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All the Einsteins: pop-up exhibition at Rijksmuseum Boerhaave

A pop-up exhibition ‘All the Einsteins’ will open at Rijsmuseum Boerhaave on 29 May 2019. This is the first time that the museum will present its entire collection of handwritten letters and documents by Einstein. The exhibition marks, among others, the publication of the first photo of a black hole last month.

Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity was confirmed a hundred years ago, during the eclipse of the sun on 29 May 1919. Last month, the photo of a black hole once again confirmed his theory. To mark these two events, Rijksmuseum Boerhaave will present Einstein’s entire collection of handwritten letters and documents. They link the past to the present and reveal the genius behind the Theory of General Relativity and Einstein’s special links with Leiden and the Netherlands. The exhibition will be opened by Leiden astronomer Remo Tilanus.

Also on show at the exhibition: the fountain pen that Einstein wrote the Theory of General Relativity with (photo: Rijksmuseum Boerhaave).

Telegram from 1919

The highlight of the exhibition is the telegram from Dutch physicist Hendrik Antoon Lorentz to Einstein on 22 September 1919 informing Einstein that his prediction was right (see photo at the top). One of the predictions made in the Theory of General Relativity is that light rays bend as they pass around the sun. During the solar eclipse of 29 May 1919, a British eclipse expedition led by Arthur Eddington managed to measure this bending of light. This was the first observation confirming Einstein’s prediction. So soon after the first world war, direct telegraphy was not possible between Eddington and Einstein. Lorentz therefore acted as point of contact between the English and German scholars. On the back of the telegram, Einstein made a note for the telegram he would send in response: ‘My warmest thanks to you and Eddington. Regards Einstein.’

Robbert Dijkgraaf in Einstein’s study

Einstein wrote one of the letters in the collection of Rijksmuseum Boerhaave when he was working at the Institute for Advance Study in Princeton. Former museum director Maria Rooseboom asked him to write his memories of Lorentz to mark the 100th anniversary of Lorentz’s birth. Since Robbert Dijkgraaf is the current occupant of Einstein’s study in Princeton, the present museum director, Amito Haarhuis, asked him to reflect on the 100th anniversary of the solar eclipse and the revolutionary photo of a black hole, and how the two verify Einstein’s theory. Dijkgraaf has already called these two events a ‘comic coincidence.’

Other exhibits include handwritten correspondence between Einstein and scholars in the Netherlands, including Lorentz, Kamerlingh Onnes and Ehrenfest. There are also letters to Tatyana Afanassjewa, Adriaan Fokker, Jules Verschaffelt, August Vermeylen, Eli Bromli and Constant Delprat.  
The pop-up exhibition can be seen at Rijsmuseum Boerhaave in Leiden from 30 May to 27 October 2019. 

Letter from Einstein to Kamerlingh Onnes (1901). On 12 April 1901, nine months after graduating and unemployed, the then 22-year-old Einstein asked Kamerlingh Onnes if he could use an assistant. His first publication 'Annalen der Physik' (on capillary phenomena) was enclosed, as was a self-addressed postcard. It was to no avail: the postcard (address: Via Bigli 21, Milan) was never sent. Later on, when Einstein regularly visited Leiden as a guest professor, he and Onnes became good friends after all (photo: Rijksmuseum Boerhaave).
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