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Rural interior with fireplace in the Achterhoek, ca. 1890 – 1892

Rural interior with fireplace in the Achterhoek, c. 1890 – 1892, oil on canvas, 56 x 62cm, Collection Villa Mondriaan, Winterswijk.

In this painting we see part of a kitchen-living room, into which the sun shines through the mullioned windows and casts strong shadows. The fireplace with hanging mantel dominates the room. A cast-iron kettle hangs in front of the tiled hearth, with a stooped woman in a green skirt and white cap working on wooden shoes. On the other side of the three-legged table, on which a shiny copper kettle stands, a dog sleeps on the floor. Three chairs and a rectangular table stand against the bluish wall. A mirror with a tray and a cloth hang on a nail on the wall. It is difficult to read the time on the imposing red grandfather clock next to the door. Behind the window we see the well hook. The whole makes a bright, lively and harmonious impression.

An exceptional painting in art-historical terms

Mondriaan painted this peasant interior with fireplace in the Achterhoek in oils between 1890 and 1892. If we compare it with his finely painted still lifes of the time, we notice the loose, coarse and short brushstrokes. We also find this brushwork in a somewhat later painting: Woman with Child in Front of a Farm from about 1894-96, which hangs in the next room of the museum. Both paintings are reminiscent of Breitner (1857 – 1923) and Israels (1856 – 1934). But both Mondriaan’s choice of subject and his painting style leave an impression all of their own. The use of light and dark and the use of colour give the painting a light appearance. We see a rhythmic alternation of straight and oblique lines that repeat. The grid of lines in the windows is mirrored in the grid of tiles behind the fireplace. The short, rough brushstrokes also contribute to a lively rhythm. The angled tripod and the slanting pit hook reflect the slanting lines created by the shadow. This creates a dynamic interplay of lines. The mantelpiece with the plates, the floor and the tiles of the fireplace seem to have been painted from scratch. So we see in this painting exactly what the Museum Villa Mondriaan wants to show. As director Jana Roovers said, “Winterswijk is where the young artist’s search for abstraction began.” This painting is an example of that.

It is also a special painting in Mondriaan’s oeuvre. Only a few of his peasant interiors are known, and he is believed to have painted them in the Winterswijk area. This work is therefore a very important addition to the works already made available by private individuals and the Vereniging Het Museum. Thus, Mondriaan’s works Cow from ca. 1898-1899 and St. Jacob’s Church from 1898 have a place of honour in the Museum Villa Mondriaan. In addition, the works of father Mondriaan senior and uncle Frits Mondriaan, which the Museum Achterhoek also has on loan, are of great importance for understanding the development of Mondriaan’s artistic work. Frits Mondriaan, his father’s brother, often came from The Hague to Winterswijk to paint with his nephew.

A farmhouse interior from the Winterswijk area

During the unveiling meeting, heritage advisor and project manager of the Gelders Genootschap, Marlieke Damstra, explained the importance of farm interiors with hearth in the Achterhoek in the light of research on historical interiors in the Achterhoek. The farmhouse we see is an example of the so-called hall house. This is a three-aisled building with the barn in the middle and the stables on both sides. In the picture we see the kitchen-living room, which was used multifunctionally. It was not only used for cooking and eating, but also for manual work. The furniture therefore had to be easy to move. For this reason, most of the furniture is placed against the wall, as was customary at the time. On the hanging mantelpiece, also called bozem, there are plates that have both a decorative and a practical function. Because of the loose painting style in Mondriaan’s painting, we cannot clearly see what kind of floor it is. It is possible that it is a field pebble floor, as we can still see on the Luikenhuis farm in Meddo, or a pot floor, as we still find on the Vardink farm in Kotten. The tiles on the back of the hearth could be pictures with symbolic meaning, for example an anchor, a scythe and an hourglass. Such symbolic images can still be seen in the large semicircular painting Uw woord is de waarheid from 1984, painted by Mondriaan and designed by his father.

Your word is truth” is on display at Villa Mondriaan, which owns it on loan from the Wilhelmina School. The painting moved with them in 1906 when a new school for Christian education was built. In Mondriaan’s time, it was believed that the blue on the walls would keep flies away. According to Damstra, this was a superstition. It was paint that came on the market in large quantities. The mullioned windows from the 18th century are special in our time because almost all of them have been lost. But as we read in the Mondriaan bicycle tour – which very presciently included the interior of a farmhouse with a fireplace in the Achterhoek – we can still see similar windows on the Hilbelink farm at Horstweg 12 in Brinkheurne.

The journey of the painting

Mondriaan probably gave this work to his colleague Doorn in 1916, who gave him drawing lessons in his studio, whereupon it entered the private collection of his heir F. Doorn in The Hague in 1979. From 1984, the work was in a private collection in Los Angeles and then in the collection of Mr and Mrs Besselaer in Princeton. They collected typically Dutch paintings after emigrating to the United States in order to maintain the connection to the Netherlands. In 2009, the painting was acquired by the owner’s family, who put it up for auction in Amsterdam on Sunday 9 October 2022. There it was bought by Joldersma and Jolink, who were supported by Wim van Krimpen, among others former director of the Kunstmuseum Den Haag and the Kunsthalin Rotterdam and co-founder of Villa Mondriaan.

Caroline Roos- Schuurman: ‘New acquisition Museum Villa Mondriaan: Farmer’s interior with fireplace in the Achterhoek’.
This article appeared in Museum News December 2022 Association the Museum (VHM) Winterswijk.
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