Bits and Bobs of the Netherlands: PART II


Saturday, March 11

Fast forward to the weekend and we are eagerly anticipating another reunion, this time with a cruiser friend from Ipswich, UK.

With a rental car for a week we opted to toot around parts of the Netherlands that are harder to reach via public transportation. To use a phrase of our English friend Anne we’re seeing some ‘bits and bobs’. The car also gave us the opportunity to pick her up in Eindhoven.

But before we arrived at the airport we used the day for exploring one of the loveliest parks in the Netherlands with a side stop at a Museum featuring the WWII military operation, Market Garden. Yes, another Max Disaster Tour (MDT) in the works.

Let me just say unless one is addicted to seeing dusty, rusty relics, faded artifacts, and lots and lots of guns, skip this museum. (We later discovered the WWII museum we should have visited–and did so another day–was the Airborne Museum in Osterbeek; but more of that in another post.)

Thankfully our next stop brought us out into the bright sunshine just down the road. The De Hoge Veluwe National Park began as an estate for a wealthy businessman and his wife, Anton Kroller (1862-1941) and Helene Muller (1860-1938).

Helene Müller and Anton Kröller

Since then it’s become a lovely refuge for visitors wanting to wander in a 63-acre expanse of forests and sand dunes.

Hoge Veluwe

The destination had been on our radar for a while, not the least due to the park’s museum, the Kroller-Muller,

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cocooned by mother nature and a sculpture garden.

Map sculpture garden winter 2016

Why Kroller-Muller is a ‘must-see’ is due to Helene’s passion for Van Gogh. She became a big fan of the artist, whether due to her initial taste in art or due to the influence of art critic H.P. Bremer, himself an admirer of that artist’s work. However it started, their collaboration with her money and his expertise resulted in the second largest collection ever of Van Gogh’s work. It was here we spent most of our time at a special exhibit of Van Gogh’s studies leading up to his famous “The Potato Eaters” (hanging in Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum).  All I can say is thank god he didn’t stop at that one.

Potato Eaters

To understand how this 1900s hunting estate fell into the hands of the government I read a little about the Kroller-Mullers, specifically the origin of Anton’s wealth.  FYI:  If you’d rather just skip to the exhibit, just scroll below to the museum photo. 

As the eventual owner of Wm.H.Muller & Co. (he married his business partner’s daughter), Anton successfully expanded the business of distributing corn, iron ore, and timber to global markets, building it up to be ‘one of the most powerful European commodities trading houses’ (Biography Anton Kroller (1862-1941) – Arielle Dekker, University of Groningen).

Due to the Netherlands’ neutrality during WWI, Anton continued to grow rich from supplying both England and Germany based on lucrative contracts he had negotiated. His businesses included shipping, and the amount of shipping he did helped build Rotterdam into a world-class port.

What to do with all of this growing pot of coins? Why hunting grounds, of course. In 1909 Anton began buying up real estate with his company’s money. In 1915 the Kroller-Mullers hired a sought-after architect, Hendrikus Petrus Berlage (1856-1934), to design an impressive lodge to go with the grounds. The Jachthuis St. Hubertus (St. Hubert Hunting Lodge) was completed in 1920 (but only after many strong disagreements between the eminent and controlling Berlage and Helene, the client).

Hubertus Robbert Maas 75

But, what’s a hunting ground without things to hunt, which led to the park being stocked with game (red deer, wild boar and wild sheep). Meanwhile Helene hunted paintings and proceeded to stockpile Van Gogh’s and other artists’ pieces. A fairy-tale for the wealthy was coming to fruition.

Or, so it seemed until 1923.

Anton’s wealth wasn’t quite what it was made out to be… investors and, later, a former accountant, accused Anton of cooking his books (he should have stuck to BBQ-ing his game). Yet, like so many white crimes, Anton wasn’t charged in spite of almost causing the demise of Rotterdamsche Bank due to unpaid loans while leaving his investors stranded.

Later the entire estate and art collection were put in separate trusts by the government with the Kroller-Mullers permitted to live in the house. Evidently Anton donated the estate and art to the state around the time his finances were taking a dive. Good timing I’d say.

But, thanks to the scandal and with apologies to Anton’s victims, we, along with thousands of others, are able to enjoy a beautiful piece of the Netherlands, both geographically and culturally.

One of these days we’ll sign up for a tour of the hunting lodge, but today our focus was on the museum, which hosted a smattering of other artists in addition to the Van Goghs Helene so avidly collected.

This museum was a jewel, beginning with the building nestled among the trees.

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Fortified by a delicious and inexpensive lunch at the cafe we headed to the Van Gogh exhibit featuring his early years.

The first room introduced us to the struggling artist as he began his journey as a struggling artist. Photographs by Henri Berssenbrugge (1873-1959), a Rotterdam photographer, allowed us to step back in time during those years.

Since the curator captured well the essence of what we walked through, here the exhibit’s introduction:

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And, to set the mood, here are two of Berssenbrugge’s photos from that era:

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Below are some of Van Gogh’s sketches from 1881 to 1885 (the second one is of Sien, his mistress for over a year around 1883 when living in Hague).

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You can definitely see the resemblance between Van Gogh’s sketches and the features of his potato eaters. I’m just glad he wasn’t painting moi.

In November 1885 he paints ‘Autumn Landscape’, his last one in the Netherlands.

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Roughly three months later he moves to France and there it’s as if his palette exploded with color. From ‘Pink Peach Trees’

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to ‘Langlois Bridge at Arles’, he enters the major league of impressionists (recognized only after his death, I think) and continues to paint intensely over the next five years until his death in 1890.
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Other artists’ work also captured my attention, and not necessarily because I’d want to hang them my home. It’s just that they caught my eye either due to the artist’s name or the art, such as the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian’s (1872-1944) ‘Composition with red, yellow and blue’ 1927…

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Vilmos Huszar’s (1884-1960) tribute to Vincent Van Gogh (‘Vincent’ 1915)…

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Charley Toorop’s (1891-1955) ‘Old apple tree blossoming’ 1949…

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and Ger Van Elk’s (1941-2014) ‘Alkmaer’ 1983.

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After an hour or so of perusing the inside art we went out the back for a quick stroll around the sculpture garden. There we saw some pieces by some sculptors whose name I recognized…

‘Femme accroupie” 1882 by Auguste Rodin (1840-1970)

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‘Curved form’ 1956 by Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) …

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and  ‘Animal head’ 1956 by Henry Moore’s (1898-1986)…

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as well as some we didn’t… ‘Hoofdstuk 1’ 2010 by Jan Fabre (b.1958-).

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By now it was time to head further south to Endhoven to pick up Anne, so we entered the back door and exited the front door of this fabulous museum taking advantage of snapping one more photo of two men enjoying the late afternoon air.

The one on the right is by Oswald Wenckebach’s (1895-1962) ‘Mender Jacques’ 1955.

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I must say I’d love to have this one in a garden. Along with the live model, of course.

Onwards we go to retrieve Anne and return to JUANONA where the only sculptures we’d see would be formed by ice and Max’s famous G&Ts.

Part III of Bits and Bobs coming up…