In 1769 a group of wealthy notables from Zeeland came together to form the Royal Zeeland Society of Arts and Sciences with the aim of undertaking scientific activities. At the end of the eighteenth century, the Society founded the first museum in Zeeland: the Museum Medioburgense on the Latijnse Schoolstraat in Middelburg. A century later, in 1889, the museum moved to an old patrician’s house in the Wagenaarstraat. A few years earlier, in 1886, another museum opened in the Schutterhofstraat in Middelburg: the Art Museum, whose collection consisted mainly of paintings and drawings. The collection was housed in a new building designed to show the artworks at their best.

the zeeuwse museum foundation

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the two museums flourished alongside each other. During the course of the twentieth century both museums fell into decline and part of the collection was lost during the bombing of Middelburg in 1940. After the war there was renewed interest in founding a contemporary museum in the province. In 1961 the Zeeuwse Museum Foundation took up residence in the patrician’s house on the Wagenaarstraat and received the collection of the Royal Zeeland Society of Arts and Sciences on loan. The Kunstmuseums collection was transferred to the Zeeuwse Museum Foundation.

Zeeuws Museum in the abbey

From the beginning it was clear that the accommodation in the patrician’s house on the Wagenaarstraat was not suited to a modern museum. For example, the roof over the storage facility was not insulated and the entire building was heated by only two stoves, resulting in freezing conditions inside in harsh winters. In 1962 plans were developed to rehouse the museum in the former abbey dating from the eleventh century in the centre of Middelburg, which was also home to the provincial government. Another ten years passed before the Zeeuws Museum moved into part of the abbey complex in 1972.