It’s hard to imagine that a museum housing nearly ninety paintings and one hundred and eighty drawings by Vincent van Gogh could, somehow, be overshadowed by something other than works by Vincent van Gogh. The Kröller-Müller Museum is, after all, home to the second largest collection of van Gogh’s in the world. Yet that wasn’t why I’d made the train journey to Ede-Wageningen and then cycled 15km to get there.
In fact, I didn’t even visit the indoor galleries, they will have to wait for a return visit. My main reason for visiting the Kröller-Müller, was to wander the 25 hectares of beautifully landscaped gardens filled with more than 160 modern sculptures from artists including Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Jean Dubuffet, Oscar Jespers and Barbara Hepworth.
I also wanted to visit because the museum is located in the heart of one of the Netherlands’ most beautiful areas, the Hoge Veluwe National Park. Which, for the Netherlands, is as close to ‘wilderness’ that you’re likely to get. The combination of a world class art collection set in a landscape of heathlands, forests and sand dunes, makes this an extraordinary place by any standards.
The Kröller-Müller is one of Europe’s largest open-air sculpture gardens, the works set within landscaped parklands that get noticeably wilder the further you walk from the museum buildings. The whole experience is part serious art gallery and part treasure hunt. On a warm, dry day it really is a special place to visit. I spent a couple of hours wandering around, hunting out as many sculptures as possible.
It’s hard to pick a highlight from the whole experience, but Kijk Uit Attention by Krijn Giezen, stood out. I’m not really sure walking up a gigantic staircase counts as art or exercise, but the whole experience was pretty breathless and intense. The stairs go up a wooded hillside before emerging out of the top of the trees and extending upwards. At the top, it feels like you’re floating in the air, hovering over the landscape below. The views are stupendous.
The museum and its collection exists today because of the vision of one extraordinary woman, Helene Kröller-Müller. She acquired one of the largest private collections of the 20th century, with around 11,500 artworks. She also made purchases that were considered ‘bold’ by contemporaries, including her accumulation of van Gogh’s work. It’s said that her passion for van Gogh put his name on the map, and significantly contributed to his fame following his death.
Helene was a visionary, no doubt, but the financer for her collection was her controversial husband, Anton Kröller. He built a vast business empire, and was one of the most powerful men in the Netherlands. Until, that is, the whole thing collapsed shortly after the First World War. Thousands of investors lost everything, a major Dutch bank was brought to its knees, and, although there were accusations of fiddled accounts, he was never held accountable for his actions. Sound familiar?
The hot sunny day I visited, other visitors were few and far between. Maybe that was because it was a weekday, but the reality is that for most visitors to the Netherlands (and quite a few Dutch people), the Kröller-Müller isn’t on their radar. It may only be an hour and a half from Amsterdam, but this is something of a blank space on the map.
Although there is public transport to the doorstep (or a fantastic cycle from Ede-Wageningen train station), the psychological barrier of getting there without a car is significant. As is the fact that, although the wonderful museumkaart gives you free access to the museum, you have to pay a fairly hefty entrance fee of €9.15 to enter the park. If you don’t have a museumkaart you can double that for the entire experience.
That said, you can spend the whole day here amongst glorious nature and equally glorious art. That combo of the museum and national park is value for money, and I’ll definitely be returning.