The museum’s establishment in 1842 was a private initiative. Dordrecht had always had an important community of collectors, and in that year five of them decided that the time was ripe to found “a Museum of Paintings” that would bring greater recognition for “the talents of the living masters”. The Dordrecht Museum Association (Vereniging Dordrechts Museum) was duly inaugurated, and soon counted no fewer than 113 members. The city corporation made the upper hall of the Butter Exchange (Boterbeurs) on Wijnstraat available as an exhibition space, and so one of the country’s first art museums was born . There was already the Central Museum in Utrecht, but not yet the Booijmans Museum in Rotterdam (1847) or the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem (1862).
The museum’s very first painting was a gift from Chairman of the Association, and Mayor of Dordrecht, the Honourable J. C. Jantzon van Erffrenten van Capelle. He commissioned Willem de Klerk to produce a picture specifically for that purpose: View on the Rhine.
Other patrons soon followed suit. The corporation lent four paintings, and more were purchased in the early years following an appeal to local artists to offer works for the museum. It was the start of a collection.