Plug In #34 Starting with Kandinsky highlights the first major international acquisitions made in 1951 by then director Edy de Wilde and includes works by Braque, Picasso, Sluijters, and Zadkine. This Plug In episode is based on the question of what the year 1951 meant for Kandinsky’s painting Blick auf Murnau mit Kirche.
When Edy de Wilde became director of the Van Abbemuseum in 1946, he found a building with walls decorated with faded pink and green paper, while the driveway to the entrance was a pool of mud. On show was an exhibition of drums and banners from a collection of the Kempenland Museum. There were hardly any visitors.
Although De Wilde’s predecessor W.J.A. Visser had acquired several interesting Dutch paintings, the very slender resources in the first ten years of the museum’s existence meant that the collection was meagre. Other contributing factors were the stock market crash in 1929 and World War II. Immediately after his appointment, Edy de Wilde realised that if the Van Abbemuseum was to compete with other museums on a national and international scale, it would have to start building a solid core collection. His ‘basic collection’ was to form a secure mainstay for both the existing collections and future acquisitions, and it was to be used repeatedly as a starting point for interesting exhibitions.
De Wilde managed to convince what was at the time a rather conservative and Catholic municipal council in Eindhoven and before long, he had purchased some fourteen paintings by a small group of key figures in modern art, some of whom were confirmed communists. De Wilde chose high-quality works that turned out to be representative of the major art movements of the first half of the twentieth century. He was confident that this was the way to make the Van Abbemuseum’s collection a strong, cohesive and unique whole.
‘Blick auf Murnau mit Kirche’ (1910) by Wassily Kandinsky was the first painting De Wilde bought for his basic collection. Kandinsky (1866 Moscow RUS – 1944 Neuilly FR) is regarded as the first of the modern abstract painters. After a time at the Bauhaus in Germany, Kandinsky, a painter and theorist of Russian extraction, moved to France in 1933, where he came into contact with other, equally innovative artists. De Wilde purchased early Cubist works by Pablo Picasso (1881 Malaga E – 1973 Notre-Dame-de-Vie F) and Georges Braque (1882 Argenteuil – 1963 Paris F), as well as a work by Robert Delaunay (1885 Paris – 1941 Montpellier F), which, in De Wilde’s opinion, formed a dynamic crossover to the German expressionism of Oskar Kokoschka (1886 Pöchlarn A – 1980 Montreux CH). He also added the more symbolic ‘Hommage à Apollinaire’ (1911-1912) by Marc Chagall (1887 Vitebsk BY – 1985 Saint Paul-de-Vence F) to the basic collection.
‘Plug In #34 Starting with Kandinsky’ is not displaying the entire basic collection. The presentation shows that over fifty years later, De Wilde’s ambition to link key works to other interesting paintings, again and again, still holds true. Curator Christiane Berndes presents several works from Edy de Wilde’s basic collection in tandem with other acquisitions he made during the same period, revealing the resonances between the works and giving a new impetus to interpretations and reinterpretations of the highlights of modern art.
Miryam van Lier