Above: Inside the Kroller-Muller Museum. Photograph by Piyumi Ranasinghe
Art has the ability to transport one from where one is, to a place where one would like to be, or to an imagined place of wonder. It helps the viewer to expand the mind’s eye to unchartered territory, explore surreal places, and think outside the norm. Many find fellowship with grand masters and their creations, and/or find common ground with underground artists and their decentralism. Collections of art and other pieces can be utilised to capture the sentiment of an era, a movement and chronicle the events for perpetuity. While exhibits can pause time for the viewer, it is also a platform to record human history. I would describe myself as an amateur art lover who has always loved to explore the art world in all its different formats.
To say that the year 2020 has been a catastrophic year for the arts and people in the industry is truly an understatement. For those who find comfort and inspiration in travelling and in the arts, 2020 has also been heart-breaking, to say the least. Interestingly enough though, in trying times like these when a global pandemic has unprecedented consequences in every strata, I find art, in all its versatility, has a greater influence to sooth, calm, and inspire.
In the past year, I found myself signing up for online tours of art museums and galleries over the lockdown periods, and I appreciated the efforts by many international museums to maintain their relevance and uphold the importance of art in our lives.
So, when I was asked to write an article for Mainly Museums, I jumped at the chance, not only because of the opportunity to put pen to paper about something I truly love, but to reminisce of better days of roaming free amidst the great works of art and exhibits.
Whenever I could take time off work in the past couple of years, I travelled the globe frequently. One of the main criteria for selecting a country or city for a visit was always how many museums were there that I could visit, and what the latest exhibits were. I have been fortunate enough to visit several key exhibits in and around European art museums in my travels, allowing me to discover and rediscover great artists, painters, and their unique stories, which were not only of the art and its creator, but also of art collectors and the famous establishments that are home to them.
On a visit to the Netherlands in early 2019, I found myself walking in De Hoge Veluwe National Park, and stumbled upon the Kröller-Müller Museum.
Located at the centre of the national park in Otterlo, the museum was founded by art collector Helene Kröller-Müller. The museum, opened in 1938, is within these extensive grounds of her and her husband's former estate, now the national park. Housing masterpieces by modern masters such as Claude Monet, Georges Seurat, Pablo Picasso and Piet Mondrian, the Kröller-Müller Museum boasts the second largest Van Gogh collection in the world, with almost 90 paintings and over 180 drawings. This is second only to the Van Gogh Museum located in Museum Square in Amsterdam South.
The misunderstood genius, Vincent Willem van Gogh, popularly known as Vincent van Gogh, was a Dutch post-impressionist painter who posthumously became one of the most famous and influential figures in the art world. His work has fascinated me for years, so my visit to Kröller-Müller Museum was a dream come true for me.
Having said that, the museum itself turned out to be a wonderful discovery in itself. With its calm white walls and spacious exhibits, the Kröller-Müller Museum is also famous for its vast sculpture garden, one of the largest in Europe, covering an area of 75 acres. The museum website notes that the garden reflects Helene Kröller-Müller’s conception of a symbiosis between art, architecture, and nature with a fine collection of modern and contemporary sculptures. Coming from an architectural family background myself, Helene Kröller-Müller sounds like a collector I can relate to. The collection includes more than 160 sculptures, including works by Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Jean Dubuffet, Mark di Suvero, Lucio Fontana, Claes Oldenburg, Fritz Wotruba, Joep van Lieshout and many more.
Having visited the Tuileries Garden in Paris, France several times, I was keen to find public spaces that house more than beautiful tapered walk ways, but those that in a similar way encompass works of art where one is free to get lost.
Situated in the midst of a forest, the walk up to the museum was ideal to capture the sunny morning we were lucky to experience that day after several days of rain in Amsterdam. For a moment, I thought we were just taking a walk in a park, so lost was I amongst the tall trees, green lanes, and the sun on my face. Then suddenly we came upon a clearing and a sculpture of a funny looking gent (Dutch sculptor Oswald Wenckebach’s Mister Jacques, an icon of the museum) next to another abstract sculpture, the large, bright red, riveted steel H beams, together forming the letter K (K-piece, 1972 by Mark Di Suvero), directed us to the one story building.
Thus we entered the Kröller-Müller Museum. The first thing that hit me was the simple lines of the design and the soothing, light colours of the walls inside.
We cleared the ticketing counters and entered the exhibits to find more of the same soothing colour scheme inside. At the entrance, we were told about the collection of Van Gogh, and I was eager to make my way there. The works of Vincent van Gogh have hung at the centre of the building, a circle around small patio, called the Van Gogh Gallery, since the opening of the museum in 1938. One can easily spend a quiet hour or two viewing this particular gallery and come away fully satisfied that they have explored the troubled genius’s work thoroughly.
The museum information details the story of how the founders of the Kröller-Müller Museum first took interest in Van Gogh’s work. The official website for the museum states that in 1905, Helene and her daughter took art appreciation classes with the art educator H.P. Bremmer, and it was he, a lifelong admirer of Van Gogh, who introduced Helene to modern art and Van Gogh, which is thus where her collection commences, eventually becoming the second largest collection of Van Gogh’s works in the world.
I found myself exploring some of Van Gogh’s many paintings: Cypresses with two figures; Country road in Provence by Night; and his famous Self-Portrait. It was an absolute treat.
Although there were many visitors on the day, and this particular gallery was the most popular, the art is set out in such a way that made it easier for visitors to navigate from one work of art to another without disturbing other visitors.
I cannot stress the importance of the white walls and light colours inside the gallery areas. Having visited grand establishments such as the National Portrait Gallery in London or the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, France where the art collections are housed in colourful gilded spacious rooms, I feasted in the simplicity of colour, its elegance, and how it gave more prominence to the works on display than the building itself.
As I mentioned earlier, the Kröller-Müller Museum is home to other great artists as well, Picasso being one. Pablo Picasso is an artist whose work I have a sort of love hate relationship with. For years I found his female figures quite ludicrous and his abstract forms incomprehensible, but several visits to exhibits showcasing his work in the last 5 years have slowly helped me to appreciate his grasp of the technique and his own volatile male gaze. The Kröller-Müller Museum had a couple of Picassos, and to my pure delight, I found one that ended up being one of my favourites, Violon, 1911 – 1912 (oil on canvas). His abstract technique and distortion to the form works well in this particular painting, and I love it.
Once I took my fill of the art works on display, I took myself to roam the famous sculpture garden. The unusually sunny weather played host to a fabulously vast landscape, peppered with sculptures from iconic artists such as Auguste Rodin, Aristide Maillol, Jean Dubuffet, Marta Pan, and Pierre Huyghe.
The museum website informs that the park is
‘5,500 hectares of forest, moors, grass plains and sand drifts and is the habitat of deer, mouflons and wild boars, among others. Visitors can explore the park on foot or on a free White Bicycle. In addition to Monsieur Jacques in the museum, you can visit Park Pavilion in the center area and the tea cupola at Jachthuis Sint Hubertus in the park.’
Marta Pan’s Floating Sculpture, Otterlo (floating duck as I like to call it) on the pond is the first piece of work your eye catches as you exit through the back entrance of the main building to the garden.
Walking around the pond, you can wander off onto several paths that will lead you on to the rest of the sculpture garden.
I discovered some of the most interesting sculptures walking around there - fascinating pieces of female figures and abstract works were at every bend of the walkway from around the world.
It is awe inspiring to find so many interesting pieces in one place, albeit scattered around a large park, and a gallery that houses the works of world famous artists. As I mentioned at the start of this article, for me museums and art galleries are powerful platforms to spread different ways of thinking, be it through art and sculpture, or how to embrace something new, or be inspired. I have often found that the discussions one carries on after visiting such places are endless and help to form new ways of thinking. I missed this the most I think with the global pandemic. I am someone who can either go with a group to a museum or visit a gallery on my own and come out completely changed or elated at the wonder of the art world.
The Kröller-Müller Museum did just that and more for me. I have been keeping up to date with the museum’s event through their website and official social media platforms.
Their official website, https://krollermuller.nl/en, provides all the necessary information on how to get there, ticketing prices and allows you to purchase tickets online, and lists out all the activities set up for visitors in and around the estate.
Due to the restrictions in the Netherlands, the museum is closed for now. With the vaccines being rolled out globally, I hope we all can get back to some semblance of normalcy in the near future, and find ourselves getting lost amongst the great works of art and museums pieces again.
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Piyumi Ranasinghe: After completing her Bachelor of Arts at Deaking University in Australia, Piyumi completed her PhD at the University of Glasgow, UK in Media and Cultural Policy Studies. During her academic years in Australia (BA, Hons.) and Scotland, UK (MSc and PhD), she became interested in the skills of peer reviewing, proof-reading, abstract writing, and report compilation. Piyumi has over 5 years of work experience with a top Media organisation in Sri Lanka. Using that experience, her current work has been as a Media and Training Consultant with the World Bank, where she prepares and participates in project activities associated with vocational skills development and women’s empowerment in Sri Lanka.