In 1940, Sam van Deventer becomes chairman of the Kröller-Müller Foundation and director of the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller. But because he is often abroad, Willy Auping is responsible for the day-to-day management of the museum. When war breaks out, he is there day and night.
Vacancy for director
After the death of Helene, Sam van Deventer is appointed chairman of the Kröller-Müller Foundation in January 1940, on Anton’s recommendation. The administrative body still has a significant role within the Rijksmuseum, certainly as long as there is no new director. In the everyday operation of the museum, ‘assistant’ Willy Auping oversees things. He has been giving guided tours and lectures on location since the opening. He also replies to the mail and is responsible for promotion and publications, such as the Gids door het Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller (Guidebook for the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller) which is published in 1939.
Staff in 1940: Mr and Mrs Van den Brink and Willy Auping jr.
The first days of the war
The German attack on the Netherlands begins on 10 May. On that day, Sam and Anton are in The Hague. Initially, little information is available, except that there is heavy fighting around the Veluwe. Sam tries in vain to contact Auping. After some time, they hear that the German troops to the north and south of the park have ‘rolled’ westward on the public roads. From the Department of Education, Arts and Science, which is now under German supervision, they obtain the required papers to travel by car to the museum, where they are finally relieved to find that the art collection remains untouched in the museum building. St. Hubertus is also undamaged. Sam moves into the hunting lodge with Anton for the time being. Since the start of the war, Sam has been sleeping in the museum as a precaution. Together with Mr and Mrs Van den Brink, they are present day and night.
Mr and Mrs Van den Brink in het museum
'Rückführung’ (Repatriation) of 3 German masters
In the ensuing period, Sam and Anton make every effort to protect the estate and the possessions as much as possible. Aided by the old business network of Müller & Co, they are able to achieve a great deal, particularly with high-ranking German officials. When the German government claims 3 old German masters, including Venus with Amor the honey thief by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Sam and Anton seize the opportunity to considerably improve the museum’s financial situation and reinforce its position. In the negotiations, they manage to get the support of Reichskommissar Arthur Seyss-Inquart. Part of the agreement is recorded in a ‘Secret report’.
Sam van Deventer Director of Rijksmuseum Kroller-Muller on 25 November 1940
Attention for Van Gogh
Initially it seems that little will actually change for the museum. Van Deventer wants to keep the museum open to the public as long as possible, so even Auping’s guided tours continue for another two months. Auping remains committed to bringing the museum to the public’s attention. Accordingly, shortly after the invasion, in June 1940, the new catalogue of the Van Gogh collection is published and receives much attention from the press. And in the framework of the 50th anniversary of Van Gogh’s death, on 25 June he gives a lecture for the A.V.R.O., which is also broadcast in the Dutch East Indies later that year.