[Van AbbeMUSEUM]

The Collection
Part IV: The choice of Edy de Wilde
Acquisitions from the period 1946 - 1963


On Saturday 13 November 1999 the exhibition of acquisitions made while Edy de Wilde was the director (1946-1963) will open in the old Van Abbemuseum building. This is the fourth and last exhibition in a series entitled The Collection'. Each one has been put together by one of the four postwar directors of the museum. Jan Debbaut, Rudi Fuchs and Jean Leering have previously had their turn. This exhibition, which goes back to an important phase in the history of the collection, lasts until 9 January. It will be the last show in the old museum before work begins on the new extension.

After the Second World War the Van Abbemuseum built up a renowned international collection of twentieth-century art. In choosing the works the aim was never to have every modern movement represented. A number of accents were introduced which reflected the personal views of each director as well as diverse social and cultural developments during their directorship. Going back in time through this series of exhibitions reveals how the collection was built up.

On 1 July 1946 the 26-year-old law graduate E.LL. de Wilde took up his post as director of the museum. After studying at the Universty of Nijmegen, until 1946 he worked for the Stichting Nederlands Kunstbezit, which was charged with recovering art stolen from the Netherlands by the Germans during the war. In contrast to his predecessor, who worked two days a week, De Wilde was given a full-time appointment. In the enthusiasm of post-war reconstruction De Wilde made the most of the opportunities presented to him to give the Van Abbemuseum a prominent place in the international art world. In 1948 the City of Eindhoven made available an acquisition budget for the first time. This amounted to 5000 guilders, but in the next year - after De Wilde had given a detailed explanation of his museum policy to the city council - it was increased to 25,000 guilders. In the years up to 1950 he bought works by 20th-century Dutch artists such as Charley Toorop, Hendrik Chabot, Leo Gestel, Jan Sluyters, Hendrik Werkman and Jan Wiegers. These were followed later by work by Raoul Hynckes, Herman Kruyder, Bart van der Leck, Piet Mondrian, Heinrich Campendonk and the Belgians Gust de Smet and Constant Permeke.

Collecting Expressionist art also became an important part of the acquisition policy. De Wilde put the emphasis on this field because it was not well represented in the other museums of modern art in the Netherlands, the Stedelijk Museum, the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, the Kröller-Müller Museum and the Haags Gemeentemuseum. Here was a chance for the Van Abbemuseum to stand out. The first international step in this direction was the purchase of Kokoschka's Augustbrücke' (1923). It was followed by 'Blick auf Murnau mit kirche' (1910) by Kandinsky, 'Winterbild' (1930) by Beckmann and 'Die Macht der Musik' (1918) by Kokoschka.

With the purchase of 'Hommage a Apollinaire' (1911-1912) by Chagall in 1951, De Wilde changed direction. Picasso and Braque followed, but also such post-war artists as Manessier, Bazaine and Bissiere. Through these and other much talked-about acquisitions of foreign works, De Wilde succeeded in making the Van Abbemuseum internationally known. The city council continued to support him despite criticism in Eindhoven and the province, and indeed granted him an extra credit of 300,000 guilders.
The most controversial purchase was the painting 'Femme en vert' (1909) by Picasso. In the cold winter days of 1954 this green lady led to heated debate not only in Eindhoven but throughout the country. Press cuttings from late January and early February of that year report on a protest demonstration planned by art school students in Den Bosch, on campaigns in Eindhoven attacking the acquisition and above all on the 'exorbitant price' paid. The series of letters to the editor reveal the nature and extent of the opposition. The fierceness of these reactions now seems rather strange: at the end of this century French art from its beginning has become a 'piece de resistance' in quite another way.

In the book with interviews with the four directors, which will be published to accompany the opening of this last exhibition in the old building, De Wilde looks back on his period as director: 'Of necessity I had to spend the limited resources I had available as carefully and effectively as possible. The criticism I've heard sometimes that I paid little attention to sculpture is true. I opted to focus completely on painting so that the resources would not be frittered away. I wasn't able to give much attention to graphics or applied art either.' This exhibition presents a selection from the now celebrated collection that De Wilde was able to assemble with those limited funds.

[Van AbbeMUSEUM]