Visiting Amsterdam or the Netherlands before the 28th of August 2016? If you’ve got time: grab a train to the small historic town of Alkmaar. Not only to visit its cheese market, or its Weigh House. How about a Picasso or two?
Did you know that by grabbing a train to Alkmaar, you are actually following in Picasso’s footsteps? Did you know he spent a short summer holiday near this town and sketched its cheese market in full swing in 1905? He travelled on, as he had been invited to spend time at the holiday home of a Dutch friend. Later he visited another historic town called Hoorn, where some of the buildings he sketched still exist.
Picasso’s short summer vacation is the subject of a small exhibition at Alkmaar’s Stedelijk Museum. The exhibition “Picasso in Holland” takes up two small rooms and focuses on a period in Picasso’s life which is practically forgotten.
It all started with an old café chair left to the museum. It was a chair especially bought by a café owner for Picasso, to enable him to draw and sketch more easily. The elbow rests of the cafe’s other chairs hampered him.
This chair and works Picasso made during his Dutch summer holiday, are part of this special exhibition. There are sketches and photos of places where Picasso stayed. There are photos of scenes and buildings he drew. There are letters and postcards. His journeys are shown on a large map.
Even better: two of his works directly related to his Dutch holiday are on show. “La Belle Hollandaise”, a portrait of an unknown local girl, comes all the way from Australia. It will return there after this exhibition ends on the 28th of August. The other work is on loan from a French museum and is called “Les Trois Hollandaises”.
Documentaries on how this exhibition was created, which places Picasso visited, where he stayed, local anecdotes about him and more, are shown elsewhere in this museum. Unfortunately, these are not subtitled. A catalogue of this exhibition is available in Dutch and costs 23 euro.
The “Picasso in Holland” exhibition is not the only one which can be visited in Alkmaar’s Stedelijk Museum or Town Museum. It has a permanent one on the town’s history, as well as other temporary exhibitions which can all be visited in combination with the Picasso one.
Advised by a member of the museum’s staff, I first visited “Picasso in Holland, followed by the exhibition next to it. It is a special exhibition on Dutch modernist painter Gerrit van Blaaderen. Van Blaaderen spent much time painting in France and influences of painters like Cézanne can be seen in many works.
Van Blaaderen’s paintings of Breton fishermen are interesting. He used red instead of dark blue or black, which is the original colour of their traditional fishermen outfits. Van Blaaderen wanted to create a strong contrast in his Breton paintings. Personally I loved an early seascape and a scene painted in Cornwall. Unfortunately, van Blaaderen was not succesful: he died penniless.
After this exhibition, I spent time getting acquainted with works by a group of artists known as the “Bergen School”. This does not refer to Bergen in Norway, but to Dutch Bergen, situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty, between Alkmaar and the North sea. I was already familiar with expressionistic works by the Dutch painter Charles Toorop and his daughter Charley. Charley’s well-known painting of the Alkmaar cheese market is a different interpretation of the same scene which inspired Picasso’s sketch.
A visit to the small “Picasso in Holland” exhibition with its four “belles Hollandaises” is certainly worth a train-trip. There are regular intercity and slow trains running between Amsterdam Central Station and Alkmaar Station. The museum lies within walking distance of Alkmaar’s Station and you follow the same route into town, which Picasso also took.
The excellent museum café and shop are well worth a visit, before exploring Alkmaar’s beautiful historic centre. An alternative might be a visit to the “lunch room” where Picasso wrote a card to his friend Guillaume Apollinaire. The card can be read in the exhibition – the building now houses a pub.