Helene’s visits to Rome and Florence ignite her interest in architecture. When she falls seriously ill in 1911, she decides to have a museum house built. It is intended as a ‘house of culture’ for her collection.
Between 1909 and 1917, the Kröllers purchase several plots of land on the Veluwe, totalling some 6500 hectares. They both enjoy horse riding and the outdoor life but for Anton, business interests and status are probably also important considerations for acquiring relatively inexpensive land. The acquisitions include the De Harscamp farm and estate and the former lease house De Hofstede. Architect Leo Falkenburg refurbishes De Hofstede as a modest country residence, which Helene christens ‘Het Klaverblad’ (The Cloverleaf) as a reference to her four children. The Kröllers stay there as often as they can: ‘Nothing is better for body & mind than that love of the outdoors’.
Estate 'De Harscamp', circa 1909 / Helene on horseback / Map 'Landgoed Hoenderlo', circa 1911 / Estate Veluwe / Anton on horseback
Helene with artist Floris Verster and his wife at 'Het Klaverblad'. In 1910 Verster painted a portrait of Helene, for which she regularly poses in the studio of the artist
In June 1910, Helene and her daughter travel through Italy. They visit Milan, Rome and Florence, where the masters of the Renaissance make a particularly deep impression on her. But the architecture moves her perhaps even more. She describes the view from her hotel room: ‘abstract, flat façade of a church, as I have not seen anywhere in the world’. In the simple lines, Helene recognizes the ‘great truth of Spinoza’ and a desire to experience unity and peace in her own home develops. The imposing Palazzo Vecchio of the illustrious banker’s family de’ Medici in Florence also makes her think about her role in the world: ‘how people saw it everywhere and from far away and yet it was built not by kings, but by people’.
Letter and Postcard to Sam van Deventer from Florence, June 1910
Monument to culture
Helene’s impressions assume concrete form when she has to undergo a life-threatening operation in 1911. She decides, if she survives the operation, to have a museum house built for her collection, which she wants to bequeath to the Dutch people. From her hospital bed, she writes: ‘And now, Sam, the great miracle must occur: I build my new house and it will be a museum. […]. Then in a hundred years it could already be an interesting monument to culture, […] more natural and dynamic than it has ever been shown before’.
To realize this plan, the Kröllers buy a piece of land near Wassenaar which they call Ellenwoude estate. Helene’s method of collecting also changes. She is no longer guided by personal taste and collects only works of art that ‘can withstand the test of the future’.