On a recent trip to Amsterdam I was finally able to visit the Kroller-Muller Museum, which is known for having the second largest collection of Van Goghs, including 90 paintings and 180 drawings. It's a couple of hours south of Amsterdam and not easily traveled to by bus or train, but well worth the trip. Of course, the Van Goghs were wonderful. I especially enjoyed seeing his early drawings and paintings, however, there was a hidden gem found in an artist I had never heard of. Bart Van der Leck was discovered early in his career by Helene Kroller-Muller who amassed the largest private collection of Van Goghs. She was impressed and convinced that Van der Leck's work would someday be as important as Van Gogh's. She became his patron, paying him a yearly stipend to paint and create other design pieces and had the right of first refusal on his work for several years. At first glance, this arrangement would seem to be an artist's dream, however, things are not always what they appear. Van der Leck met iconic painter, Piet Mondrian and the two of them were very much involved in the expansion of their work in a different direction. He and Mondriaan are considered the founding artists of the Dutch art and design movement, De Stijl. The abstracted lines in primary colors continue to influence design to this day.
This journey towards abstraction displeased Helene and she ended the relationship, however, she had amassed hundreds of his pieces and they reside in their own wing in the museum. What fascinated me were the tracings throughout the exhibition of his process and development from realism to abstraction. His story didn't end there. We usually associate the red, blue and yellow geometric line paintings with Mondriaan alone. It was a lovely surprise to hear the other half of the story. Van der Leck may not have been as famous as Van Gogh however his contribution to the field is memorable.
The GemeenteMuseum Den Haag recently featured the two artists together in the exhibition, Inventing A New Art. (This site is in English.)