Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Day 13: The Kröller Müller Museum in Otterlo

The second-largest collection of van Gogh's works in the world is held by the Kröller Müller Museum. It is located in a big national park called Hoge Veluwe near the town of Otterlo, about sixty miles south and east of Amsterdam. You can get there by public transportation, but that requires a tram, a train, and two buses for a total of 2 1/2 hours, each way. Thirteen miles farther east, near the town of Apeldoorn, is one of the few royal palaces open to tourism in the Netherlands, called Palais Het Loo. Our Dutch friends had praised the gardens highly.  In order to take in both attractions, we decided to rent a car for two days. We had made the reservation on the telephone before we left home. We had also reserved a motel room for the night. It seemed a little extravagant to pay for two rooms, but we had to have a place to stay when we brought the car back the next night, and checking out and checking in again would be too cumbersome.

Renting the car was a piece of cake. We took a taxi to the agency, as we each had a piece of luggage, and we arrived at 9 a.m. The agent spoke adequate English. The car, a Citroën hatchback, was sitting right in front of the office. The agent made a reasonable attempt to help us learn the unfamiliar controls. The 'freeway' was only a few blocks from the office, and we had studied the route in advance.

Captain Dan was enjoying driving on the open road, and we were observing the cows and sheep in the flat green pastures, when we ran into a 40-minute traffic jam; the cause appeared to be simply more traffic than the highway could handle.

We arrived at Hoge Veluwe Park about noon. We had purchased tickets for the park and the museum in advance online. Walking from the parking lot through the lovely park to the museum calmed us down. The sky was gray and the air was a little chilly. We were greeted by a sculpture by one of our favorite artists, Mark diSuvero.

Entrance Walkway

Mark diSuvero
K-Piece, 2012

The Kröller-Müller Museum was founded by Helene Kröller-Müller, an avid art collector who was one of the first to recognize Vincent van Gogh's genius and collect his works, picking up almost 90 paintings and 180 drawings while they were still cheap. Although their collection is smaller than that of the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, they exhibit a lot more of his work. This is where you can get a true feast of van Gogh.

Van Gogh began studying art in earnest in the early 1880's, when he was nearing thirty. He died in 1990, from a gunshot wound which is generally considered self-inflicted, though there is evidence that he was rough-housing with some teenagers. His progress as an artist in nine years was amazing and his output was prodigious.

It's interesting to observe that van Gogh mastered the ability to paint and draw in a traditional manner before he developed his characteristic style.

Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890
Still Life with Straw Hat, 1881

Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890
Carpenter’s Yard and Laundry, 1882

By 1887 he had developed his characteristic vigorous brushstroke.

Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890
Flowers in a Blue Vase, 1887

Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890
Four Sunflowers Gone to Seed, 1887

Two of his most popular paintings were done in 1888. Both scenes are in Arles in Southern France; we visited these locations in about 1990.

Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890
Bridge at Arles, 1888

Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890
Terrace of a Café at Night (Place du Forum), 1888

Here are two more irresistible works from 1888.

Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890
Flowering Peach Trees, 1888

Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890
View of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, 1888

This painting from 1889 shows a harvest moon rising over a wheat field, a view that is both wondrous and calming.

Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890
Landscape with Wheat Sheaves and Rising Moon, 1889

This still life from 1889 refers back to the illustrious history of Dutch still lifes, which traditionally included a jug, a bottle, smoking materials, and food. But instead of choosing the finest objects of their type, he used stuff that was around his house. Composition trumps realism, however, in that it is not clear where the green ewer might be sitting, or the wine bottle either. The addition of a paperback and a letter, upside down, makes the still life both personal and casual.

Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890
Still Life with a Plate of Onions, 1889

Here's a painting from the last year of van Gogh's life. It is the only one with an overt display of emotion. I can relate.

Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890
Sorrowing Old Man, 1890

Although van Gogh is the chief attraction of the Kröller Müller, they also have an impressive collection of Pointillism. After Impressionism had passed its peak, there arose a group of artists who loved the bright colors and the visible brushstrokes of Impressionism but wanted a more rigid and controlled look. They were interested in perception, and they thought that painting could better emulate the visual process if the paint were applied in small, distinct dots of color in patterns to form an image. And instead of blending colors on the palette, as painters had done for centuries, each dot was a pure color, and they were combined in different ways depending on the desired shade; it was assumed that the visual process would do the blending. The result is paintings so vibrant that they seem to shimmer.

Georges Seurat and Paul Signac pioneered this style in the 1880s. Here are a pair by Seurat. He liked fairly muted shades. Dots enabled him to have definite edges, whereas Impressionism tended to be hazy.

Georges Seurat, 1859-1891
Sunday at Port-en-Bessin, 1888

Georges Seurat, 1859-1891
Le Chahut, 1890

Here are a pair by Signac. He liked more intense colors. Dense use of dots created quite substantial forms.

Paul Signac, 1863-1935
The Dining Room, Opus 152, 1887

Paul Signac, 1863-1935
The Jetty of Portrieux, Gray Weather, 1888

Maximilien Luce used dots to get remarkably realistic effects of composition and form, while his colors were wildly romantic. It was modern of him to seek out such a high perspective.

Maximilien Luce, 1858-1941
Region of Paris, view from Montmartre, c. 1887

Maximilien Luce, 1858-1941
Outskirts of Montmartre, Rue Championnet, 1887

Seurat, Signac and Luce were all working in France, but a couple of Dutch artists had a similar approach. This Pointillist work by Jan Toorop is especially restrained in tonality and minimal in detail.

Jan Toorop, 1858-1928
Sea, 1899

Théo van Rysselberghe had a gorgeous sense of color, and the dappled light in the next painting is lovely. His forms are quite definite.

Théo van Rysselberghe, 1862-1926
In July - Before Noon, The Orchard, 1890

The museum had a couple of works by older artists that were unique. In case you thought Renoir was all hazy nudes, here's a very definite, even traditional depiction of a circus performer. He could paint whatever he wanted.

August Renoir, 1841-1919
The Clown, 1868

Before he got into Impressionism, Monet painted a portrait that is so restrained and mono-tonal that it could be by Whistler.

Claude Monet, 1840-1926
Portrait of Miss Guurtje van de Stadt, 1871

The museum was showing an eclectic group of works from the 19th and 20th century, and even a few pieces from the 15th century, and my research shows that they own a wide range of works that are presently in storage.

In 1935, when economic times were rough, Helene Kroller-Muller donated her entire collection to the  nation, along with a 75-acre forested country estate. The government built a museum for the collection that opened in 1938, and turned the estate into the largest national park in the Netherlands. In 1947 a new director changed the direction of the museum to sculpture. The museum not only collects but also commissions new sculptures, some exhibited in galleries and many more strewn around a 62-acre park amidst green lawns and dense trees.

The dominant force in sculpture in the first half of the 20th century was English artist
Henry Moore. His powerful forms are to be seen in museums around the world.

Henry Moore, 1898-1986
Sculpture with Hole and Light, 1967

Moore had a female counterpart in Barbara Hepworth, also English. Her work manifests a similar aesthetic theory.

Barbara Hepworth, 1903-1975
Pastorale, 1953

Here's an example of a contemporary sculpture. The sculptor, Roni Horn, is an American woman. These two 'pools' are massive cast sculptures of black and colourless glass.

Roni Horn, b. 1955
Opposites of White, 2007

The garden has a few of the traditional garden sculptures. It's always a pleasure to observe this floating figure.

Aristide Maillol, 1861-1944
l’Air, 1939

In the next example, Lipchitz attempted to make a form that emulated choral singing.

Jacques Lipchitz, 1891-1973
Song of the Vowels, 1932

Jean Dubuffet had the idea of creating an artificial park within the natural park. It is made of concrete but it is supposed to look like ceramic. He created a raised playground that visitors can walk on, with hills and dales and forms representing a shrub and a tree. You can also walk inside the structure, if you want to squeeze through a small door.

Jean Dubuffet, 1901-1985
Enamel Garden, 1974

Tree form in Enamel Garden

One of the most beautiful and amazing sculptures I've ever seen was made by Marta Pan, a French woman of Hungarian origin. It floats around in a pool; the streamlined form is unique from every angle. It was an impressive leap to think of a floating sculpture.

Marta Pan, 1923-1008
Sculpture Flottante, Otterlo, 1961

The Kröller Müller museum is misnamed and misplaced. The collection has expanded far beyond its original form, and the sculpture garden is at least as important as the museum, so it ought to be called something like The National Museum of Modern Art. And it should be located near some city in the Netherlands, in order to increase its potential audience. Although it gets quite a few visitors and tour groups, it is not as well known as it should be, and it is constantly misrepresented as a van Gogh museum, although it is so much more. On the other hand, the park is wonderful, and the experience as a whole is well worth the trek.

When the museum closed, we made the short drive to the village of Otterlo and checked into the Grand Café Hotel Krüller. There was ample parking in the lot behind the hotel. The front desk was in a large and pleasant dining room.

Then something happened that was typically Dutch. Our room was on the third floor, and the only access was a steep, spiral staircase with only one hand rail; even though we are seniors, no hotel staff offered to help us with our bags. I was standing at the bottom of the stairs looking up helplessly, and Dan was three stairs up saying "I can come back for your bag," when a Dutch woman of about 20, also a guest, said, "Let me help you." She put my bag on one shoulder and picked up Dan's bag with her other hand, then marched up the narrow winding treads with élan.

Typical Dutch spiral staircase

Our room was double-size with a sitting room, slanted ceilings, and a view through several windows. After we got settled in we made an attempt to look around the picturesque town, but a light rain was falling.

I had chosen the hotel for its restaurant, and we were not disappointed. Our meal there was excellent, and the ambiance was pleasantly local.

Grand Café Hotel Kruller