Netherlands // The eastern Netherlands //

The Kröller-Müller Museum

At the heart of the Hoge Veluwe National Park, the Kröller-Müller Museum houses the private art collection of the Kröller-Müllers. It’s one of the country’s finest art museums, comprising a wide cross section of modern European art from Impressionism to Cubism and beyond. It’s housed in a low-slung building that was built for the collection in 1938 by the much-lauded Belgian architect van de Velde with a new wing added in the 1970s to create a T-shape: the bulk of the collection is displayed in the original wing. There’s not enough space to exhibit all the museum’s paintings at any one time, so what’s on show is regularly rotated – though key works by the likes of Mondrian and van Gogh are pretty much guaranteed to be on display – and there’s also a lively programme of temporary exhibitions. The works of individual artists are not necessarily exhibited together, which can be frustrating if you are keen to see the work of a particular painter: to help you navigate, the museum supplies a free information booklet with museum plans entitled “12 Masterpieces”.

Vincent van Gogh
Hèléne Kröller-Müller’s favourite artist was Vincent van Gogh, whom she considered to be one of the “great spirits of modern art”, and the collection reflects her enthusiasm: the museum owns 91 of his paintings and 180 drawings, representing the largest collection of his works in the world bar the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Of the earlier canvases, look out for The Potato Eaters and Head of a Peasant with a Pipe, both rough, unsentimental paintings of labourers from around his parents’ home in Brabant. His penetrating Self-Portrait from 1887 is a superb example of his work during his years in Paris, the eyes fixed on the observer, the head and background a swirl of grainy colour and streaky brushstrokes. One of his famous sunflower paintings also dates from this period, an extraordinary work of alternately thick and thin paintwork in dazzlingly sharp detail and colour. The joyful Café Terrace at Night and Bridge at Arles, with its rickety bridge and disturbed circles of water spreading from the washerwomen on the riverbank, are from his months in Arles in 1888, one of the high points of his troubled life.

The Toorops and Mondrian
Other highlights of the museum’s collection include several revealing self-portraits by Charley Toorop (1891–1955), one of the most skilled and sensitive of twentieth-century Dutch artists, as well as a number of key works by her father, Jan Toorop, (1858–1928), from his early pointillist studies to later, turn-of-the-century works more reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley and the Art Nouveau movement. Piet Mondrian is well represented, too: his 1909 Beach near Domburg is a good example of his more stylized approach to landscape painting, a development from his earlier sombre-coloured scenes in the Dutch tradition. In 1909 Mondrian moved to Paris, and his contact with Cubism transformed his work, as illustrated by his Composition of 1917: simple flat rectangles of colour with the elimination of any identifiable object, the epitome of the De Stijl approach. One surprise is an early Picasso, Portrait of a Woman, from 1901, a classic post-Impressionist canvas very dissimilar from his more famous works.

The Sculpture Garden
Outside the Kröller-Müller Museum, the Sculpture Garden is one of the largest in Europe. Some frankly bizarre creations reside within its 25 hectares, as well as works by Auguste Rodin, Jacob Epstein and Barbara Hepworth. In contrast to the carefully conserved paintings of the museum, the sculptures are exposed to the weather and you can even clamber all over Jean Dubuffet’s Jardin d’email, one of his larger and more elaborate jokes.