collection consists exclusively of Dutch artists or artists who have worked in the Netherlands for an extended period of time. Besides Old Masters like Ruysdael and Israëls, there are works by the Cobra group, Armando, Marc Mulders and many contemporary photographers.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is keen to support the visual arts by making Dutch art known outside the Netherlands. By purchasing contemporary art, the Ministry seeks to create insight into the developments and trends current in the Dutch art world of today. BZ art graces the walls of embassies and residences, giving these buildings an identity of their own. In addition, it plays a role in diplomacy by helping to build an image of the Netherlands abroad. In The Hague, too, art plays a significant part in the BZ working environment. The photography on display there supports the primary process by inspiring the staff and encouraging them to view the world with an open mind.
Besides acquiring and managing its own collection, BZ also actively commissions art. There are now over 40 monumental works of art at Dutch missions abroad. By virtue of their size and the way they are displayed, they can be seen not only by staff, but also by visitors to the building or even chance passers-by.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs collection came into being in the 1950s, when various Dutch ambassadors made personal selections of art and antiques from the national collection for their residences abroad. In this way, the collection continued to grow through time. When the Ministry moved to its present premises in the 1980s, the need for a new art policy arose. In the past, the emphasis had been on embassies and official residences, but it then shifted more towards the Ministry's headquarters in The Hague. While collection items abroad have been chosen to promote and reflect the Netherlands' identity in all its artistic diversity, at BZ headquarters the focus is on contemporary photography.