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Striking exchange of letters in the Chris Beekman Archive

In December 2019 the RKD received the archive of the painter Chris Beekman (1887-1964) as a gift from the Kröller-Müller Museum. This important archive, which has recently been inventoried, includes correspondence with nearly 350 individuals and institutions, diaries, photographs, publications and cuttings books, as well as a small group of graphic works and documentary material.


De Stijl and social realism

Chris Beekman is known principally for his involvement with De Stijl. He played an important role in the group from as early as 1917, and was friends with Bart van der Leck, Peter Alma and Robert van 't Hoff, but from the end of 1919 he turned away from the movement. The immediate cause of Beekman's separation from De Stijl was a dispute with Theo van Doesburg about the relationship between art and politics. Until about 1922 Beekman remained an abstract painter, but subsequently he found himself returning to figurative art. He ended up as a social realist painter who made compelling images that centre on the life of the worker. He remained politically active to the end of his life, holding membership of unions as well as anarchist and communist movements.

1. Chris Beekman, Wood-sawyers, 1917, collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo
2. Chris Beekman, Self-portret , 1905-1906, collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo
3. Chris Beekman, People on the platform, c. 1918, collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo


Special correspondence

The archive includes correspondence with Robert van 't Hoff, Vilmos Huszár, Marc Chagall, Bart van der Leck and J.J.P. Oud. The letters of the period 1918-1919 reveal the tensions within De Stijl. There is also a large cuttings book containing exhibition reviews from 1915 onwards, as well as a collection of diaries that contain records of both incoming and outgoing letters, noting for example on 14 October 1919: 'Letter sent to Mondrian about Doesburg's position'. There are substantial exchanges of letters from the 1920s with his close friend Sam Goudsmit, and patron H.P. Bremmer. With Goudsmit Beekman ran De Gastvertellers, a small publishing company that sent out unsolicited letters, pamphlets and prints to wealthy people in the hope of selling them something. In 1925-1926 this led to them receiving angry letters from the town hall and being investigated by the local police. Another remarkable series of letters (in German) are those exchanged with Alfred Durus, who was secretary of the Foreign Committee of the Moscow Society of Soviet Artists ('Auslandskommission der Moskauer Vereinigung der Sowjetkünstler'). In 1936-1937 Beekman tried to organise an exhibition in Amsterdam of work by painters from the Soviet Union, and for this he needed permission from the authorities in Moscow.

1. Correspondence with Vilmos Huszár on De Stijl headed paper, 1916-1919, collection RKD, Chris Beekman Archive
2. Correspondence with Alfred Durus, 23 October 1936, collection RKD, Chris Beekman Archive
3. Mécano (dada magazine by Theo van Doesburg), 1922, collection RKD, Chris Beekman Archive


Transfer to the RKD

After Chris Beekman's death, the archive came into the possession of Beekman's good friend and heir, Ger Harmsen. In April 1998 the archive in Harmsen's care for was handed over to the Kröller-Müller Museum at Otterlo together with a collection of sketches and paintings. The museum already housed an important collection of Beekman's early work. In December 2019 the archive was given to the RKD by the Kröller-Müller Museum. RKD staff member Laurens Kleine Deters, who is involved in the Mondrian Edition Project and Reference Lab - De Stijl, inventoried the more than 2.5 m shelf-length of the archive and indexed the correspondence by persons and institutions, and this has revealed the real richness of the archive. The letters received from Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg were already housed at the RKD and these have been added to the archive as part of the inventory process.

The Chris Beekman archive will shortly be digitised as part of Metamorfoze, the national programme for the preservation of paper heritage. One of the reasons for the Kröller-Müller Museum to transfer the archive was this intention of the RKD. In addition, the letters from Mondrian to Beekman will be added to the Mondrian Edition Project: the digital, scholarly publication of the complete correspondence and theoretical writings of Piet Mondrian, which is a joint project of the RKD and Huygens ING. More information can be found at www.mondrianpapers.org.