When archiving documents, we occasionally encounter items that are worthy of further investigation. The joint archive of J.J.P. Oud (1890-1963) and his son Hendrik Emil (Hans) Oud (1919-1996) contains sketches for a ceramic mural on the façade of the Bio Herstellingsoord in Arnhem. Oud’s correspondence shows that he enlisted the Spanish Surrealist painter Joan Miró (1893-1983) to design the mural. But are the colourful sketches in the archive by Miró or by Oud? Or are they by the Dutch painter Karel Appel (1921-2006), who took over the assignment from Miró around 1960? Research in the file and in Oud’s correspondence reveals a great deal – but not everything – about the difficult genesis of the ceramic mural.
The joint archive in which the sketches were found was donated to Het Nieuwe Instituut in 2014 by Kassen Oud, the son of Hans Oud and grandson of J.J.J.P Oud. This archive is an interesting addition to the individual archives of both architects already in the possession of the institute. One of the construction projects in the archive concerns a commission from the Bio Vakantieoord Foundation, founded by members of the Dutch Cinema Association, for the Bio Herstellingsoord Items relating to this project are also contained in the individual archives of J.J.P. Oud and H.E. Oud.(1952-60) in Arnhem, a treatment centre for children with polio and rehabilitation centre for children with physical disabilities. A piece of land was purchased for the centre in woodlands between Ede and Arnhem and J.J.P. Oud was commissioned to design the complex.
In 1952, the Bio Vakantieoord Foundation commissioned the Bouwcentrum, a national advisory body for the construction industry, to draw up a preliminary plan of the required spaces, their organisation and a cost estimate. Oud’s definitive design of 1955 consisted of ten pavilions to house 120 sick children, a main building, a sports building, a boiler house with accommodation for a caretaker and a chapel, which was never built. The main building and service buildings were placed on a central axis. The pavilions – of which only six were initially built – were placed obliquely on either side of this axis to ensure a favourable orientation to the sun and wind and a better view. Oud chose to use relatively expensive, but sustainable, glazed bricks. The light-coloured brick was punctuated with accents in the primary colours, applied to the gutters, doors and ventilation grilles. E. Taverne et al., J.J.P. Oud 1890-1963: Poetic Functionalist – The Complete Works, pp. 2001, pp. 511-512.
An important aspect of Oud’s design was a mural of ceramic tiles that was to be placed on the front of the main building. The intention was to create a playful and cheerful, eye-catching image that would relieve the children’s anxiety about their arrival at the clinic.
J.J.P. Oud and Joan Miró
Oud began a regular correspondence on this subject with the Barcelona-born artist Joan Miró in 1955. It is not clear from the letters precisely how Oud came into contact with Miró, but it is clear that he enlisted his help for the mural.
In September 1955, Oud received a letter from Miró expressing his enthusiasm about collaborating on the project: ‘I have played a lot this summer with the decoration for your hospital. The idea enthuses me more and more and, besides the honour of working with you, it represents for me the human goal of sympathy.’J’ai beaucoup jeusé ces été à la décoration pour votre hôpital, cette ideé m’enthousiasme de plus en plus et dehor de l’honneur que le fait de colloboreur avec vous réprésente pour moi, le but humain de symphatie’. Letter from Joan Miró to J.J.P. Oud, 20 September 1955, collection of Het Nieuwe Instituut, OUDK-D9. In the same letter, Miró expressed his eagerness to meet with Oud soon in order to go through the plans in person and to get a better sense of Oud’s design and the site. He also thought it important to see examples of the materials that Oud planned to use.
Miró suggested using the same pure, bright colours that he used in his paintings, which he believed would have a positive effect on the children. A month later, on 18 October 1955, Miró presented a more detailed proposal for the colours: ‘…black, red, blue, green, yellow and a beautiful white for the maiolica background’.‘Voilà, les couleurs prime fondraient: noir, rouge, blue, vert, jaune et un beau blanc pour le fond en majolique.’ Letter from Joan Miró to J.J.P. Oud, 18 October 1955, collection of Het Nieuwe Instituut, OUDK-D9. Maiolica is a fine earthenware with an opaque white tin glaze, usually decorated with bright colours. This glaze was an integral component of the Bio Herstellingsoord.
At the beginning of 1956, Miró’s focus shifted away from the project towards exhibitions, about which he wrote colourfully in his letters to Oud. Consequently, he and Oud had not yet met and visited the site. Although he asks for the latest news about the complex, he does not mention his own mural design. It was not until November 1956 that Oud received a letter from Miró in which he identified a company in Delft – De Porceleyne Fles – that could make the coloured tiles for the mural.
Miró restated his willingness to work with Oud on the project, although no agreement or concrete plans had yet been made.
In January 1957, Oud received a letter from De Porceleyne Fles informing him of Miró’s plan to visit the company in the spring: ‘Upon your advice, we wrote to Mr Miro at that time. We received a reply from Mr Maeght that Mr Miro would be in Paris for about three months, May-July 1957. He will be there off and on for a few days before that time’Aimé Maeght was the founder of Galerie Maeght, which represented Miró. ‘Op uw advies hebben wij destijds aan de heer Miro geschreven. Hierop ontvingen wij van de heer Maeght het antwoord dat de heer Miro ongeveer drie maanden en wel mei/juli 1957 in Parijs zou zijn. Voor die tijd is hij er af en aan enkele dagen.’ Letter from N.V. Koninklijke Delftsch Aardewerkfabriek “De Porseleyne Fles” to J.J.P. Oud, 7 January 1957, collection of Het Nieuwe Instituut, OUDK-D9.. At the end of June 1957, Miró apologised that he had to cancel the visit because he was completely absorbed by a large-scale project for UNESCO in Paris.
By July 1958, Oud’s patience had been stretched to its limit. He wrote to Miró that he felt compelled to request that he finish his design for the Bio Herstellingsoord as quickly as possible because the production of the tiles would also take time. Oud believed that the main building could be finished within a year and asked Miró whether he was really still interested in the collaboration.
Oud demanded a date for a visit and stated that he would otherwise be forced to seek alternative arrangements for the mural.Letter from J.J.P. Oud to Joan Miró, 14 July 1958, collection of Het Nieuwe Instituut, OUDK-D9.
Miró’s reply was not very satisfactory. He reported that he needed to rest and recuperate until the autumn and needed to rethink the pace at which he worked. The number of letters gradually dwindled and towards the end of the year Miró seemed to be corresponding with Oud only through an intermediary. In November 1958, L.G. Clayeux of Galerie Maeght, Miró’s representative, wrote to Oud that it might be better simply to finish the building and reserve an empty space for Miró's work. He confirmed that Miró was still determined to make the trip to Arnhem, but had not yet had time to do so.
J.J.P. Oud and Willem Sandberg
Oud appears to have taken matters into his own hands when, in March 1959, he approached Willem Sandberg (1897-1984), the then director of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. By that time, Sandberg had been working at the Stedelijk Museum for more than twenty years, and in his years as a curator and then director, had made it a renowned institute. He drew inspiration from the Museum of Modern Art in New York for his acquisitions and exhibition policies, and was one of the first people in the Netherlands to be receptive to the experiments of the CoBrA group, of which the Dutch painter Karel Appel was a member.
Although it is not clear from the correspondence in the archive how Oud and Sandberg came into contact with each other and, although Oud’s letter to Sandberg is not in the archive of Het Nieuwe Instituut, Sandberg’s reply gives an indication of the scope of Oud’s question. Sandberg writes that Miró was on his way to New York where he had an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.
A year later Oud wrote a long letter to Sandberg explaining that he could no longer wait for Miró and would have to make other arrangements for the mural: ‘I have now waited exactly five years for Miro. At first he wrote himself, but now he has others do it. [...] I have completely lost my faith in this man. [...] When I see some of those poor children struggling to crawl [...] I have the unpleasant feeling that we are living in a strange time. That for Miro it is more important to chase exhibitions than to put his art at the service of – to use a big word – “humanity”.’Letter from J.J.P. Oud to Willem Sandberg, 20 March 1960, collection of Het Nieuwe Instituut, OUDK-D9 Oud’s disappointment was considerable, but he was determined to have the mural completed as quickly as possible. The solution came from Karel Appel, who wrote to Oud in 1959 as follows:
‘When the children’s village is ready, I’ll come to paint it and if they have no money I’ll do it for nothing.’Letter from Karel Appel to J.J.P. Oud, 7 October 1959, collection of Het Nieuwe Instituut, OUDK-D9.
After waiting so long for Miró, Oud decided to ask Appel to design the ceramic mural.H.E. Oud, JJP Oud, architect 1890-1963 feiten en herinneringen gerangschikt, pp. 175-177 Appel responded positively in April 1960. His design comprised a colourful motif on a white background. He hoped that De Porceleyne Fles would be able to reproduce the colours exactly. The image depicts a ‘cheerful circus scene in the primary colours [...] showing left to right: two dancing clowns, an animal balancing a pair of coloured cubes and a ball on the tip of its nose, flipping another ball into the air with its back, then another animal with an open [mouth] and large teeth throwing another large colourful ball in the air, and finally a colourful sad clown’.Letter from Karel Appel to J.J.P. Oud, 9 April 1960, collection of Het Nieuwe Instituut, OUDJ-B176
Thereafter Appel remained silent for several months. A letter from De Porceleyne Fles of November 1960 remained unanswered until the company contacted Appel again on 4 January 1961 asking for his opinion of the colour samples they had sent him ‘or else allow us to apply the colours we have produced and shown to Mr Oud for your picture.’Letter from N.V. Koninklijke Delftsch Aardewerkfabriek “De Porseleyne Fles” to Karel Appel, 4 January 1961 Appel’s response is not revealed in the correspondence in the possession of Het Nieuwe Instituut, but his design was ultimately implemented and still adorns the building today.
The discoveries described in this article show how small clues can lead to new questions and to new research. A note in Oud’s hand on the invoice from De Porceleyne Fles for the production of the tiles raises a new question: he reminds Appel to design two carpets for the De Utrecht office building in Rotterdam.Ibid. This makes us curious about the further collaboration between Oud and Appel. Although it is not certain whether the sketches found in the archive were actually made by Miró, the correspondence has answered many questions about the creation of the ceramic mural.
Text Ernst des Bouvrie (archivist) and Eline de Graaf (curator).