Stedelijk Studies Journal Issue #11 – Addendum
Internationalist Ambitions and Frustrations
The Moderne Kunstkring and Its Exhibitions at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Paper submitted by Marieke van Ekeren
Whereas twentieth-century modernism made its rise internationally, a great love for the moderate realism of the Hague School and the Amsterdam impressionists dominated art institutions in the Netherlands to the extent that modernist artists had limited opportunities for exhibition space and sales. A small number of initiatives encouraged contemporary artists and their practices, one of which stood out with its carefully conceived exhibitions and distinctly international agenda. Founded in 1910, the artists’ association the Moderne Kunstkring (Modern Art Circle, 1910–1916) is now remembered as an international modernist art catalyst.
Prior to its founding, the main initiator of the Moderne Kunstkring, art critic and painter Conrad Kickert (1882–1965), publicly committed himself to contemporary artists in Dutch media. He was one of the few critics who denounced the way in which their work was undervalued. Frustrated by the conservative art climate in the Netherlands, he eventually left for Paris, where he founded the Moderne Kunstkring in cooperation with emerging painterly talents Jan Sluijters (1881–1957) and Piet Mondrian (1872–1944) and the relatively established Dutch-Indonesian artist Jan Toorop (1858–1928). As an entrepreneur, Kickert easily found his way into the Paris art scene. There, his encounters with cubists were decisive for the future exhibitions of the Moderne Kunstkring; however, a lasting impression was made by Henri Le Fauconnier (1881–1945), a cubist painter from the northern French city of Hesdin. Kickert returned from Paris with three carefully curated exhibitions, in 1911, 1912, and 1913, which took place at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. These large-scale presentations were unique both in size and content, containing works by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Franz Marc, and Wassily Kandinsky, as well as the earliest abstract works by Piet Mondrian. As many as 248 pieces were on display at these events, half of which were by non-Dutch artists.
In doing so, the Moderne Kunstkring subverted the overall taste of Dutch art institutions, galleries, and their audiences, setting itself apart from other art associations and preceding similar exhibitions, such as the historic Sonderbund Ausstellung in Cologne and the Armory Show in New York. Kickert wanted to point out that there was more to painting than idyllic views of polders and seascapes. He aimed at presenting the latest art developments, mainly from France, and, in a way, broke with the art historical notion that Dutch art had undergone an isolated course in art history by firmly connecting young Dutch artists to the international modernist movement. On the other hand, during his secretary years, his internationalism changed into an ethnohistoric stance, focusing on the notion of a Northern European Volksgeist that was not dissimilar to the views expressed in the nationalistic art historical surveys of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Dutch art—to which he was actually opposed. He argued that cubism represented the contemporary spirit and, in that context, promoted Le Fauconnier as its true translator. However, as shown later in this paper, not every member of the Moderne Kunstkring subscribed to his narrative. Against the background of more recent discussions about the predominantly white, male, Eurocentric canon—to which the Moderne Kunstkring was no exception—this essay attempts to nuance European modernism by reflecting on its complexity in the specific case of the Moderne Kunstkring.
Since practically all members of the Moderne Kunstkring were born in the late nineteenth century, they were also witness to an era in Europe that is now known for its cultural nationalism. Rapid technological modernization of infrastructure and mass production had facilitated access to and the dissemination of knowledge, which several European countries used to explore and disseminate their own national past. Relevant to this paper is the notion that nineteenth-century modernization sparked a historicism characterized by an aversion to the new and a desire to preserve and cultivate traditions. Typical of the historicism at issue here is the desire to think of contemporary society as a continuation of its old, underlying traditions. In architecture, for example, this led to the revival of old styles such as gothic and classicism. These developments gave an impulse to the spread of a cultural nationalism, whereby the term Volksgeist was frequently used in (art) historical overviews to describe one’s own exceptional culture.
Originally, the term Volksgeist was conceived by the German philosopher Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744–1803). As a reaction to universal claims made by Enlightenment philosophers, he coined the term to stress the individual character of peoples. Subsequently, the German legal scholar Friedrich Carl von Savigny (1779–1861) used the term in response to transnational legal reforms instigated by Napoleon in the early nineteenth century. Savigny’s reaction is an early example of a historicism fueled by modernization. Savigny argued that law was organically embedded in a nation’s “experience and worldview,” hence failed to apply to all European countries. His conception of Volksgeist is characterized by the idea that each people has its own Geist, which arises organically throughout the formative process of a population and from which it must not be alienated. In his compact explanatory text Nationalisme (2015), literary scholar Joep Leerssen defines this form of historicism as “Savigny’s historicism.” According to Leerssen, it would cast a long shadow on the next century.
In the nineteenth-century Netherlands, which was in fact a relatively new nation, the historicism of cultural institutions took shape by frequently referring to seventeenth-century art and national heroes. In painting, the widespread production of realistic, yet romantic, depictions of Dutch polder landscapes, seascapes, and the everyday lives of farmers and fishermen thrived. Nostalgic ideas about the Netherlands resulted in an overrepresentation of Dutch coastal areas in painting, to which the term Hollandocentrism applies. The Hague School is a relevant art movement in this context. Some of its members evidently referred to seventeenth-century artists, as seen in the painting Na de Storm (After the Storm, 1858) by Jozef Israëls (1824–1911). The painting depicts two women and a child waiting in vain for a fisherman’s return. The influence of Johannes Vermeer is evident in the tableau that Israëls painted in true-to-life colors. The interior is strongly illuminated from one side, and the use of light and shadow betray the connection to Vermeer’s painting style. The Hague School drew inspiration from seventeenth-century Dutch art and from the realistic painting style of the Barbizon School. The regional focus of the movement was not only reflected in the choice of subject matter but also in the member group, which consisted mainly of artists who also originated from The Hague.
Nineteenth-century art historiography stimulated this commemorative preference for one’s own culture by emphasizing the idea that Dutch culture had experienced its own exceptional history. According to art historian Jenny Reynaerts, the fixation even led to the idea that little had happened beyond the borders of the Netherlands in the nineteenth century, even while, as she demonstrates in her book De Spiegel van de Werkelijkheid (Mirror of Reality, 2019), many Dutch artists had spread out and established themselves abroad. De Spiegel van de Werkelijkheid complements the only two other previously written art historical works on nineteenth-century art in the Netherlands. Both earlier Dutch-language works continued a tradition of mainly Dutch-authored art criticism.
One of the retrospective works dates from 1903 and was written by the influential art critic and painter G.H. Marius (1854–1919). In De Hollandse Schilderkunst in de Negentiende Eeuw (Dutch Painting in the Nineteenth Century, 1903), she regarded the Hague School as the absolute zenith of nineteenth-century visual art. The style was the first respectable successor of seventeenth-century painting in the Netherlands. By means of visual analyses, Marius outlined the progressive development that art went through, which ultimately resulted in the emergence of the Hague School. She virtually disregarded Dutch artists who went abroad for inspiration, as their work did not resonate with the centuries-long painting tradition of the Netherlands. The land- and seascapes of Jacob Maris (1837–1899) and Anton Mauve (1838–1888) were among her favorites.
Around the turn of the century, it may well have been a favorite activity of that same G.H. Marius to visit the Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk Museum successively on a single day. At that time, the Stedelijk was well on its way to becoming the home base of the Hague School painting style Marius adored, thanks to the Vereeniging tot het vormen van eene openbare Verzameling van Hedendaagsche Kunst te Amsterdam (VVHK, Association for the Formation of a Public Collection of Contemporary Art in Amsterdam, commonly known as “the organization with the long name”). Although the association claimed to be contemporary by name, the board members’ preference for old or deceased artists defined its collection, as Maurice Rummens also stated in the editorial of this issue of Stedelijk Studies. The disappointing attitude of the VVHK—from a modernist’s perspective—in combination with its influence on events in the museum would ultimately lead to great indignation on the part of Kickert.
The association’s conservative orientation is not surprising, if one considers that it was originally formed in 1874 to keep art from the Netherlands in the Netherlands. In its statutes, the board members, consisting of a delegation of urban elites, agreed to build up a collection of Dutch painters, preferably living artists, in order to ultimately donate it to the city. Supplementing the collection with art by old or deceased artists turned out to be the actual policy, given the rejections of artworks by Isaac Israëls and Breitner in the 1890s and a rejection of a painting by Jan Toorop in 1909. By the time Kickert began offering his own art criticism, the VVHK had reluctantly started exhibiting work by Breitner and similar painters. Jan Herman van Eeghen, Among others, Christiaan Pieter van Eeghen, Olga Borski-Sillem, and Jérôme Alexander Sillem, all four from Amsterdam banker families, were decisive for the collection, adding almost 60 Hague School and 138 Romantic paintings during the last decades of the nineteenth century.
On September 12, 1907, Kickert publicly attacked the VVHK for employing the term “contemporary.” In an article in De Telegraaf, he reacted to the “Vierjaarlijksche” (Quadrennial), an exhibition of living artists curated alternately by the municipalities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Arnhem, and The Hague. The Stedelijk hosted the 1907 edition. With the admittance of works by Jan Sluijters, Otto van Rees (1884–1957), and Kees van Dongen (1877–1968), the exhibition had incorporated a significantly contemporary character for the first time. Still, Kickert was disappointed by the way in which their entries were shown. According to him, they hung unhappily, with little light or hidden from sight, in contrast to the romantic paintings by established artists such as Hendrik Willem Mesdag (1831–1915) and Hendrik Willebrord Jansen (1855–1908).
Two associations that did actually address contemporary art were De Onafhankelijken and Sint Lucas. Like the Moderne Kunstkring, De Onafhankelijken (founded in 1912) focused on tackling the system of exclusion that frustrated contemporary artists in their careers. They actively encouraged young experimental artists to become members of the collective by placing announcements in newspapers. The collective particularly emphasized the fact that they did not rely on a jury and that anyone, both professionals and amateurs, could join the association without balloting. Each artist was to be accountable for their own work.
The earliest exhibitions at their venue at Amstelveenseweg 165 often included more than 500 entries, with a wide variety of painting styles and a relatively large number of female artists. Moderate realism was on display, but also cubist and expressionist work. In the catalogues, the participants were listed in alphabetical order, which gave the event a non-hierarchical impression. Although the catalogues stated that they accompanied “international” exhibitions, roughly twenty of the at least 130 participants lived abroad, including Alexander Archipenko, Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Francis Picabia, Diego Rivera, and Alfred Wolmark. From the end of 1914 onwards, hardly any non-Dutch participants were represented, undoubtedly due to the First World War.
Founded in 1880, Sint Lucas had been around longer than De Onafhankelijken and the Moderne Kunstkring. Initially, it was an association of students at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam; later, it continued as an artists’ association. They, too, organized jury-free exhibitions, first at the Panorama Building and later at the Stedelijk Museum. Although everyone was allowed to participate, a committee ultimately decided which entries from each participant would be on display. Similar to the exhibitions of De Onafhankelijken, this resulted in a considerable variation in style and quality, with a large number of entries from Dutch artists.
Between 1908 and 1911, the year of the first Moderne Kunstkring exhibition, it was Sint Lucas that mainly promoted contemporary art. In 1910 the group promoted the visibility of luminist artists by putting their entries together in two rooms. Jan Sluijters, in particular, emerged as a leading figure in contemporary art due to his unusual use of color for that time; for example, in Beeldhouwersinterieur (Sculptor’s Interior, 1909, fig. 1). In spring 1911 the group paid special attention to work by Kees van Dongen, who had lived in Paris since 1897. In appreciation of his contributions, the catalogue included a number of articles he had written for French media and twenty-one works of art. In the 1910s, Sint Lucas flirted with a modernism that mainly sought a connection with Van Dongen’s fauvism.
Both De Onafhankelijken and Sint Lucas undermined a system of exclusion by not appointing a jury. Yet, due to a large number of submissions and an overrepresentation of Dutch artists, of whom only a small number were engaged in experimentation, the exhibitions resulted in large art fairs with a great variation of styles. Despite the cluttered appearance of the exhibitions, as some critics perceived it, the press also appreciated their refreshing nature.
Figure 1. Beeldhouwersinterieur, Jan Sluijters, 1909, private collection.
In a letter to Conrad Kickert, Jan Toorop noted that, in 1910, the legacy of previous painters still prevailed. He wrote that “the habit of previous expressions of art” put too much pressure on new artistic developments, by which he especially meant the predominant legacy of Dutch painters. Although many young Dutch painters were gradually experimenting with different art styles, expressing themselves, for example, through luminism, works by corresponding non-Dutch inspirators were hardly present at exhibitions of associations such as Sint Lucas and the VVHK.
Around 1906 the Dutch painter Lodewijk Schelfhout (1881–1943), who had been living in Paris with his family for some time, persuaded Kickert to come visit the city and introduced him to the Montparnasse milieu. By 1910, Kickert alternately lived in Paris and Zandvoort (coastal Netherlands), but spent most of his time in Paris. He joined Schelfhout on regular visits to “Les Mardis de Paul Fort,” a lecture venue at the café Closerie des Lilas, where Kickert became acquainted symbolist artists. He was greatly influenced by the symbolist literary milieu, in which the ideas of philosopher Henri Bergson (1859–1941) had gained a substantial following. Bergson wrote several critiques on contemporary scientific frameworks and argued that the way science interpreted and represented reality did not correspond to the human experience of reality. He therefore took intuition as an approach to reality and the transcendental.
Paris was appealing for modernists, as separatist movements had been emerging out of dissatisfaction with prevailing academicism in the Paris salons for some time. The movements rebelled against French art policy, which supplied the official institutions and committees behind the salons with the means to maintain them. Examples of representatives of this resistance were the Salon des Indépendants (since 1884) and the Salon d’Automne (since 1903). Large-scale immigration and artistic exchange were characteristic for Paris at the time, the basis of a system in which art dealers and critics had a decisive role and affected the validation and valorization of art. In this climate, artists were endowed with freedom and less dependent on the predominant legacies of the nineteenth century.
At Kickert’s insistence, Piet Mondrian, Jan Sluijters, and Leo Gestel (1881–1941) traveled to Paris around 1911, where they immersed themselves in the art life of Montparnasse. The effect of this journey was noticeable in their works towards the end of 1911. Kickert and Le Fauconnier based their work and ideas mainly on the symbolist milieu in Montparnasse, distinguished by its claim of creating from an intuitive point of view, without fully abandoning figurative painting. Mondrian, on the other hand, was inspired by Picasso’s and Braque’s analytical approach to cubism, which took form through an increasingly apparent dismantling of surfaces. To some of their cubist colleagues, their approach was perceived as too rational and mathematical. Inspired by these kindred spirits, Kickert started organizing meeting venues. Every Monday afternoon, he invited Dutch, French, and German artists to his studio at the Rue du Départ 26, creating a meeting place for the Dutch artists. Kickert began collecting contemporary art, and purchased works by Schelfhout, Mondrian, Braque, and Picasso.
Kickert expanded his activities as an art entrepreneur by founding the Moderne Kunstkring in 1910, in consultation with the aforementioned artists. A reconstruction of the exact course of events requires more research. For now, most initiatives seem to derive from Kickert’s organizational role. The group’s financing, for example, was to be divided among the members, but Kickert provided the money in the end. Among the earliest members were Toorop, who was given the role of chairman, Mondrian, Sluijters, and Kickert himself, who together formed the board, and most likely also Leo Gestel, Lodewijk Schelfhout, Jaap Weijand (1886–1960), Hermann Lismann (1878–1943), and Jan Verhoeven (1870–1941). Appointing Toorop as chairman was a strategic move, given the status he had gained in the Netherlands as an innovative, somewhat older artist. It would have undoubtedly added credibility and grandeur to the association. Apart from Toorop and Verhoeven, all members were in their twenties and thirties.
On December 10, 1910, Kickert announced the foundation of the Moderne Kunstkring in the magazine Onze Kunst (Our Art), along with an upcoming international exhibition that would visibly bring together the latest art from France and the Netherlands. To guarantee the promise of renewal, members had to submit ten new artworks each year. The initial idea was to equally divide the walls of the exhibition halls by artist, yet right from the start a distinction was made by designating an honorary hall.
The effort of the Moderne Kunstkring to break with the fixation on Dutch “old-school” painters in the Netherlands was extensive. The primary aim was to bring together contemporary art by Dutch and non-Dutch artists. Both the decision to install works by non-Dutch artists in half of the available exhibition space and to give the catalogue a French title emphasized this. To foster a wider international outlook on new artistic expressions, Kickert put forward ethnohistoric arguments that challenged the idea of Dutch culture rooted in classical traditions from Southern Europe. According to him, Northern Europeans are complicated by nature. The “great surfaces and simplicity” of art from classical antiquity and the Renaissance do not appeal to that nature. In Le Fauconnier, Kickert saw the perfect translator of his body of thought, in which intuition was a key component. From the outset, Le Fauconnier was represented through an extensive amount of entries of his cubist paintings. During the exhibiting years of the Moderne Kunstkring, his cubism became more moderate in character, even while other cubists began to paint in an increasingly abstract manner.
The 1911 exhibition mainly responded to the concept of a Dutch Salon d’Automne. Like the salon, the collective didactically built its exhibitions around a predecessor, in this case Paul Cézanne (1838–1906). Toorop opened the exhibition with an extensive speech in which he explained their views on Cézanne who was said to be the forefather of modernist art in general, and cubism in particular, which was in turn reflected in works by the exhibiting artists. In the main hall, twenty-eight works by Cézanne filled the wall of honor. A self-portrait hung in the center, surrounded by a series of still lifes and landscapes, two of which, La Montagne Sainte-Victoire (The Mountain of Sainte-Victoire, 1888, fig. 2) and Bouteilles et Pêches (Bottles and Peaches, 1890), are now in the possession of the Stedelijk Museum. The collection consisted of a retrospective presentation of his paintings from 1875 until the turn of the century.
Figure 2. La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, Paul Cézanne, c. 1888, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. Gift of the Association for the Formation of a Public Collection of Contemporary Art in Amsterdam (VVHK), 1949.
In his speech, Toorop stressed that the spiritual or “psychic” meaning behind a painting determined its beauty. He therefore asked the audience to look closely before passing judgement. One had to see the modernist works by both Cézanne and the other participants several times in order to appreciate them. As might be expected, his call for patience did not prevent critics from slamming the exhibition in the media. Toorop himself furthermore lashed out at the Hague School by referring to it as sentimental Dutch “interiors, chickens and milk buckets” that had no connection to the deep psyche and therefore no uplifting function.
The 1911 exhibition consisted of thirty-one participants, seventeen of whom were non-Dutch. The participants included fourteen Dutchmen, fourteen Frenchmen, two Germans, and one Spaniard. Cézanne’s works were surrounded by works by Odilon Redon (1840–1916), Jan Toorop, fauvists Raoul Dufy (1877–1953) and Othon Friesz (1879–1949), and the cubists Le Fauconnier, Picasso, and Braque, whose Broc et Trois Bouteilles (Pitcher and Three Bottles, ca. 1908–1909, fig. 3) was present, a painting visibly influenced by Cézanne and created at the very outset of Braque’s cubist oeuvre. Although the catalogue listed 166 paintings, this number did not correspond to the actual presentation, as Stedelijk conservator Cornelis Baard had removed four nudes (two by Sluijters and two by Gestel) just before the opening, for reasons of frivolity. Le Fauconnier made a last-minute addition with a number of paintings that were excluded from the catalogue. The members of the Moderne Kunstkring had approximately twelve luminist entries each, except for Mondrian, with around six.
Figure 3. Broc et Trois Bouteilles, Georges Braque, 1908, possibly 1909, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.
Toorop was unable to attend the opening of the 1912 exhibition due to illness, which led Kickert to recite his preface from the catalogue. The speech consisted mainly of a didactic foundation for the exhibition in which views of the English art critic and advocate of the gothic style, John Ruskin (1819–1900), were deployed. To legitimize cubism, Kickert emphasized its similarities with gothic forms. According to him, both were expressions of the Northern European folk character. In contrast to the Latin tradition, the Northern European character was claimed to be intuitive. In the classical South, reason prevailed, which found expression in the well-defined, rigid forms that characterize classicist architecture. Kickert argued that cubism, like the gothic style, appealed to the complexity of Northern European society. He legitimized the movement by presenting it as the expression of the spirit of that age.
That same year, the Italian movement of futurism made its appearance in the Netherlands. Like the cubists, futurists were engaged in inventing a language that suited modern society and its technological inventions. But instead of dismantling the surfaces of the painted subject matter, they “destroyed” them. In his introductory speech, Kickert accused the futurists of deceit and characterized their manifest as “blaring, full of empty phrases,” without giving any substantive arguments. Their appearance may have inspired Kickert to refer to the Northern European Volksgeist in order to position cubism as the zenith of early twentieth-century visual art.
A large amount of cubist entries marked the year 1912, of which there were thirty-three by Le Fauconnier. It must have given the impression that he was the appointed predecessor of the event. His entries dated from 1907 to 1912 (fig. 4). Despite being packed with cubist works—including Braque, Picasso, Albert Gleizes (1881–1953), Jean Metzinger (1883–1956), and Alexander Archipenko (1887–1964)—works by Paul Gauguin (1848–1903) were placed at the center of the hall of honor, one of which was a self-portrait. In another room, a special distinction was given to draftsman Rodolphe Bresdin (1822–1885). Presumably, his work was on display among the drawings and etchings by Peter Alma (1886–1969), Lodewijk Schelfhout, and Fernand Léger (1881–1955). Within these circles, Gauguin and Bresdin were considered important sources of inspiration and became the foundation of the 1912 exhibition.
Figure 4. Le Chasseur, Henri Le Fauconnier 1912, Kunstmuseum, The Hague.
In the 1912 catalogue, Le Fauconnier argued that figurative painting did not correspond to the present time. He referred to the increasing ease of travel, which expanded the artist’s world and affected their perception of space and time. Accelerated transport made it possible to see different types of landscapes in a short time span, which resulted in a synthetic visual experience of nature. Scientific developments introduced humans to new speeds and forces. Motorization and electricity changed the conception of locomotion and power. Industrial machines gave a violent and mathematical image of movement. According to Le Fauconnier, impressionism was the earliest investigation into a corresponding painterly language, with Paul Cézanne in the lead.
Kickert’s visit to the Sonderbundausstellung in Cologne in May 1912 had an important effect on the second exhibition. The Cologne exhibition exceeded the first Moderne Kunstkring presentation by more than 400 works of art. As a result of his visit, Kickert enlarged his exhibition with over eighty works of art. Kickert managed to collect 248 works of art, divided among thirty-five participants, of whom eighteen were Dutch, eleven French, four German, one Spanish, and one Ukrainian. Kickert almost obsessively guarded the balance between Dutch and non-Dutch artists by allowing 114 works by the former and 134 from the latter. The works were spread over eight rooms, almost the entire left wing of the first floor of the Stedelijk.
Not long thereafter, Le Fauconnier abandoned cubism completely. He no longer agreed with the strong theoretical nature of the art movement. Kickert followed his lead in 1913, which resulted in an exhibition without a trace of the French cubists. Characteristic for the 1913 edition is Le Fauconnier’s and Kickert’s return to figurative art and the remarkably extensive contribution of German and Russian artists, including many abstract works. Among the entries were those of expressionists Franz Marc (1880–1916) and Wassily Kandinsky (1860–1944), plus works by Pjotr Konchalovsky (1876–1956), Ilya Mashkov (1881–1944), and Tadeusz Makowski (1882–1932). The spaces—previously reserved for cubists—now contained work by mainly Eastern European artists. The Moderne Kunstkring presented 219 paintings, prints, and drawings, 111 of which were by its own members.
The catalogue, without preface and theoretical explanation, had regained its simplicity of 1911. In his opening speech, Kickert explained that art should speak for itself and did not require a written explanation; a surprising course of events after fierce attempts to explain and didactically underpin the exhibitions in previous years. Le Fauconnier again had the largest entry, but for the first time his work was not on display in the hall of honor. In his opening speech, Kickert mentioned that Le Fauconnier himself had chosen not to be surrounded by work he did not like. Unlike before, the catalogue explicitly stated which participants had been invited and who had submitted work on their own initiative. It gives the impression that Kickert no longer wanted to be considered responsible, yet the recurring balance between Dutch and non-Dutch contributors betrayed his active role as curator. The year 1913 marks the last exhibition of the Moderne Kunstkring at the Stedelijk. The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 frustrated the group’s international orientation. In addition, Kickert’s increasingly strict policy hindered the continuation of the group and their experimental objectives.
Kickert and Le Fauconnier’s personally tempered course increasingly overshadowed the original aim of presenting the latest art. Whereas Le Fauconnier’s style of painting became more and more moderate, other prominent members continued with experimentation and followed their own ideological course. Young artists criticized Kickert for the same thing he initially advocated against. On the occasion of the exhibition, artist and critic Erich Wichman (1890–1929) observed that the collective’s attitude towards modernist art had become rigid. Wichman accused Kickert of no longer defending the interests of modernist artists. Moreover, he claimed that Picasso was the leading cubist, rather than Le Fauconnier. Picasso was, according to Wichman, and also to Mondrian, the source of all modern art. Mondrian started appropriating Picasso’s visual idiom around 1912, and would eventually claim that his geometric abstraction in the years that followed had its origins in the Spanish artist’s work. Sluijters, on the other hand, engaged with futurism and incorporated some of its visual aspects. His interest in futurism possibly led to a conflict with Kickert that marked the end of Sluijters’s time on the board. While, in 1912, Le Fauconnier stuck to the philosophical idea of representing the world in all its appearances, his cubist colleagues, in Kickert and Le Fauconnier’s opinion, developed a method that was based on mathematical models. According to Le Fauconnier, intuition (which Kickert considered characteristic of Northern European society) was nowhere to be found in the paintings of Picasso and Braque, as had originally been the intention.
In addition to the artistic discrepancy, Kickert’s increasingly strict policy resulted in a series of internal conflicts and resignations. Relations between Kickert and other board members had been strained for some time. Various uncompromising comments by Kickert showed that he disregarded the input and opinion of the board members. The end of the Moderne Kunstkring was imminent, proven by the various collectives founded by its members. Schelfhout founded the Genootschap van Kunstenaren Moderne Kunstkring in 1915 and organized an exhibition at the Stedelijk featuring works by Sluijters, Mondrian, and Gestel. Toorop withdrew after his visit to Le Fauconnier in 1916. Toorop, Le Fauconnier, Alma, and Schelfhout then started Het Signaal. Le Fauconnier broke contact with Kickert in 1916 and the Moderne Kunstkring officially disbanded that same year. Yet despite the internal artistic quarrels, citizens of Amsterdam became acquainted with a range of international modernist movements in 1911, 1912, and 1913. No matter how it ended, an array of initiatives had emerged and found its way into the Netherlands, partly due to the catalyzing efforts of Kickert himself.
As a result of nineteenth-century cultural nationalism, the young artists of the Moderne Kunstkring struggled with an incapacitating art scene in which painters of so-called typical Dutch landscapes enjoyed great popularity. Painters of the Hague School, among others, established a dominant Dutch painting culture with repetitive depictions of similar nostalgic themes. In line with the ethnohistoric idea that every people is characterized by a Volksgeist, historians and critics such as G.H. Marius further contributed to the idea that Dutch art history had experienced its own unique course of events. Kickert challenged this rather isolationist view on art history by exhibiting Dutch and foreign art together in the Stedelijk Museum. He attempted to create an internationalist narrative that drew similarities between paintings that were widespread origin and a single predecessor.
Kickert claims that intuition is a defining character trait of Northern Europeans and therefore should be the creative point of departure. He appears to opportunistically seize the ethnohistoric notion of the Volksgeist in order to support his views on cubism. In doing so, he basically employs the same ethnohistoric mechanism that drove art historians to nationalistic, isolationist views. Kickert did not specify which areas were encompassed by Northern or Southern Europe, but it might have been convenient that his theoretical rivals, Picasso and the futurists, were unmistakably rooted in Southern Europe.
Through his exhibitions, Kickert the internationalist wanted to tear down borders and demonstrate the cross-pollination between different painters. The cubist Kickert, however, sought to defend views held by himself and Le Fauconnier. As a result of these conflicting interests, he seems to have lost his grip at some point on the cohesion within his art collective, the Moderne Kunstkring. Even though he paradoxically adopted an ethnohistoric line of thinking, his efforts must have fostered a wider international outlook on artistic expressions at the time.
Marieke van Ekeren is an art historian and works at Athenaeum Bookstore in Amsterdam. After finishing her bachelor’s degrees in Theater Studies and Art History at the University of Amsterdam, her subsequent master’s thesis, written under the supervision of Gregor Langfeld, focused on the Moderne Kunstkring. She is currently responsible for the art book collection at Athenaeum.
 This essay is based on my master’s thesis: Marieke van Ekeren, “De Moderne Kunstkring: een vereniging tot vernieuwing in de kunst. Een reconstructie van de tentoonstellingen in 1911, 1912 en 1913” (master’s thesis, University of Amsterdam, 2016).
 The Moderne Kunstkring armed itself with the term “modern” and thus placed itself in an unconventional painting practice that was, at that time, up-and-coming. In the context of this paper the term “modernism” generally refers to an international (mainly European) movement that sought new ways of expression which corresponded with life at the start of the twentieth century. It particularly refers to a series of art movements in which visual means, line, color, and composition were found to be increasingly important and representation became less significant, including post-impressionism, cubism, futurism, and expressionism.
 Joep Leerssen, Nationalisme (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2015), 69–75.
 J.C.H Blom and E. Lamberts, Geschiedenis van de Nederlanden (Baarn: HB Uitgevers, 2006), 315–337;
Leerssen, Nationalisme, 69–75.
 Jenny Reynaerts, Spiegel van de werkelijkheid: 19de-eeuwse schilderkunst in Nederland (Amsterdam: Mercatorfonds/Rijksmuseum, 2019), 11–12.
 Caroline Roodenburg-Schadd, “Goed modern werk”: De collectie Regnault in het Stedelijk (Zwolle: Waanders, 1995), 19–20.
Don Alewijn, “Van gastheer tot wegbereider: Het verzamelbeleid van Cornelis Baard in het Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam 1905–1936” (master’s thesis, University of Amsterdam, 2014).
 Judith Wesselingh, “Conrad Kickert als voorvechter van het Nederlands modernisme,” Jong Holland 3 (1996): 4.
A.B. Loosjes-Terpstra, Moderne Kunst in Nederland 1900–1914 (Utrecht: Veen/Reflex, 1987), 36.
 Exhibition catalogues, De Onafhankelijken (1913–1915) and Sint Lucas (1905–1911).
Karlijn de Jong, “De Onafhankelijken: 1919–1929” (master’s thesis, Utrecht University, 2009).
Jan de Vries and Marijke de Groot, Van sintels vuurwerk maken: Kunstkritiek en moderne kunst 1905–1925 (Rotterdam: Nai010, 2015), 10–20, 88–94.
 De Vries and De Groot, Van sintels vuurwerk maken, 88.
 Letter from Jan Toorop to Kickert, August 20, 1910 (The Hague: Institute for Art History).
 Jan van Adrichem, De ontvangst van de moderne kunst in Nederland 1910–2000: Picasso als pars pro toto (Amsterdam: Prometheus, 2001), 25.
Henri Bergson, Inleiding tot de metafysica (Amsterdam: Boom, 1989).
Lucien Gard, Conrad Kickert: Le peintre hollandais de Montparnasse (Marsat: la Source d’Or, 2006), time line.
Emmy van Vrijberghe de Coningh, Lodewijk Schelfhout 1881–1943, exh. cat. (Zandvoort: Cultureel Centrum Zandvoort, 1981).
 Karen L. Carter and Susan Waller, Foreign artists and communities in modern Paris 1870–1914: Strangers in paradise (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015), 2–8.
 Hal Foster, Art since 1900 (London: Thames & Hudson, 2016), 118.
 Adrichem, De ontvangst van de moderne kunst in Nederland, 28–29.
Gard, Conrad Kickert, time line.
Loosjes-Terpstra, Moderne kunst in Nederland, 20, 109–111.
Adriaan Venema, Nederlandse schilders in Parijs 1900–1940 (Baarn: Wereldvenster, 1980), 34–41, 89–90.
 De Vries and De Groot, Van sintels vuurwerk maken, 15.
Wesselingh, “Conrad Kickert als voorvechter van het Nederlands modernisme,” 9–10.
 Hugh Honour and John Fleming, A World History of Art (London: Laurence King Publishing, 2009), 790–793.
 Adrichem, De ontvangst van de moderne kunst in Nederland, 30–41.
Exhibition catalogues, De Moderne Kunstkring (1911, 1912, and 1913).
Gard, Conrad Kickert, 37.
William Rothuizen, ed., Jan Toorop in zijn tijd (Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Boxhorn, 1998), 78.
Venema, Nederlandse schilders in Parijs, 97.
Wesselingh, “Conrad Kickert als voorvechter van het Nederlands modernisme,” 10.
N.H. Wolf, “Moderne Kunstkring: Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam,” De Kunst 246 (1912).
 Adrichem, De ontvangst van de moderne kunst in Nederland, 62–75.
 Ibid., 480–481.
Venema, Nederlandse schilders in Parijs, 100–106.
Wesselingh, “Conrad Kickert als voorvechter van het Nederlands modernisme,” 13.
Twenty-First-Century Challenges for the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and Design