The Dutch royal family will stop using a horse-drawn gold-covered coach dating from the late 19th-century that has long drawn criticism for its painted panel glorifying the Netherlands’ history of colonialism.
“As long as people in the Netherlands are experiencing daily pain from discrimination, the past will cast a shadow over our time,” King Willem-Alexander said in a video message announcing the decision on Thursday. “The Golden Coach will be able to ride again when the Netherlands is ready, which isn’t the case right now.”
The city of Amsterdam presented the carriage as a gift to Queen Wilhelmina, the first woman to sit on the Dutch throne, in 1898. It’s covered in gold and decorated with paintings on its side panels that were created by a prominent Dutch artist of the time, Nicolaas van der Waay.
One of those paintings, “Tribute from the Colonies,” depicts a young woman on a throne, a personification of the Dutch kingdom at the time, with an African in a loin cloth bowing down before her and Asians dressed in batiks presenting her with gifts, a representation of the Netherlands’ colony in what is now Indonesia. The themes of slavery and Dutch colonialism have long made the carriage a target for critics, particularly for descendants of formerly colonized peoples in the Netherlands.
“We can’t rewrite the past,” King Willem-Alexander said in the video, “but we can try to come to terms with it together.” Last year, an online petition to stop the use of the coach got more than 9,000 signatures, and activists have long been against its use.
The king and queen primarily used the carriage for the annual ceremonial opening of the Dutch Parliament every September in The Hague, most recently in 2015. Since then the coach has undergone a roughly $1.4 million renovation and has been on display to the public as part of an exhibition at the Amsterdam Museum, which closes at the end of February.
Urwin Vyent, the director of the National Institute for the Study of Dutch Slavery and its Legacy, said the decision was a step in the right direction, adding that he hoped it would lead to an official apology for the Netherlands’ colonial legacy. “As far as we’re concerned it can stay in a museum and be part of a new historical awareness,” Mr. Vyent said.
Devika Partiman, who is a board member of Netherlands Gets Better, an organization that aims to educate the Netherlands about the consequences of its history of colonialism and slavery, praised the decision but said she wondered why the king left the door open to use the coach again in the future.
“Even if there comes a day when we’ve processed the colonial past,” Ms. Partiman said, “why would you want to ride in a carriage where colonial history is surrounded by splendor?”
The carriage has long divided opinion in the Netherlands. Many people have also defended it as part of the history of the Netherlands.
“There won’t be a moment that we will be done with this,” said Margriet Schavemaker, the artistic director of the Amsterdam Museum. “It’s important to enter into conversation with each other about this.”
As part of the exhibit and wider research in the country, she said the museum talked to many people about their thoughts about the coach and its meaning.
Last summer, King Willem-Alexander said he was “listening” to discussions and public forums about the topic, and had promised to come back with a decision about the carriage at a later date.
“The king follows the societal discussion about the Golden Coach and knows about the different perspectives in society and politics,” a spokeswoman for the Dutch Royal House said. She said the coach would be kept at the Royal Stables in The Hague, alongside the royal family’s other carriages, after the Amsterdam exhibition.