Geschiedenis Tropenmuseum

History Tropenmuseum

A museum about people

The Tropenmuseum is located in one of the most beautiful and original museum buildings in the Netherlands. The objects in the collection each tell a unique, human story and awaken our curiosity about the enormous cultural diversity that enriches the world around us.

The collection bears witness to universal human themes such as mourning, celebration, seduction, prayer and conflict. From Africa to Western and South-East Asia, from New Guinea to Latin America and via narrated and musical journeys, the Tropenmuseum brings one to discover that - for all their differences - people around the world are the same.


The history of the Tropenmuseum dates back to 1864. In this year the Society for the Promotion of Industry (Maatschappij ter Bevordering van Nijverheid) decided that a collection should be started for a museum about the Dutch overseas territories. Frederik van Eeden was commissioned to do this. A collection, part of which is still in the museum’s stockrooms, was started in the attic of his home in Haarlem.

Colonial museum

Van Eeden spread the news of his search. Many in the Netherlands had home collections of objects from the Dutch East Indies and gave these to Van Eeden. And it was not long before a building was required to house the objects. The ground floor of Paviljoen Welgelegen, in Haarlem, was used for this purpose. Here, in 1871, the world’s first Colonial Museum opened its doors and remained open to visitors until 1923.

New building

The Colonial Institute Association was established in 1910. It busied itself with finding a location and, later, with supervising construction of the new Colonial Institute and Colonial Museum located in Amsterdam. The site was that of the old Oosterbegraafplaats (eastern cemetery), on the corner of Mauritskade and Linnaeusstraat. Many obstacles hindered the start of construction. The cemetery had to be cleared, the First World War started and during construction a storm destroyed a large part of the scaffolding. In 1923 construction had advanced to the point that the collections could be moved from Haarlem to Amsterdam.

History Tropenmuseum - the construction


The Colonial Institute was officially opened on 9 October 1926 by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. She entered via the Royal Entrance at the rear of the Grote Zaal (great hall), but the queen observed that the public entrance on Mauritskade was more beautiful. She wished, like other visitors, to enjoy that entrance and the marble hall to which it gave access. The new Colonial Institute now consisted of a large building, with its entrance on Mauritskade, and the Colonial Museum on Linnaeusstraat.

Opening Tropenmuseum by Queen Wilhelmina


The exhibits were open during the war, but it was increasingly difficult to work in the institute. Part of the building was occupied by the Grüne Polizei. The Mauritskade entrance was strictly guarded. Rather strangely, the building next to the museum was not guarded, so that people could enter the building via the museum. People and objects were concealed in all sorts of hiding places and in its many attics. The museum was closed in 1944.



The objectives and name of the museum changed in 1950. From 1945 it was temporarily called the Indisch Museum (Indian museum). Now it became the Tropenmuseum (tropical museum). As its collection consisted mainly of objects from the (former) colonies, many new purchases and exchanges with other museums had to be concluded. The shortage of objects stimulated the museum’s creativity. Exhibitions were set up using relatively cheaply-acquired utility items, sound recordings and recreated ‘tableaux’ – all of which were innovative forms of exhibition.

Renovation in the '70s

The museum was extensively renovated in the ’70s. Initially an extension was added to house the Tropenmuseum Junior children’s museum, a theatre hall and an additional exhibition space. Tropenmuseum Junior opened in 1975 and a range of activities took place in the theatre. The rest of the museum was closed for four years. The stairs at the front were demolished. The entrance to the building was moved one floor lower. The tiled floors were replaced with parquet. Once installed, however, the gleaming parquet was found to have a rather too luxurious image for exhibitions with third world themes. The parquet was therefore reversed, with its roughly finished, unvarnished underside as the new floor. The atrium floor was raised to the level of the galleries. This enabled the hall to be used for exhibitions as well as for large, international congresses.