On April 11 2009 I visited Hoge Veluwe with a friend from the US. After seeing works by Mondrian, van Gogh, Charley Toorop and van der Leck in the museum, we went to
the St Hubertus house. We were just in time for the last tour of that day. When getting in, I chatted to the lady checking our tickets, and after listening to my story, she suggested she could let us have a quick peek at the private rooms of Mrs Helène Kröller-Müller.
The St Hubertus house at the Hoge Veluwe estate was designed by Berlage while the coloring has been designed by Bart van der Leck in close collaboration with Berlage. As my granddad, who was a painter, both an artist and a laborer painting houses, happened to be around when Van der Leck was looking for an assistant, he got to be Van der Lecks assistant. My granddad, Chris Karman, did all the St Hubertus painting that Van der Leck designed. As a child, I loved listening to his stories about the really wonderful colors that Van der Leck designed. There were also anecdotes, like when Van der Leck showed granddad his latest painting, the rider:
"Master Karman, what do you think of this painting?"
"Well, I can see it represents a horseman...."
"Ah, yes, I knew you don't appreciate the style. Oh well...."
Granddad didn't like the paintings, although he knew that Van der Leck was a very good painter. One day, granddad was painting red and black rectangles on a light gray background in the boudoir of Mrs Helène Kröller-Müller. As he told us, it was very hard not to spill a tiny drop of black or red paint on the light background. When you did, you had to wait until the paint was dry so you could repaint the background, or you had to carefully clean up the spilt drops. At a certain point in time, graddad spilt the tiniest drop of red paint, and rather than cleaning up or waiting, he deciced to make that one red rectangle just a tad broader. No one would notice. Or would they?
"When van der Leck entered the room shortly after, he immediately asked "why is that one rectangle bigger than the other ones?" So I had to repaint it anyway."
"The shades of gray that Van der Leck used in that boudoir were really wonderful. I have never seen such beautiful shades of gray."
I have taken the St Hubertus tour numerous times, as I have visited the museum often. But never did I get a chance to see the boudoir, or the bedroom, because they are not open to the public. Last Saturday, my luck changed. I was visiting Hoge Veluwe with my friend Lawrence. We spent some time in the museum - which has the largest collection of van Gogh paintings after the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam - and we strolled the statue garden on this nice spring afternoon. We then went to the St Hubertus house, arriving just in time for the last tour of that day.
As one of the guides was checking tickets and we were waiting to get in, I took the opportunity to talk to the guide about the house, about Van der Leck and about granddad. I told her some of the anekdotes, and I mentioned that in all these years, I had never actually seen these what had become objects of my admiration. She said that both the bedroom and the boudoir are never open to public, but after a short hesitation she suggested she could let us have a quick peek. While another guide started the introduction in the St Hubertus hallway, we were invited through the wardrobe to the boudoir. I had never even known that the boudoir and bedroom were on the ground floor, I expected them to be on the second floor.
Both rooms are a lot smaller than you'd expect. The furniture is smallish too, that's because Helène was short herself. The walls and ceiling of the boudoir are off white, or maybe you could call it gray. In the ceiling there is painted woodwork, all paintwork being the primary colors that characterize The Style. There were a couple of red rectangles in the woodwork, and four identical red rectangles had been painted on the walls, two of them on the back wall and one on each side wall. There were black rectangles too. As the various rectangles are 10 or 20 ft apart, it does take the masters eye to see that one would be just a bit bigger than the others. As we were in for only a couple of minutes, I didn't have time to fully appreciate the splendor of both rooms. What struck me was that while the colors were very sober - just white, gray, black and a little bit of red - at the same time the whole scene seemed to be so colorful. These rooms are not rooms - they are paintings!