East of the River IJssel, the flat landscapes of the west give way to the lightly undulating, wooded countryside of Twente, an industrial region within the province of Overijssel whose principal towns – Almelo, Hengelo and Enschede – were once dependent on the textile industry. Hit hard by Asian imports, all three have been forced to diversify their industrial base, with mixed success. The largest of the three is Enschede, some 50km east of Zutphen, whose desultory modern centre is partly redeemed by St Jacobuskerk, built in 1933 in neo-Byzantine-meets-Art Deco style with angular copper-green roofs, huge circular windows and a lumpy main tower. The main reason to visit, however, is to see the outstanding collection of fine art gifted to the city by a wealthy mill-owning family, the van Heeks, and now housed in the Rijksmuseum Twente.
More about Netherlands
Find out more
Housed in an Art Deco mansion of 1930 on the northern edge of town, the Rijksmuseum Twente contains two key sections – fifteenth- to nineteenth-century art and modern and contemporary art, primarily Dutch with the emphasis on Expressionism. Among a fine sample of early religious art, three particular highlights are a set of brilliant blue and gold fragments from a French hand-illuminated missal; a primitive twelfth-century woodcarving of Christ on Palm Sunday, and a delightful cartoon strip of contemporary life entitled De Zeven Werken van Barmhartigheid (“The Seven Acts of Charity”).
Of later canvases, Hans Holbein’s Portrait of Richard Mabott is typical of his work, the stark black of the subject’s gown offset by the white cross on his chest and the face so finely observed it’s possible to make out the line of his stubble. Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s Winter Landscape is also fastidiously drawn, down to the last twig, and contrasts with the more loosely contoured figures and threatening clouds of his brother Jan’s Landscape. Moving on, Jan Steen’s The Alchemist is all scurrilous satire, from the skull on the chimneypiece to the lizard suspended from the ceiling and the ogre’s whispered advice. Steen also mocks sex, most memorably here in his Lute Player, which features a woman with bulging breasts and flushed countenance in the foreground, while on the wall behind is the vague outline of tussling lovers.
High points of the modern and contemporary section include Monet’s volatile Falaises près de Pourville; a characteristically unsettling canvas by Carel Willink, The Actress Ank van der Moer; and examples of the work of less well-known Dutch modernists like Theo Kuypers, Jan Roeland and Emo Verkerk.