In 1937, the Dutch State agrees to the construction of a smaller museum, also designed by Henry van de Velde. During construction, the collection is exhibited in Groot Haesebroek Villa, awaiting the opening of the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller.
End of the family business
In the space of a few years, Müller & Co is reorganized under pressure from its shareholders. Anton loses his position and leaves the company in 1936. Sam’s function also becomes untenable. He has been a board member for several years, but without Anton’s protection he is sacked in 1937. This means that Müller & Co is no longer a family business. Eventually, Villa Groot Haesebroek, which is officially owned by the company, is also sold. Anton and Helene then move permanently to St Hubertus hunting lodge.
With a new design by Henry van de Velde, a smaller and far less expensive museum is built on commission from the Kröller-Müller Foundation. Because there is still hope for the realization of the ‘Grand Museum’, it is referred to as the ‘transitional museum’.
Design drawing for the ‘Transitional museum’ by Henry van de Velde, 1936
The construction, this time entirely in brick, is financed by a large donation from a business associate. Minister Slotemaker de Bruïne provides labourers from the relief works, but also demands that the building becomes the property of the State. Furthermore, he holds the Kröllers to their promise to donate the painting collection. On 18 May 1937, the first ground is broken. A year later, a sober but elegant museum is completed.
Builders in front of the entrance of Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller
Construction of the ‘Transitional museum’, 1937-38
Rijksmuseum Groot Haesebroek
In anticipation of the completion of the transitional museum, between 15 June and 3 October Helene uses rooms in Villa Groot Haesebroek as a ‘Rijksmuseum’. She wants to give the public one more opportunity to view ‘the national collection in the homely environment of Groot Haesebroek’. Sculptures from the collection are also on display in the French garden around the villa and there is even a catalogue.
The 'art room' at Villa Groot Haesebroek
At the entrance to the estate are 2 wooden signs with the text ‘Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller Stichting’. The exhibition attracts no fewer than 4,000 people. After 3 months, the entire collection is transported to Hoenderloo in a series of trips, where it is temporarily stored in St Hubertus and the service building. To spread the risk, only one truck leaves per day, under police escort. The staff also move.
Helene’s health deteriorates, but from a wheelchair she is able to strictly supervise the arrangement of the rooms in the transitional museum. She is assisted by Willy Auping Jr. He has been employed as her assistant from the beginning of the year, which actually makes him the first curator of the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller.
First arrangement of Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, April 1938 (Martinus van den Brink, architect Gerrit Baas and Bernhard, a servant of Helene Kröller-Müller)
Helene reserves the central aisle for the paintings of Van Gogh, and the cabinets on either side for an overview of the important movements before and after him. With Persian carpets, furniture, sculptures and display cases, she creates a distinguished, homely atmosphere in the museum, as she did in Groot Haesebroek.
Interior of Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, July 1938
Opening Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller
The museum is officially opened by Minister Slotemaker de Bruïne on 13 July 1938. Former minister Henri Marchant takes the floor as chairman of the De Hoge Veluwe National Park Foundation.
Sam van Deventer, Minister Ch. J.L.M. Welter (Colonies) en Mrs. Welter, Helene Kröller-Müller en Minister J.R. Slotemaker de Bruïne (Education, Art and Science)
Due to her weak constitution, Helene is unable to give her opening speech, which Anton delivers instead. Bremmer cannot attend the opening for health reasons. Among those present are many artists, including Henry van de Velde, Bart van der Leck, John Rädecker and Charley Toorop.
The opening of the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, 13 July 1938
The newspapers devote a great deal of attention to the opening. At the press conference two days earlier, there are no less than 40 journalists from local, national and international newspapers. This day is also filmed by the Polygoon newsreel.
A short-lived pleasure
Unfortunately, Helene can only briefly enjoy her museum, she dies on 14 December 1939. The following day she is taken from the hunting lodge to the museum in a hearse, followed on foot by Anton, Sam, Bob and her nurse. There she is laid out between her beloved Van Goghs, directly in front of Four sunflowers gone to seed.
Helene Kröller-Müller laid out in St Hubertus and the Rijksmuseum
A day later she is taken to the foot of the Franse Berg on a black-painted farm wagon and buried near the foundations of the ‘Grand Museum’. Her headstone reads: ‘I believe in the perfection of all things’.