The article below was published in Pinnable’s newsletter in . Museum Paulina Bisdom van Vliet reopened on 3 May 2022 after undergoing extensive renovation works.

Maladie de porcelaine

Museum Paulina Bisdom van Vliet

Paulina Bisdom van Vliet (1840–1923) was the last scion of the Bisdom family, who had been regents in the village of Haastrecht since the 17th century. When her husband was appointed mayor of Haastrecht in 1878, they moved to the house built in the years before by her late father, the former mayor. After Paulina died, having survived her husband by 42 years, the house became a museum. As stipulated in her will, it had to remain unchanged in every respect, and nowadays Museum Paulina Bisdom van Vliet in Haastrecht is a perfect 19th-century time capsule showing the house of an upper-class family & its eclectic interior. Renovation works are planned until the middle of 2021, and the museum will be closed after 22 December, so there are only three weeks left to visit the museum any time soon.

Museum Paulina Bisdom van Vliet’s living room
China plate wall patterns in the living room

Located slightly off the beaten track, the museum houses Asian & European porcelain in extraordinary quantities. The Bisdoms, like many other affluent families of the regent class, vigorously tried to imitate the nobility, and contracting porcelain sickness was an easy way of doing so. And thanks to the VOC, the Dutch East India Company, access to china was considerably less difficult for them than for, say, porcelain collectors in Dresden. There is Ming & Qing porcelain from China and Chine de commande (Chinese porcelain made to order; plates with Dutch provinces’ coats of arms in this case), Imari ware from Japan, and massive amounts of tableware from Meissen. The once fashionable presentation featuring wall patterns of blue & white plates is of course of great interest, but, according to our youngest offspring, they cannot compete with the museum’s deputy keeper’s lively tales of times past, and his demonstration of Paulina’s cylinder music box & the table clock with the built-in pipe organ.

Reader comments


Porcelain was not only used to show off. In the 18th century, the fashion for coffee & tea was growing, and drinkers became widely appreciative of porcelain’s unique resistance to thermal shock. (In the beginning, earthenware crockery was used, but that chipped too easily.)


It wasn’t just the Dutch VOC that traded porcelain from the East Indies; their English competitor did as well. In the British Library in London we have an East India Company’s sales catalogue for 28 March 1704, which offers ‘pepper, druggs, callicoes, and other goods’, among which ‘cuſtard cups blew and wt., painted ſcollopt muggs, painted choc. cups with handles crack’d, tea cups blew and white’ & other chinaware. (The cups with handles being crackled, not cracked.)


Typical for eclecticism, polychrome stuccoed ceilings were in vogue during the latter half of the 19th century & the next decade. Fifty years later almost all of them had been painted white, and Museum Bisdom van Vliet is one of the few places left where one can enjoy polychrome ceilings, and the way the patterns in the carpet reflect those in the stucco.


For years, Mrs Paulina Maria le Fèvre de Montigny-Bisdom van Vliet successfully opposed the construction of a provincial road between Gouda & Oudewater, and therefore it was only after her death that works started. (The same applied to the installation of electricity in her house.) Since the new road was opened in 1934, Haastrecht is still pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but no longer ‘off the beaten track’ — the N228 runs right in front of Mrs Bisdom’s house.