The legacy from one woman with endless passion for art: the Kröller-Müller Museum

Georges Seurat / Le Chahut

I am standing in front of Vincent’s van Gogh’s Evening Landscape with Rising Moon. I can see clearly the thick brush strokes of the famous yellow haystacks and the artist’s use of blue paint for the sky. I walk to another part of the gallery and stop to admire a Cezanne landscape; just next to a Renoir, a Picasso and a Mondrian.

But this is not the Tate in London, the MoMa in New York or even the Louvre in Paris: I am at the Kröller-Müller Museum in the middle of the woodlands in Otterlo, less than one hour’s drive from Amsterdam.

You can be forgiven for not knowing the Kröller-Müller Museum; it isn’t an art gallery that immediately comes to mind, but it has one of the finest art collections, which any gallery would be proud to own. The Kröller-Müller houses the second-largest collection of Van Gogh in the world, with almost 90 paintings and more than 180 drawings, including Terrace of a Café by Night and a series of portrait studies of farmworkers, leading to The Potato Eaters, the most ambitious painting of Van Gogh’s Dutch period.

Georges Seurat’s Le Chahut is proudly displayed in this light and airy space, as is The Tempest by Bart van der Leck.

This remarkable collection of great masters started from one woman’s passion for art: Helene Kröller-Müller. Helene Müller, born in 1869 in Horst, Germany, as the third child of Emilie Neese and the wealthy industrialist Wilhelm Müller, married Dutchman Anton Kröller in 1888, who had come to work at her father’s company some years before. The couple settle in Rotterdam, where Anton is in charge of the local branch of Müller & Co. When Helene’s father dies suddenly in 1889, Anton becomes director of the entire company, at the age of just 27. Under Anton’s leadership, Wm. H. Müller & Co. grows into a highly profitable, international company in ore and shipping. With the acquired assets, Helene was able to start her art collection, which she gradually built up from 1907.

She began buying art by new, up and coming artists – Seurat, Picasso, Braque, Gris, Cezanne, Signac, Van Gogh – and loved the way art was moving from realism to idealism. She collected almost 11,500 works of art: one of the largest private collections of the twentieth century. It was Helene’s dream to have her own ‘museum house’, a place where she could share her passion for modern art with the public. The museum was built, not in a town of or city, but in the heart of the countryside in the middle of the National Park De Hoge Veluwe.

The art isn’t just hanging on the white walls of the gallery at Kröller-Müller, it is scattered across 25 hectares of garden, where works are snuck in between soaring pine trees, evergreens and rhododendron bushes. I wander along the winding paths and a large granite wall-like structure comes into view, Echo of the Veluwe. New Zeeland artist Chris Booth used boulders, which he cut and wedged into place, to create this wave-like sculpture. Next I note a large white fibreglass structure with heavy black lines, Jardin d’émail by Jean Dubuffet, which I clamber onto to become part of the art piece.

There are other more conventional pieces, including Auguste Rodin’s Femme accroupie, which just seems to be placed haphazardly along the path, and a Henry Moore sits on hill looking down onto the lake where a floating sculpture comes into view. Pieces by Barbara Hepworth and Richard Serra can be seen further ahead. It is as I have been immersed in the art, in this unique and exquisite place.

I leave the museum and drive through the National Park, which extends over 5,500 hectares of woodland, heathland, meadows and sand dunes. Our vehicle is one of the only ones on the road, since most people prefer to leave their cars at the entrance gates and cycle on one of the free-to-use white bicycles along the 40 kilometers of paths in this beautiful part of the Netherlands.

Visit www.krollermuller.nl for more information, opening hours and tickets.

Written by Louisa Hamilton