One of the participants in the Museum Night (next Saturday 5 November) is FOAM, the photography museum in Amsterdam. This is located in the striking building of a predecessor, the almost forgotten Museum Fodor. Founded in 1860 thanks to a bequest from the wealthy coal merchant CJ Fodor, this was once the first municipal museum of modern art in Amsterdam. Behind the elegant Italian Renaissance facade, little remains of the original interior, but there is enough to tell about the building’s history and Fodor’s collection.
Carel Joseph Fodor, founder of the Fodor Museum. On the left in a photo from 1855-1861, on the right in a painting from 1848. | Source left: Louis Wegner, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam (RP-F-1905-211); source on the right: Jan Willem Pieneman, Amsterdam Museum (SA 2065).
Fodor and his collection
Carel Joseph Fodor (1801-1860) grew up in an artistic environment. His father, who descended from a line of musicians of Hungarian origin, was a respected composer and pianist who led Felix Meriti’s orchestra for 25 years. His mother came from a family of artists and art collectors. Fodor Sr. also traded in coal, which certainly did him no harm in the rapidly developing steam era. After Carel Joseph joined the firm in 1820, the family capital continued to grow. Fodor Jr. acted as a patron of young artists from the early 1930s and bought works directly from them. He also acquired paintings by contemporary artists at auctions, in the art trade or during the biennial exhibition Living Masters. His taste was mainly for representatives of the romantic school, such as A. Schelfhout, E. van Drielst and WA van Deventer – names that do not find much resonance nowadays. He also amassed a significant collection of drawings and prints by old masters, including Rembrandt and Rubens.
After his father’s death in 1846, the bachelor Fodor bought the stately canal house Keizersgracht 611, where he lived with his mother. A portrait of Fodor by Jan Willem Pieneman from 2 years later shows him as a collector, with a print in his right hand and his left hand resting on a folder of drawings. Fodor was a member of various art associations, and in 1849, partly because of his services to the cultural sector, he was appointed to the board of the Royal Academy of Arts. In order to continue to house his expanding art collection, in 1859 Fodor acquired the two neighboring buildings Keizersgracht 609 and 613, on either side of his house. He had the room at the back of the last building set up as an art room. This was not public, but Fodor regularly opened his collection to friends and interested parties.
Fodor reportedly suffered from melancholy as a result of an unrequited love. His unexpected death in 1860 has therefore given rise to speculation about a self-chosen death. Fodor’s estimated net worth at the time of his death was 2 million guilders, 10% of which was in the form of works of art. His collection included 877 drawings, 302 prints and 160 paintings. He bequeathed these together with the 3 buildings on the Keizersgracht to the city of Amsterdam. Fodor’s will also contained the provision that the 60,000 guilders could be spent on the renovation of Keizersgracht 609 into a ‘gallery with paintings, drawings, etc. […] which may never be distributed, but at the same time is made available to the public under the name Museum Fodor‘. On April 18, 1863, this first municipal museum in Amsterdam was opened by King Willem III.
As the new museum’s eye-catcher, the architect Outshoorn designed an elegant sandstone facade in the style of the Italian Renaissance. | Photo on the left: Archives of the Bureau Monumentenzorg (ca. 1940), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (012000007712); photo right: Paul Nieuwenhuizen, Monuments and Archeology (2022).
The museum building
The building Keizersgracht 609, called The ghost, was a seventeenth-century carriage house with warehouses above. The architect Cornelis Outshoorn (1810-1875), known for the Paleis voor Volksvlijt and the Amstel Hotel, was responsible for the extensive renovation into a museum. As an eye-catcher at the new museum, it designed a distinguished-looking sandstone facade in the style of the Italian Renaissance. In the arch of the central window on the 1st floor, he had a keystone with carved decoration in the form of a painter’s palette and brushes.
Outshoorn designed the large art gallery as the heart of the museum. The visitor first entered the high antechamber via an impressive staircase. | Source: Amsterdam City Archives image bank (00056916296).
The heart of the museum, the large art gallery, could be reached from a richly decorated vestibule at street level. Via an impressive staircase to the first floor, the visitor first ended up in a high ‘antechamber’ with a decorated stucco ceiling. Daylight entered the art gallery from above through a glass roof. The presentation of the paintings here was typical of the period: the works, usually in heavy frames, hung close together, the largest paintings in the center and the smaller ones grouped symmetrically around them, in different layers. Some paintings hung so high that they could no longer be studied well and had at most only a decorative function. It was only in the nineteenth century that the ideas about the interior design of museum rooms changed: the paintings were given more space and were hung at eye level against a calm, neutral background. During an exhibition on the occasion of the museum’s 100th anniversary in 1963 about Fodor and his collection, an attempt was made to temporarily reconstruct the original interior design, which has now completely disappeared, as can be seen in the photos.
Fodor 100 years on Keizersgracht in Amsterdam. | Photo: Jack. De Nijs/Anefo (11-7-1963), Riksarkivet’s image bank (2.24.01.03).
Shortly after the opening of Museum Fodor, the public’s tastes changed. From 1870 the Hague School became more and more modern, followed a little later by the Amsterdam Impressionists. The conservative, romantic art in Fodor’s collection was quickly perceived as old-fashioned, tacky and boring. In 1879, the collection was further enriched with a large number of topographical watercolors, drawings, prints and maps by the 19th-century collector L. Splitgerber and in 1932 with the Van Eeghen collection, consisting of 17th-century prints by Jan and Casper Luyken. However, this could not reverse the steady decline in visitor numbers. In 1948, the provisions in Fodor’s will to leave the museum and the collection unchanged were revoked by royal decree. The various parts of the collection were distributed, whereby the paintings disappeared into the Stedelijk Museum’s (and later the Amsterdam Museum’s) depot, the drawings and prints were included in the Rijksprentenkabinet’s collection at the Rijksmuseum and the Splitgerber collection at the Municipal Arkiv. (now Stadsarkiv) housed. The building on the Keizersgracht was used as an exhibition space for contemporary Amsterdam artists and was extensively renovated inside. In 1994, another major renovation took place at Benthem-Crouwel, whereby Keizersgracht 609, 611 and 613 were merged and a new stairwell and a library room were built, i.a. A bit of the interior now recalls the days of Fodor and Outshoorn. Today, this is home to the photography museum FOAM.
The painting Christ comfort by Ary Scheffer. | Source: Amsterdam Museum (SA 2059).
The painting was considered the absolute masterpiece in Fodor’s collection at the time Christ comfort by the Dordrecht-born painter Ary Scheffer (1795-1858). The barely 2.5 meter wide and 1.84 meter high canvas hung on the back wall of the art gallery in a place of honor. Scheffer was one of the most famous artists in ‘Burger King’ Louis-Philippe’s Paris. Celebrities such as Fréderic Chopin, George Sand, Franz Liszt, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Eugène Delacroix frequented his salon. Scheffer was the crown prince’s personal friend and sought-after portraitist at court. However, his reputation rested mainly on his religiously and literary inspired work, which according to contemporaries testified to great depth, originality and learning.
Fodor bought Christ comforts inIn 1853, for 52,500 francs, which was then equivalent to 23,000 guilders, the price of a large canal house in Amsterdam. The painting depicts Christ as the liberator of the oppressed, captives and slaves of this world and as the comforter of all people who have suffered hardship in life in other ways. It was one of Scheffer’s most famous and beloved compositions, which was distributed worldwide in the form of painted copies and prints. Vincent van Gogh, who especially admired Scheffer’s ability to evoke devotional emotion, nurtured an engraving of this work for years. Scheffer himself kept a painted copy until his death and it Christ comfort also adorns, in the form of a mural, the interior of his mausoleum in the cemetery of Montmartre. Ary Scheffer still has a statue in his hometown of Dordrecht, but is now almost forgotten. His masterpiece has lived an invisible existence in the repository of the Amsterdam Museum for three quarters of a century. Maybe one day it will be freed from there again to get space in a museum room, so that you can dance and party in front of the painting during future museum evenings.
Exhibition of the Fodor collection in Amsterdam’s historical museum with the painting Christ Comfort. | Photo: Rob Mieremet/Anefo (27-3-1975), National Archives image bank (24.01.05).
Heritage of the week
Each week, the Heritage of the Week section focuses on a special archaeological find, site, object, monumental building or historical site in the city. Via the website amsterdam.nl/erfgoed, Twitter @arv020 and Facebook Monuments and Archeology the cultural heritage experts in Monuments and Archeology share the city’s heritage with Amsterdammers and other interested parties.
Banner photo: Keizersgracht 609. | Photo: Paul Nieuwenhuizen, Monuments and Archeology (2022).