CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

De favorieten van Helene

Helene's favorites Exhibition: 10 August 2004 - 1 February 2006

From the museum website

Helene’s favorites tells the story Helene Kröller-Müller. It reconstructs the development of her collection and her personal taste by means of the objects with which she surrounded herself.

Helene Kröller-Müller’s collection contained more than 11,500 works
of art including almost 800 paintings; approximately 5,000 works on
paper; some 275 large and small sculptures; non-Western objects and 500 pieces of applied arts.

Helene was inspired to start an art collection by the lessons in art appreciation she followed with the art historian, theorist and teacher H.P. Bremmer. His ideas had a great impact on her and she appointed him her advisor on ‘aesthetic matters’: “He gave me my first insight into art.”

Bremmer brought artists to Helene’s attention and visited auction houses, commercial galleries and artists’ studios either with or on behalf of Helene and her husband Anthon Kröller, sometimes buying several works at once. “He bought them with an offer – a third of the asking price. He left trembling like a leaf, so happy was he with his catch.”

The works of art were displayed in the couple’s house in The Hague – Huize ten Vijver – where they could be viewed by friends, family and important visitors. The collection quickly outgrew this accommodation and furthermore Helene soon found that the house did not suit her newly won status as a patron of the arts. Her taste had changed and the house, which she described as pedestrian and tiresome, began to annoy her. Following a trip to Florence, where she admired the buildings and art treasures of the Medicis, she decided to have a new house built.

In the meantime the collection was housed in a property belonging the family business – Wm. H. Müller & Co. – on the Lange Voorhout in The Hague, which was fitted out as a museum. The collection could be viewed from Monday to Friday from 10 to 4, but only with a ticket, “available upon a written request addressed to the collector herself”.

In 1909 the Kröllers bought a derelict farm on the Veluwe with 450 hectares of land. Helene furnished the farmhouse Het Klaverblad with a small kitchen with a stove such as one finds in all the farmhouses in the Veluwe.”

The couple’s ambitious building plans also shifted to the Veluwe. H.P. Berlage, who was then in the service of Wm H. Müller & Co., designed the St Hubertus Hunting Lodge, which was completed in 1920. Helene decided that her collection should be shown not in Wassenaar but in the Veluwe with its stark and inescapable confrontation of nature and culture. Berlage produced grandiose plans, but the couple chose the design of Henry van de Velde. In 1921 the laying of the foundations was begun. A specially laid railway line transported large blocks of sandstone to the Veluwe. However, construction came to a halt when Wm H. Müller & Co. ran into financial difficulties.

Helene remained optimistic, but the recession deepened, threatening even the collection. To safeguard the collection Helene donated it to the State under the condition that a museum be built to house it within five years. Henry van de Velde designed a “temporary museum” and on 13 July 1938 the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller was officially opened. Helene became its first director and was finally able to show her collection, centred on Vincent van Gogh, to the general public. Although Helene continued to hope to continue construction, the “temporary museum” remained. With several extensions, it still forms a major part of the museum complex.

The collection gives a clear picture of Helene’s vision of art. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Helene was not interested in art-historical facts and stylistic periods. In her eyes there were two possible approaches to making art: realistic (art based on observation) and idealistic (with a personal interpretation of reality). She was uninterested in art with no direct relationship to reality. When, to her mind, Mondrian pushed his abstraction too far, she stopped buying his work. When Bart van der Leck, under Mondrian’s influence, completely abandoned realism, he was given an official “warning”: “The completely abstracted object no longer captivates because one’s fantasy cannot get a grip. My feeling is that you and your present company think too much, thus killing your initial emotion.”

With Bremmer’s advice, Helene often fulfilled the role of pioneer in her recognition of and admiration for new artists and movements. Even the cubists, including Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris, were able to rely on her support. She acquired several paintings and drawings by these artists and made impassioned pleas for this new movement. Together with Vincent van Gogh, Bart van der Leck, Henri Fantin-Latour and the sculptor Joseph Mendes da Costa, they can be considered amongst Helene’s favourites.