Helene is raised in Germany. Her father is the founder of Wm H. Müller & Co, a trading company in iron and steel. At the age of 14, she reads the major works of enlightened writers and philosophers, including Spinoza, who would later inspire her to formulate her life motto: Spiritus et materia unum.
Helene Müller was born on 11 February 1869 in Horst, Germany, not far from the city of Essen, as the third child of Emilie Neese and the wealthy industrialist Wilhelm Müller. In 1876 the family moves to Düsseldorf, where her father Wilhelm, together with his brother-in-law Hugo Neese, establishes the iron ore and coal company Wm H. Müller & Co. The company soon enjoys some success and within a few years opens offices in Antwerp, Liège, Ruhrort, London, New York and Rotterdam, among other places.
Helene, Gustav, Martha, Wilhelm, Emmy en Emilie Müller, c. 1880
In her childhood, Helene barely comes into contact with the arts, her parents are not particularly interested in art. She is a studious girl and searching for meaning early on in life. At the age of fourteen, at the ‘Höhere Töchterschule’ in Düsseldorf, she becomes acquainted with the ideas of the enlightenment writers and philosophers, such as Lessing, Goethe, Schiller and above all Spinoza. Inspired by this, later in life she would formulate her own motto: ‘Spiritus et Materia ’ – ‘spirit and matter are one’.
Helene at the boarding school for girls in Brussel, 1886 / Books of Spinoza, Dante, Goethe en Schiller, from Helene's library
Marriage with Anton Kröller
Helene en Anton at the time of their engagement, 1887-1888
In 1888 Helene marries the Dutchman Anton Kröller, who came to work at her father’s company in 1883. The couple settle in Rotterdam, where Anton is in charge of the branch of Müller & Co. When Helene’s father dies suddenly in 1889, Anton becomes director of the entire company at the age of 27. Helene and Anton have four children, Helene (junior), Toon, Wim and Bob. The family moves to a residence on the fashionable Haringvliet.
In 1895 Müller & Co takes over the Nederlandse Stoomboot Maatschappij (Dutch Steamship Company), which operates regular services from Rotterdam and Amsterdam to London. Anton renames the successful line the ‘Batavier Line’, after the first ship of the NSbM. He also buys two new ships, which are named the Batavier II and III. They are recognizable by the funnels, where a large white capital ‘M’ for ‘Müller’ adorns a broad red band bordered by white lines.
Postcards of the Batavier and 'Haringvliet' in Rotterdam, 1900