Another cogwheel to add to my collection, but it isn’t held by an allegorical female so doesn’t score highly.
I set off to walk to the Gemeentemuseum. (It’s been interesting not having a bicycle in Holland. Progress is slow, but that’s fine in this context. On previous holidays I’ve often cycled past buildings that I’ve wanted to look at but haven’t been able to, or have cycled unwittingly past exactly those sights that I have enjoyed so much in the last 24 hours – the cycling cupids, for example. I’ve also found that walking and looking is sufficient cultural activity for my brain; I really wasn’t bothered about looking at the exhibits inside the Gemeentemuseum this morning. Being on foot also gives me the welcome chance to try out the trams.) Anyway, there was another one of those Amsterdam School doorways en route:
The Gemeentemuseum is a tremendous building. Perhaps just the teensiest trace of Dudok’s Raadhuis in Hilversum (completed 1931), but the idea of luxurious “public” architecture that would form and transform its users was in the air at that time. There are similarities: the offset blocks; the long, calming transition from the outside to the inside; use of costly materials (marble, wonderful bronzed doors) and colour; surrounded by gardens and a reflecting pool; decoration in the service of space and structure; the feeling of compression and then expansion through variation in ceiling and beam heights; modern conveniences; and as much daylight as possible.
I did look at the exhibits after all, but not at all dutifully – only as they caught my eye. There was a special De Stijl exhibition (100 years old), so lots of Mondrians. Hmm, yes, well. I’m pleased for him that he worked out what he wanted to paint. More of Rietveld’s furniture (which is no doubt why the Centraal Museum in Utrecht seemed light on it). There was one exhibit which summed up neatly the difference between the real radicals like Rietveld and the incremental modernism of Berlage:
Wandering around looking at the building from the inside, I came across Josef Hoffmann’s Sitzmaschine from Vienna.
Then a walk towards Scheveningen into an increasing cold wind to seek out Henry van der Velde. This house, built for Dr Leuring in 1901-03, is only 100m from a regular cycling route, but I had never seen it. It’s in private ownership, so I walked round discreetly. It combines simplicity with sinuous lines – as far as I could see.
Then, after a delicious fish lunch in the Havenrestaurant (return visit after 20 years) and a quick look at the beach
I caught a tram back to Den Haag.
All in all, it’s been a very stimulating week of looking at early 20th-century Dutch architecture (and staying in a big-roomed canalside house for part of it). The private houses are interesting – the Schröder house or the Sonneveld house – but they were essentially for a wealthy few open to new ideas. (And such ideas – of a new, reductionist art for a new age.) It’s been the public architecture of Hilversum or the Amsterdam School that I’ve found most interesting; being a child of post-war planned Britain, I find it inspiring . . . and depressing that such big, optimistic ideas have expired. Perhaps they were simply of their time and cannot be re-created in a fast-changing, more atomised world.
As for my looking askance at Mondrian . . . well, I should take more account of the transformations that he saw. I guess my model of industrialisation is too rooted in the early British experience. Later industrialisation in countries like the Netherlands must have arrived in much more of a rush. The sudden changes in towns and cities in the late 19th century, combined with the new artistic ideas circulating in the early 20th, must have been both disorienting and stimulating. How do you maintain a spiritual sense in such a mechanistic age? As for the transmission of ideas . . . being neutral in the First World War may have given the Dutch avant garde an advantage over other strands like the Bauhaus. (It’s still odd to think that the first De Stijl publication was in 1917 and that Dudok was busily planning Hilversum.)
I could do with a rest from those primary colours now.