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Leiden to acquire Jan Wolkers’ artistic estate

Museum De Lakenhal and Leiden University (Leiden University Libraries) are planning to acquire the artistic estate of Jan Wolkers (1925-2007). This would fulfil the long-held wish of the author and artist and his wife Karina to have the collection held in Leiden.

This acquisition would also mean that the work of one of the Netherlands’ most significant and versatile post-War artists would be preserved and made available for exhibitions, education and research. It will take the two Leiden institutions a year to organise the necessary funding.

Dual talent

Jan Wolkers (Oegstgeest, 26 October 1925 – Texel, 19 October 2007) is one of the greatest post-War Dutch writers, with such titles as Return to Oegstgeest (Terug naar Oegstgeest 1965) and Turkish Delight (Turks fruit 1969) to his name. In 1973 Turkish Delight, Wolkers’ biggest literary success, was filmed by director Paul Verhoeven, who studied Mathematics and Physics at Leiden. In spite of his eminence as a writer, Wolkers always regarded himself primarily as a sculptor and painter. The last major exhibition of his work was held in Museum De Lakenhal in 2008, curated by Rudi Fuchs.

Portrait of Jan Wolkers by photographer Koos Breukel. Part of Leiden University's special collections.

Personal and literary archive

The literary estate that will be acquired by Leiden University Libraries contains Wolkers’ personal archive, comprising many hundreds of items, including letters, diaries, family photos, notes, typescripts, proofs and much more. A large proportion of the material relates to literary works such as Crew Cut (Kort Amerikaans), A Rose of Flesh (Een roos van vlees), Return to Oegstgeest, The Dodo (De walgvogel), The Death-head Hawkmoth (De doodshoofdvlinder) and his early short story collections. There are also letters relating to commissions for visual artworks and for the filming of Turkish Delight and other novels. The archive further comprises some 80 drawings, including all his early self-portraits, animal and plant studies, landscapes, model drawings, drawings for sculptures, posters and watercolours. ‘Wolkers’ estate will fit in very well with our collections, especially with the Library of the Society of Dutch Literature and the image collections that we conserve,’ said Kurt De Belder, Director of Leiden University Libraries. ‘I expect that the Dutch and Art History departments will be very interested in this collection from Wolkers’ estate.’

18 visual artworks

Wolkers is currently only minimally represented in the Museum De Lakenhal collection, with just three works. This will change with the acquisition of a representative selection of eighteen visual artworks, which include Wolkers’ earliest figurative works, the geometric-material reliefs of the early sixties, the more conceptual, experimental assemblages of the seventies and his first 'light painting' (1988). Meta Knol, Director of Museum De Lakenhal commented, ‘There could be no better destination for this collection than the city of Leiden, which inspired the young Wolkers to explore new worlds, where he had his first solo exhibition as an artist and to which he was finally to pledge his heart for eternity. We are particularly delighted that we now have the opportunity to acquire this core collection.’

Return to Leiden

The synergy between the two collections will position Leiden once for all as the ‘home’ of the dually talented Wolkers, for researchers, students and the general public. Wolkers spent his childhood in Oegstgeest. As a teenager he recorded his wanderings in the countryside in and around Leiden in sketches, watercolours and his early paintings. His Reformed upbringing and his experiences during the Second World War had a defining influence on his personal development, as did the cultural wealth of Leiden. In his early years, Wolkers often visited Leiden, which became for him a place of spiritual and artistic freedom. Karina Wolkers: 'Leiden is the city where Jan Wolkers was born as an artist. It is quite natural that the drawings, paintings and manuscripts that he produced in sixty-five years should return to Leiden, thus completing the circle of his life as an artist.'

'Het grote gele doek', the last painting by Wolkers, bought by Museum De Lakenhal in 2007.

Biography and PhD ten years later

On 19 October 2017, exactly ten years after Wolkers’ death, author and Dutch language specialist Onno Blom will defend his PhD dissertation in the form of Wolkers’ biography, entitled Het litteken van de dood. This biography is largely based on Wolkers’ archives. An exhibition is being held in Oud-Poelgeest Castle in Oegstgeest to mark the publication of the biography. In consultation with Wolkers’ heirs, this particular week has been chosen to announce the intention to acquire Wolkers’ artistic estate. A solid foundation has been laid for this plan with contributions pledged by Museum De Lakenhal and Leiden University Libraries. Leiden City Council is also considering to contribute.

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