On 30 January 1933, Mayor A. Verdijk made a solemn declaration before the Eindhoven council. One of the local dignitaries, cigar manufacturer H.J. van Abbe (1880-1940), had offered to donate a museum of modern art to the city. Under the terms of the offer, Van Abbe would finance the construction of the museum as well as donate a certain amount of money for acquisitions and operation costs during the first few years of the museum’s existence.
‘In appreciation of such a spontaneous offer that speaks of so much civilian virtue, artistic sense and community spirit, a similarly spontaneous gesture is more than appropriate’, was the opinion of the council members. Therefore, the council decided they would contribute the land on which the museum was to be built free of charge. In addition, the name of the donor would be linked to this new museum. So on 18 April 1936, the ‘Stedelijk Van Abbe Museum’ opened its doors. Though Van Abbe had declared in 1935 that the N.V. Karel I cigar factory should officially be marked as the benefactor.
Amsterdam-born Henri van Abbe was trained as a tobacco agent. His father, Jacob van Abbe, owned a diamond-cutting establishment and with his financial support, Henri van Abbe set up a small cigar factory in Amsterdam. In 1908, he moved his factory to the Eindhoven region. Van Abbe then switched to the production of a serial brand with the slogan ‘there is only one Karel I’, which built a solid reputation for the brand of the Karel I cigar factory.
Since the 1920s, Henri van Abbe collected mainly contemporary art and as time went on, his taste evolved. He went from collecting art by regional painters to that of highly acclaimed artists from the 1930s such as Jan Sluijters and Kees van Dongen, who were also commissioned to paint family portraits. Van Abbe’s fondness of figurative paintings, varying from expressionist to magic-realist, was a reflection of what was considered modern at the time.
The first paintings that were to be part of the museum’s collection were bought from Van Abbe’s private collection using his monetary donations from the factory. The acquisition comprised 26 paintings, including Reclining Nude (1931) by Sluijters.