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Museum De Lakenhal in Leiden acquires work by Theo van Doesburg of international significance

This acquisition would not have been possible without the support of the Rembrandt Association

Museum De Lakenhal has just purchased a rare abstract painting by Theo van Doesburg at an auction in London. Contra-Composition VII was painted in Paris in 1924, when the De Stijl movement was in its prime. Museum De Lakenhal’s acquisition of this masterpiece of international significance comes exactly 100 years after the launch of Van Doesburg’s magazine De Stijl in 1917 in Leiden. The museum was able to purchase Contra-Composition VII thanks to generous support from the Rembrandt Association and further contributions from the Rembrandt Association’s National Art Collections Fund, the Mondriaan Fund, the VSB Fund, the Community of Interest (VBL) in Museum De Lakenhal, the Lucas van Leyden Patrons, the Municipality of Leiden, the De Bander Fund and a number of private donors: Mark Aukema en Femke Aukema-Hartog, Philip Everts en Ineke Everts-Kuik, Ingrid Moerman, RWV Advocaten and some donors who wish to remain anonymous.

Exceptional support from the Rembrandt Association

Without the help of the Rembrandt Association and its National Art Collections Fund, Museum De Lakenhal would not have been able to raise sufficient funding on time. “The Rembrandt Association has great appreciation both for the exemplary way in which Museum De Lakenhal has striven over recent years to contextualize De Stijl within its collection, and for the ambition that the museum has once again displayed in this instance.”

Support of the Mondriaan Fund

“Acquiring iconic pieces of modern masters such as Theo van Doesburg, on the international market, is in terms of finances almost impossible for Dutch museums. Like other museums, Museum The Lakenhal has a limited budget at one’s disposal. Thanks to the support of national funds such as the Mondriaan Fund, it is possible to add prominent and iconic works of art to the museum collection. A balanced mix of private and public funds prevents Dutch museums from missing a chance like this. Museum De Lakenhal is exceptionally happy with the support of the Mondriaan Fund”, says Meta Knol, director of Museum The Lakenhal.onder blij met de steun van het Mondriaan Fonds", aldus Meta Knol, directeur van Museum De Lakenhal.

Genesis of De Stijl

Leiden was the birthplace of De Stijl. Theo van Doesburg lived in the town from 1916 till 1921. It was here that he developed his avant-garde art and built a Europe-wide network of progressive artists, architects and designers. Museum De Lakenhal houses over fifty works that shed light on the development of De Stijl. Until now, however, it did not have such an iconic work in its collection. Contra-Composition VII is a compelling example of De Stijl’s approach, as propagated by Theo van Doesburg. The painting provides clear evidence of the influence of Piet Mondrian, with whom Van Doesburg had intensive contact for a brief period of time following his move to Paris in October 1923. The visual quality and modern appearance of Contra-Composition VII instantly reveal the extent of the revolutionary ideas that Theo van Doesburg and his contemporaries stood for.

Rare

For Museum De Lakenhal, this was a unique opportunity to acquire an iconic painting produced by Theo van Doesburg at the height of his De Stijl period. Unlike Mondrian and some other members of the movement, Van Doesburg extended his art to a number of different disciplines and made relatively few paintings. Until now, Dutch museum collections have included a total of only five of his abstract paintings from the 1920s. The finest paintings of that period were sold by his widow Nelly van Doesburg to museums and collectors in the United States, when she visited the country in 1947/48 at the invitation of her friend Peggy Guggenheim. Contra-Composition VII was among the works she sold. With the recent purchase of the painting by Museum De Lakenhal, the painting will be added to the public art collection of the Netherlands.

Special gifts

This outstanding acquisition was facilitated by a generous donations policy on the part of the friends of Museum De Lakenhal. The association had already planned to make a special gift in 2018 to mark the centenary of the founding of the museum. Its chairman, Haro Schultz van Haegen, says: “This is a truly exceptional addition to the collection of Museum De Lakenhal. Paintings of this quality by Theo van Doesburg seldom appear on the market. The Community of Interest in Museum De Lakenhal (VBL) had been planning for some time to mark the 2018 centenary by making a special gift to the museum. We feel it is entirely appropriate to do so in this form. With the centenary of De Stijl this year and the centenary of the VBL next – well, it really couldn’t be better.”

Crowning glory of the collection

Director Meta Knol is thrilled with the acquisition: “Museum De Lakenhal is closed at the moment for the restoration of its historic 17th-century premises and the building of a completely new extension housing exhibition areas. When the museum celebrates its re-opening in 2019, Contra-Composition VII will be the crowning glory of the new collection displays. For the first time, a permanent display devoted to Theo van Doesburg and the founding of De Stijl will be included in the galleries. In the renovated museum, the route through the icons of the collection will start with the Last Judgement a 16th century masterpiece by Lucas van Leyden and end with the radical modernity of Theo van Doesburg.”

Presentation of Contra-Composition VII

The new acquisition will soon be on show at the town hall in Leiden. Upon its arrival in the Netherlands, the painting will be on display for one day in its main reception room (Burgerzaal), where the public will be able to see it free of charge. From then until the re-opening of Museum De Lakenhal (in spring 2019), the painting will go on loan to the Rijksmuseum, with which Museum De Lakenhal has had an ongoing partnership since 2014. The Rijksmuseum will exhibit the painting as part of a special display marking the centenary of De Stijl. In collaboration with Museum De Lakenhal the Rijksmuseum will publish a book on Peggy Guggenheim and Nelly van Doesburg, written by Doris Wintgens-Hötte, including a discussion of Contra-Composition VII. The book launch will take place on 6 October 2017 as part of a De Stijl symposium at the Rijksmuseum.

Theo van Doesburg, Contra-Compositie VII, 1924 Parijs olieverf op canvas, 45,3 x 45 cm
Theo van Doesburg, Contra-Compositie VII, 1924 Parijs olieverf op canvas, 45,3 x 45 cm