When Madeleen met Willem

Madeleen Klaasen and Willem van Gogh

When Madeleen met Willem

2015-03-04 - On the occasion of the Bugaboo + Van Gogh collaboration Madeleen Klaasen, CMO of Bugaboo, meets Willem van Gogh, Advisor to the Board of the Van Gogh Museum and direct descendant of the Van Gogh family. 'The Almond Blossom painting was in my grandfather’s house when I was little.'

Madeleen: “Do you remember our first contact Willem, I think it was two years ago when we received an email from the Van Gogh Museum asking if we would be interested in a possible collaboration. What an honour! Max Barenbrug (Founder and Chief Design Officer at Bugaboo ed.) had the Almond Blossom as a screensaver on his computer, so we secretly discussed how perfect it would be to have it as a print on the stroller.”

Willem: “Yes, I remember! Our team created a visual of the Almond Blossom as a print on a Bugaboo.”

Madeleen: “So did that painting have special meaning for you?"

Willem: “You know, Vincent created that painting for his nephew, my grandfather Vincent Willem, as he didn’t have any children of his own. The painting was made as a symbol of new life. It was in my grandfather’s house when I was little; he had over 200 paintings including 20 self-portraits in his house.”

Madeleen: “We call them selfies now!”

Willem laughing: “Ha ha, yes and look what someone just sent me,” he says showing a picture of Vincent van Gogh taking a selfie. “Anyway, the painting first hung above my grandfather’s bed when he was a baby, and then in my own father’s bedroom – it’s a miracle nothing ever happened to it. Then I got to know it when it took pride of place above my grandfather’s mantelpiece.”

Madeleen: “The Almond Blossom is the most famous blossom painting isn’t it?”

Willem: “Well, Sunflowers is the best known flower paintings, but today Almond Blossom is definitely the most popular reproduction. It has its heritage in Asian culture and it’s very decorative.”

Madeleen: “I heard something about 3D reproductions that you can touch…”

Willem: “Yes, together with Fujifilm we have created a series of exclusive, limited-edition 3D reproductions, 9 artworks in total (including Almond Blossom ed.) that look and feel like the original, the brushstrokes, the thickness of paint, even down to the craquelé.”

Madeleen: “I really admire the way the Van Gogh Museum is always innovative, always looking for new ways to work with the existing collection. When Max first made his prototype for the Bugaboo Stroller, he spent around 5 years trying to get it produced, but he kept believing in himself and today it’s a great success. It must have been a bit similar to Vincent, who had a real artistic struggle. It teaches us to stay true to yourself and your own style.”

Willem: “Yes that’s true, when Vincent started painting in the pointillism style for instance, he had only just begun before he changed the way it was normally done. It was his goal to innovate the art of painting. You know, Vincent painted most of the artworks we know today in the last five years of his life, during his last 68 days, when he lived in Auver-Sur-Oise, he painted 70 paintings, that’s more than 1 a day!”

Madeleen: “I learn something new every time I come here!”

Willem: “Much of the knowledge is taken from the letters that Vincent wrote to Theo, I’ve read all of them. It was Vincent’s brother Theo and his wife, Jo Bonger who really believed in him. After the death of Vincent and Theo six months later, she travelled the world on her own attempting to popularise Vincent’s work.”

Madeleen: “Amazing! And during that period...”

Willem: “Jo managed to get Vincent’s work in a retrospective exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1905 (just 15 years after his death). Well, I remember as a young lad going to see the work of Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons there, you know you’ve made it when you get a retrospective at the Stedelijk!”

Madeleen: “And then the Van Gogh Museum?"

Willem: “My grandfather inherited around 200 paintings, the letters and drawings. Half of the collection was being looked after by the Stedelijk Museum but there needed to be a place where this important cultural heritage could be housed. That is how the Van Gogh Museum was born, back in 1973. My grandfather’s children played a role in the museum, and so do my cousins and I.”

Madeleen: “So did you inherit any of Vincent’s artistic talent?”

Willem: “My cousin was film Director Theo van Gogh, but me, no not really."

Madeleen: “And any other kind of inheritance?”

Willem: “Well I did ask my grandfather whether my cousins and I were allowed to keep a sketch from the letters, but what would happen to them when they were to be passed on? How do you divide a single sheet of paper? No, everything has gone to the Vincent van Gogh Foundation.”

Madeleen: “There is a certain feeling of responsibility that comes with Van Gogh, how do you transfer the energy of his work? The first time I saw the complete stroller I was blown away, it’s been done so well. Everything is made with a sense of integrity.”

Willem: “When I was younger I would sometimes distance myself from being a ‘Van Gogh’. But subconsciously I think my grandfather was always preparing me for the day that I would represent Vincent’s legacy, telling me the stories and showing me the places where Vincent worked and lived... after my career as a lawyer, I eventually moved back to Amsterdam and back to my family roots. I guess it was meant to be.”