During my last visit to Amsterdam, earlier this year, a friend had suggested that I stay at Hotel Ambassade in the heart of the Dutch capital. Founded in 1953, the hotel is located on Herengracht, the first of the three major Canals that were created circa late 16th century. What I found particularly distinctive about Ambassade was its impressive collection of works from the European avant-garde movement, CoBrA art. Adapting its name from the three main geographical capitals - Copenhagen (Co), Brussels (Br), Amsterdam (A) – from which its artists hailed, CoBrA was formed during the fairly short yet intensive years between 1948 and 1951. In fact, the CoBrA Museum of Modern Art in Amstelveen, a short train ride away from Amsterdam city centre, offers the most comprehensive introduction to this revolutionary period in Dutch art history.
Along with its outstanding collection of first-edition autographed books by hundreds of world-famous authors to whom Ambassade has played host, the hotel’s scholarly collecting preferences renders it a unique example of a private institutional patron of the arts. One whose collections – spread across its every corner – are open to its public, its visiting guests.
As we start the second week into IDFA – International Documentary Film Festival and on the eve of PAN Amsterdam – one of Europe’e leading art fairs that is managed by the organizers of TEFAF Maastricht – Ambassade is among the most desirable destinations for arts & culture lovers to stay.
I had the opportunity to speak with the institution’s Managing Director, Ireen Wyers, who is actively engaged in formulating and expanding the institution’s collections, and whose own taste focuses on 19th century Dutch landscape painting.
Homa Nasab – Far too many art works that are displayed in hotels are notoriously bad. This includes many five star hotels in which I have stayed or visited. So I was quite surprised when I saw Hotel Ambassade’s collection of CoBrA art which is critically complied. When did you begin to collect CoBrA art?
Ireen Wyers – We began to collect CoBrA art in 1999.
HN – Why CoBrA Art? What did you find most interesting about this particular movement?
IW -The avant garde aspect of the movement and certainly also its international aspect are of great interest to us.
HN – Who are the (CoBrA) stars in your collection?
IW – Our most prominent star is Theo Wolvecamp (1925-1992); we have a lot of works by him. But we also love and collect works by Karel Appel (1921-2006), Constant (Anton Nieuwenhuys, 1920-2005) and Eugène Brands (1913-2002).
HN – What are some outstanding works (2-3 from a historical perspective) in your CoBrA collection?
IW – The portrait of Theo Wolvecamp made by Karel Appel in 1957. The two gouaches made in 1948 by Eugène Brands for the cover of the magazine Reflex. Reflex was the magazine of the Experimentele Groep Holland, the precursor of the Cobra movement in Holland.
A gouache and a collage made by Constant in 1948.
HN – You also collect Dutch 19th century paintings? Can you explain a little …
IW – We collect only work from the late 19th century art movement Amsterdams Impressionisme. Especially from the painters George Hendrik Breitner, Isaac Israëls and Willem Witsen. It is as far as we know the only Amsterdam art movement in history. The painters of the “Amsterdams Impressionisme” concentrated on reproducing the daily live in the city.
HN – Let’s talk about your book collection and Ambassade’s position as a patron of the contemporary literary world. When did you start hosting authors?
IW – We began to host international authors in the beginning of the eighties. So, it is already thirty years ago.
Homa Nasab – Who are some of the biggest literary names who have stayed at Ambassade?
IW- Alberto Moravia, Saul Bellow, Günther Grass, Salman Rushdie, Isabel Allende, Mario Vargas Llosa, Herta Müller, Doris Lessing, Orhan Pamuk, V.S. Naipaul, Amos Oz, among others…
Homa Nasab – How many volumes of autographed books do you have in your library collection?
IW – 3000 signed copies that are on display in our library (which can be seen by our guests).
Homa Nasab – What do you think are the responsibilities of private (institutional) patrons to artists?
IW – To make art works accessible for the broader public – in our case, our guests – , and to make them available for loans to museums which further expands their reach to the general public.
Homa Nasab – Do you collect contemporary art?
IW – Only occasionally. We have art work form the Dutch artists Marc Mulders, Jacqueline de Jong and Ans Hey.
Homa Nasab – On what projects are you working next?
IW – We continue to collect more works by Danish and Belgian CoBrA artists – from the CoBrA period (1948-1951).
* For more information on recent and forthcoming arts and cultural events in the Netherlands, see Arts Holland.