We visited the Sculpture Park on Ascension Day, a public holiday in Holland, where the tradition is to rise early and cycle in the dew. The Museum offered free use of white bikes and Fagus rippled with enthusiasm for cycling between sculptures, combining the Park’s aesthetic and physical pleasures and being a work of art in itself; but it was not to be as the bikes were all taken.
The Kroller-Muller Museum was created by Helene Kroller-Muller, whose husband took over as head of her father’s mining and blast furnace company in east Germany, leaving her to spend her time in an art appreciation class and later to spend the fortune on modern art, ably advised and supported by her tutor (who must have known a good patron when he met one). Between 1907 and her death in 1939 she bought 11,500 art objects, approx one per day.
She wanted to educate others in modern art, and vanity --published a book on the two strands of realism and idealism in art, demonstrating how idealists tend to abstract the forms they worked with and offer a view of the ‘idea of reality’. She favoured Van Gogh, owning the largest personal collection of his works in the world, with over 260 paintings and drawings.
A museum was commissioned to house her collection near a hunting lodge that she and her husband owned in the Veluwe, a wooded region in the eastern Netherlands. When the Muller business failed in the depression, (there’s no comment on any contribution from her ambitious spending), Helene K-M passed her collection and museum project to the state to complete, and was able to continue as its director until she died.
Subsequently the museum has been treasured, extended and evolved with the vision of its directors. Its indoors art is impressive but it is especially famous for its sculpture, which has spilled outside from 1961 as an extensive sculpture garden. Some of the pieces are displayed as if in grassy rooms or in the pool near the galleries: others have been grouped further on to entice you to follow the curved tracks, so that you find works in special glades, or run across encampments of installations disguised amongst the tea tents, or bump into pavilions filled with yet more works on a more domestic and intimate scale.
There are works we’d all be familiar with from Rodin, Moore, Hepworth and Giacometti, all touchable and well sited. One of the most notable is Jean Dubuffet’s 1974 ‘Jardin d’email’—a stark white fort like mound, entered by a narrow stairway, opening to an interior arena, trapping the sun on an uneven white terrace with disconcerting black contour lines. This delighted dozens of holiday children as if in a playground, but threw any one in heels totally off balance. Heavens knows what the idealism behind it was, but we enjoyed the suntrap and being disconcerted!
The park land is sandy and acidic with thin woods, frequent glades, some rhodies, ferns, bluebells, lily-of the-valley and bilberries, amelanchiers, nothing much ornamental. The effect is of a graceful backdrop, disguising the essential flatness of the landscape and setting off the art works with twinkling shafts of light through the glades.
A wonderful afternoon in warm sunshine and without a guide, to wander whilst being delighted and educated. What more could Helene Kroller-Muller have desired for us?