Stuart Forster reports from the Netherlands on what to expect when visiting the birthplace of Piet Mondrian, the Mondriaanhuis in Amersfoort.
Piet Mondrian, one of the founding members of De Stijl, the influential Dutch art and design movement, was born in Amersfoort on 7 March 1872. On the anniversary his birthday, in 2017, his birthplace, the Mondriaanhuis — or Mondrian House — reopened after a major refurbishment.
That was not an inadvertent misspelling. Mondrian discarded one of the ‘a’s on moving to Paris, believing it gave his name greater international appeal. This explains why you’ll see his name written as both Mondrian and Mondriaan. Consequently, you’ll also see his birthplace written as the Mondriaan House.
The historic heart of Amersfoort
The building, now a museum, stands on a short canal, the Kortegracht, a few minutes’ walk from the heart of Amersfoort. The city is compact and has retained part of its medieval fortifications. The conical towers of the Koppelpoort gateway, overlooking the River Eem, resemble something that might inspire illustrations in a book of fairy tales.
Back in 1872 the building in which Piet Mondrian was born was a schoolhouse with family quarters above the classrooms. Piet’s father was the school principal. Aged 10, Piet discovered he was skilled at drawing and painting. He moved to Amsterdam, as an 18-year-old, to become a landscape painter.
Over the decade that followed his style of painting evolved. In 1916, while at Laren, close to Amersfoort, he came into contact with the artists and designers who founded De Stijl. Mondrian subsequently lived and worked in both Paris and New York.
Kortegracht as Mondrian’s birthplace
During the late 19th century the Kortegracht was rundown, these days it makes a smart impression. A bas-relief sculpture, set into the brickwork of the canal, celebrates the location as the birthplace of Mondrian and the life of the artist, who was a lover of jazz music.
“The house where Piet Mondrian was born pays tribute to his entire life. The new Mondriaanhouse is based on the concept of an empty canvas, which is gradually filled in. It tells Mondrian’s story with the use of multimedia – modern, immersive, and unique in the world – rather than typically museologically,” says Paul Baltus, the director of the Mondriaanhuis.
Among the great Dutch artists
“Amersfoort is to Mondrian what Leiden is to Rembrandt, or Delft to Vermeer. The Mondriaanhuis, the house where Mondrian’s cradle was, has long since been the place where Amersfoort celebrates its famous son,” he adds.
“Visitors walk through the life of this headstrong pioneer of abstract art: from Amersfoort to Winterswijk, and from Amsterdam via Paris and London to New York, his final destination. They get to know his iconic work, his spiritual formation, his interests, and his friends. And join him in his artistic quest,” says the director.
“The journey starts with a video installation of Mondrian’s oeuvre. A musical picture story that takes the visitors from his early landscapes and colourful seascapes to the abstract world he is famous for. Accompanied by the contemporary music that he liked, from Ravel to jazz, from Stravinsky to boogie-woogie,” he explains.
A recreation of Mondrian’s Paris studio
The Mondrian House has a recreation of his Paris studio of the 1920s. It had white walls, which was then unusual. Many of the great artists of the age visited to see where he worked. In 1938, with Fascism on the rise in Europe, he move to London and, in 1940, to the USA.
“At the end of his life, in New York, Mondrian, starts afresh. He got rid of the black lines and explored new spaces in his work. Discovered that lines are planes in themselves. Reinvents himself, focuses on movement. The American influence becomes clearer: dancing to boogie-woogie music, Disney films, the city that never sleeps. Everything he has created comes together in the Victory Boogie Woogie that is never finished,” says Mr Baltus.
“In the New York room, a transparent white cube has been installed around which visitors can take a seat. Through projections on, in and outside the cube, with historic fragments and sound bites of New York in the 1940s, visitors are given a view inside the artist’s head, as it were, the artist who created his masterpiece, the Victory Boogie Woogie, in New York,” he concludes, explaining the concept of one of the Mondrian House’s new attractions.
See the Mondrian House (Kortegracht 11, 3811 KG Amersfoort; +31 33 460 0170) website for information regarding opening times and entry prices.
Find out more about the city’s attractions on the Amersfoort Tourist Information website.
The city is in the province of Utrecht, so though it’s part of the Netherlands is not technically in Holland. Events were held across the Netherlands in 2017 to commemorate a century of Mondrian and De Stijl.
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Getting to Amersfoort
KLM flies from 17 airports around the United Kingdom to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.
Amersfoort is a 45-minute rail journey from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol on direct Intercity trains. The journey from Amsterdam central station takes from 34 minutes.
Staying in Amersfoort
The Hotel NH Amersfoort (Stationsstraat 75, 3811 MH Amersfoort; tel. +31 33 422 1200) is a modern four-star hotel close to the railway station and city centre.
Tip for a visit to Amersfoort
Try some of the locally brewed beer. De Drie Ringen and Rock City Beers count among Amersfoort’s breweries. The latter’s Amersfoorts Hoppen 1475 is a powerful beer brewed using three grain varieties, recreating a 15th century recipe in which malted oats is the principle ingredient. The Bishop of Utrecht was a fan of the original brew. He ordered as much as 400 barrels a year for his court.