Friday 20th April 2012, Otterlo, Holland
We’ve moved on into Holland now. We did seriously think of going to the Dutch bulb fields as it’s tulip time in the Keukenhof Gardens and this weekend is the prime time for visiting. However, all discounts at campsites within thirty miles of the gardens have been cancelled for this week as record crowds are expected and it’s very cold and rainy. The decision was made for us when we received an email from friends Susan and Ray living on the Loire advising us to visit the Hoge Veluwe National Park and the Kröller-Müller Museum of Modern Art just north of Arnhem. It’s an area of Holland we’ve never explored and their suggestion reminded us that our friends Peter and Kati in Exeter told us of an amazing sculpture park also set near here. As we cannot afford either the time or the money to do everything we decided to opt for recommendations of friends rather than crowded tulip fields in the rain.
So tonight we are camping on a very friendly little site set within a sandy pine forest and tomorrow we will walk to the entrance to the national park where we understand we can borrow bikes to find our way around using rural paths cutting through woodland, around lakes and across meadowland. So long as the weather behaves it should be a lot of fun.
Which is more than can be said for our journey up here today! Motorways are the main way people travel. They streak across the country, quickly linking the cities, but while they may be practical, they are far from pleasant. Speed limits are considerably higher than I’m used to in England, there are many heavy lorries and container trucks on the roads and Dutch drivers seem very impatient and over quick to use their horns. The rain has made driving unpleasant and much of what we’ve seen does not look very pretty. The hearts of many Dutch towns are stunningly beautiful but much of the rest of the countryside is either intensively farmed or given over to large chemical and engineering plants.
Saturday 21st April 2012, Otterlo, Holland
Today has been really excellent and I was looking forward to writing about it. Google however was determined to thwart me. Today it decided to change the interface for uploading blogs and everything is different. Nothing functions or displays in the same way, it lost half my photos, muddled the layout and left me with pages of coding to contend with. Getting internet access is so becoming ever more difficult. Wifi is readily available on most campsites but is too expensive to use regularly. Sometimes we manage to link on to an unsecured network though these free sites are unpredictable. If the owner fancies a mug of cocoa and an early night we get knocked off when he unplugs, which has just happened, leaving me with a blog in a mess that I cannot get at to rectify.
Okay, on to something more interesting. This morning we left Modestine on the campsite and walked to the village of Otterlo. Beyond it we found the entrance to the Hoge Veluwe National Park within which is the Kröller-Müller Museum of Fine Art. Entry was not cheap (35 euros for the two of us) but well worth it. Once inside the park we selected a couple of white bicycles from amongst the 1,700 left for visitors’ use and included in the price, and set off along little pathways leading through pine forests and across open heathland. Several kilometres into the park we found the art gallery and abandoned the bikes near the entrance.
The gallery was set up in the 1920s by Helene Kröller while the surrounding countryside was purchased by her husband Anton Müller. In a tiny, overcrowded country like Holland it is amazing that one individual could purchase such a huge area of countryside for his own private hunting ground. Helene Kröller began her collections with works by Van Gogh, then relatively unrecognised. The museum now houses the largest collection of his paintings and sketches anywhere. It also has many major works by the Impressionists – Seurat, Sisley, Degas, Monet amongst others. There were even a couple of works by Picasso that I actually enjoyed, though they were amongst his early works.
The museum is laid out at present following various themes with works from across the collections represented in the different areas. Thus works by Van Gogh crop up at different points around the museum frequently juxtaposed to modern works of surreal or abstract art. It did seem bizarre to find Lucas Cranach sharing wall space with modern abstract works by 21st century painters - and I confess to finding much of their work completely incomprehensible. Actually, I found the catalogue way outside my comfort zone. The curator/author was retiring after 21 years working with the collections and I think his brain had been affected over the years. I looked at Van Gogh’s Still life with potatoes and saw a bowl of potatoes. I missed the point it seems. The catalogue author’s interpretation is that the artist “intuitively projected a cosmic awareness into it and this may well have been his deeper reason for making the painting.” The rest of the catalogue is even more off the wall – but I will try to be more cosmically aware next time I eat a jacket potato.
Critical as I sound, I’m always willing to look at new art and am frequently impressed. I do feel though that sometimes we are being lead by the nose. As one lady said to us as we stood before a canvas covered in handfuls of straw and blue paint “perhaps we are all potential artists with undiscovered talents”. There were several video installations that also counted as art including someone vigorously shaking his head while making a peculiar noise while the screen, displayed on its side, changed colour every few minutes.
Attached to the museum is a sculpture park. It is claimed to be the largest in Europe. It’s a delightful place to wander through with the exhibits set amongst the woods and dunes. Some are smooth, beautiful curves, such as the Barbara Hepworths, while others can be clambered over and are just good fun. Others again are incomprehensible but somehow it doesn’t matter with sculptures in the way it does with paintings. Some works are really clever. One looked like a huge frog on the grass until we saw it at a different angle when it became a copulating couple.
After a picnic beside the pond surrounded by priceless works of art we picked up a couple of bikes and peddled off to find the family home some six kilometres away. Cycling is just so easy when the ground is flat and you are sitting on a big, heavy Dutch bike with huge handlebars. Stopping is the difficult bit as the brakes work only when you turn the pedals backwards. Even then, the easiest way down is to jump off as it slows down. It’s the first time Ian has ridden a bike in earnest since his accident in France a couple of years ago.
The house, known as Jachtslot St Hubertus was built in 1920 for the Kröller-Müllers by the Dutch architect H. P. Berlage in Art Deco style. It’s a sort of residence-cum-hunting lodge inspired by St. Hubert, patron saint of hunters. Personally I didn’t like it much from the outside and it was closed today. It sits beside a pretty lake and the surrounding gardens and landscape are faultless.
Finally, we cycled back across the park to the entrance where we left the bikes and walked through the village to the campsite. The park is far larger than we ever discovered but we’d cycled some 18 kilometres and our aching bodies knew it.
The art gallery reminded us of Tate Modern at St, Ives while the specially commissioned house was, as a concept, much as a Lutyens country house might be in England. The family residence reminded us of Coleton Fishacre, home of the D’Oyle Carte family in Devon, while overall there is something of the rarified atmosphere of the Dartington Estate near Totnes about the art museum, house and sculpture park. The surrounding countryside was reminiscent of the New Forest. There are supposed to be wild boars and mouflons around but they stayed well out of sight.
So thank you Susan for suggesting the museum and Kati for mentioning the sculpture park. That’s one of the joys of the blog. Friends sometimes make suggestions we’d not thought about and it can add so much to our experiences. We are gradually heading towards Copenhagen if anyone has any more suggestions.