Vincent van Gogh [1853-1890]
Dans la pluie (In the Rain) | undated
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries many upper middle-class art-loving families amassed fine private collections. The collection of the Van der Meulen family is one particularly good example. The head of the family, Johannes, who was a doctor, already had a Goya hanging in his sitting room and a painting by Bart van der Leck in his consulting room before he started taking the art appreciation courses offered by the ‘art guru’ of the day, Hendricus Bremmer (1871-1956) in 1896.
Bremmer’s lessons in Practical Aesthetics taught his students a new way of looking at art, and the professors and industrialists, doctors and lawyers who visited galleries and museums on their travels around Europe were keen to learn. What they saw there was fairly incomprehensible when viewed in the manner customary at the time. A landscape was supposed to be true to nature, but a landscape painted by Van Gogh was anything but, and it was difficult to discern any actual likeness in a portrait by Picasso. A cubist still life bore no resemblance to the real world. But Bremmer believed representation did not matter, as long as the artwork managed to hit home. ‘Frapper, frapper toujours,’ he would tell his students.
A good artist managed this through the ‘unity’ of his work. Contrast, colour, composition, materials – everything contributed to that effect, Bremmer would explain as he displayed work by Cornelis Troost, Charley Toorop and Gino Severini on his table easel. He knew what the artist had felt, thought and meant. When Bremmer said ‘This work makes me happy’, his students looked and felt it too.
Frequently, they would also buy. This was how the ‘Bremmerian’ Wibbina Collection came about. Named after Johannes’ youngest daughter, it was deposited in the care of a foundation, the Wibbina Stichting, and in 1970 his youngest son left it on permanent loan to Kunstmuseum Den Haag.