Part V: The Beginning
Acquisitions from the period 1936 - 1946
During the Edy de Wilde exhibition in the old Van Abbemuseum, there will be a presentation in the temporary museum building of what has been called the basic collection: the works which came from Henri van Abbe, the museum's founder, and what was added by the first director, Dr. W.J. Visser, in the years immediately before and after the Second World War. These exhibitions in the old and the temporary building will open on 13 November and run until 9 January next year.
The first director was the young art historian Dr. W.J.A. Visser (b. 1904), who had a part-time appointment for two days a week. From September 1937 he combined this post with that of municipal archivist. The remainder of the museum staff consisted of a porter, who lived in the basement of the building. Visser described the museum's purpose as follows: 'The goal of the Museum is to form a collection of contemporary art, in which naturally the works of Dutch artists will be given an appropriate place.' In his view the new museum had to aim to be of more than local importance and to join the ranks of the three Dutch museums of modern art: the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Museum Boijmans in Rotterdam and the Haags Gemeentemuseum. Henri Van Abbe did not live to see more than the beginning of his museum. He died in 1940.
The plans for the museum in Eindhoven were ambitious, especially in view of the limited budgets made available. Soon, however, they had to be postponed because of the outbreak of war. Visser refused to bow to the demands made of the museum by the occupying powers and resigned. After the war he was reappointed, but in 1946 he was made director of the Department of Monuments and Historic Buildings. Nonetheless, he acquired for the museum a number of works, principally by Dutch and Belgian artists. They included important pieces by Isaac lsraëls, Care Willink and Jan Sluyters but also a 17th-century painting formerly attributed to Guercino. A selection has now been made from these works and this exhibition, together with the choice of Edy de Wilde, reveals how the museum's collection has evolved.