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Publication date 20 October 2022

Iconic Houses in The Netherlands - Pierre Cuypers' House and Workshops

  • Cuypers at his work table. Cuypershuis Collection.
  • Pierre Cuypers with his collaborators in the workshop. Photo: Cuypershuis Collection.
  • Pierre Cuypers with his family. Photo: Cuypershuis Collection.
  • Pierre Cuypers, glass negative. Photo: Cuypershuis Collection.
  • Cuypers' workshop. Cuypershuis Collection.
  • Cuypershuis, Pierre Cuypers, Roermond, Netherlands, 1853.
  • Woodshed in the garden of the Cuypershuis, Pierre Cuypers, Roermond, Netherlands, 1903.
  • Sculpture gallery in the garden of the Cuypershuis, Pierre Cuypers, Roermond, Netherlands, 1853.
  • Entrance to Cuypers' workshops, Pierre Cuypers, Roermond, Netherlands, 1853.
  • Entrance vestibule in the parental home, Joseph Cuypers, Roermond, Netherlands, 1907.
  • Ceiling in the hall of honor for Pierre Cuypers, Joseph Cuypers, Roermond, Netherlands, 1907.
  • Museum presentation in the Cuypershuis, introduction room.
  • Museum presentation in the Cuypershuis, Pierre Cuypers' study.
  • Museum presentation in the Cuypershuis, the living room of the Cuypers family.
  • Museum presentation in the Cuypershuis, Cuypers and his church designs.
  • Cuypers at his work table. Cuypershuis Collection.
  • Pierre Cuypers with his collaborators in the workshop. Photo: Cuypershuis Collection.
  • Pierre Cuypers with his family. Photo: Cuypershuis Collection.
  • Pierre Cuypers, glass negative. Photo: Cuypershuis Collection.
  • Cuypers' workshop. Cuypershuis Collection.
  • Cuypershuis, Pierre Cuypers, Roermond, Netherlands, 1853.
  • Woodshed in the garden of the Cuypershuis, Pierre Cuypers, Roermond, Netherlands, 1903.
  • Sculpture gallery in the garden of the Cuypershuis, Pierre Cuypers, Roermond, Netherlands, 1853.
  • Entrance to Cuypers' workshops, Pierre Cuypers, Roermond, Netherlands, 1853.
  • Entrance vestibule in the parental home, Joseph Cuypers, Roermond, Netherlands, 1907.
  • Ceiling in the hall of honor for Pierre Cuypers, Joseph Cuypers, Roermond, Netherlands, 1907.
  • Museum presentation in the Cuypershuis, introduction room.
  • Museum presentation in the Cuypershuis, Pierre Cuypers' study.
  • Museum presentation in the Cuypershuis, the living room of the Cuypers family.
  • Museum presentation in the Cuypershuis, Cuypers and his church designs.

Pierre Cuypers: Grand Master of Neo-Gothic Architecture

On a tour of the most iconic houses in the Netherlands, Natascha Drabbe takes us to the home of Pierre Cuypers, the most important representative of neo-Gothic architecture in the nineteenth century. His home in Roermond was renamed the Cuypershuis in 2011. The museum houses masterpieces originating from Pierre Cuypers as well as objects made or used in the workshops.

Text | Natascha Drabbe

March 3, 2021, marked the hundredth anniversary of P.J.H. Cuypers' death. That Cuypers had his roots in Roermond is not very well known. One rather associates him with Amsterdam, where his two most famous works stand: the Rijksmuseum (1876-1885) and the Central Station (1881-1889). Cuypers, however, was primarily an architect of churches. He designed more than a hundred, of which about seventy were built. In addition to being a successful architect, he was also a project developer and, at the turn of the last century, the Chief Government Architect.

Honoured and reviled
During my art history studies, there was some smirking about the nineteenth century and thus about Cuypers as the grand master of neo-Gothic architecture. That was regarded just regressive and not innovative. Throughout his life and work many common threads can be drawn, such as the emphasis on the importance of craftsmanship, the preference for rational, neo-Gothic architecture and the pursuit of a total work of art. One characteristic dominates his oeuvre: the pursuit of beauty. Cuypers combined colours, patterns and ornaments to his heart's content. Such embellishments were appreciated in his time, but increasingly loathed during the 20th century. Some non-Catholics felt that his architecture took the Netherlands back to the 'dark' Middle Ages.

Recently, Cuypers' oeuvre has been reappraised. Since the opening of the Cuypershuis in Roermond in 2011 and the reopening of 'his' Rijksmuseum in 2013, Pierre Cuypers is once again in the spotlight. In the new permanent presentation at the Cuypershuis, visitors can look over the shoulder of the famous architect to discover how he managed to create his incredible oeuvre. Not only his person and character are highlighted. There is also plenty of attention for his ambitious drive for innovation, his sources of inspiration and his emphasis on craftsmanship.

Life Cycle
Petrus Josephus Hubertus Cuypers was born in Roermond on May 16, 1827, the ninth and youngest child of Joannes Hubertus Cuypers and Maria Joanna Bex. He grew up in his hometown and attended the Municipal (Stedelijk) College there. At the age of seventeen, he leaves for Antwerp to study architecture at the Art Academy. Cuypers is a good student and in 1849 he passes and obtains the Prix d'Excellence. He returns to Roermond and there receives his first major commission: the restoration of the Munster Church. He is then also appointed city architect. In Antwerp, Cuypers meets his first wife, the Antwerp-born Rosalia Vandevin, while studying. They marry in 1850 and have two daughters. Rosalia dies of tuberculosis, as does their second daughter. In 1859, Cuypers remarries Antoinette Alberdingk Thijm. With her, he has two sons and three daughters. His son Joseph and later grandson Pierre jr. become architects like their (grand) father. At the age of ninety-three, Pierre Cuypers died in Roermond. Cuypers' influence can still be seen in many places in downtown Roermond. For example, you will find his statue near the Munster Church on the Munster Square and a Cuypers walk has been set out that takes you past the architect's well-known and lesser-known buildings.

Craftsmanship comes first  

House and Workshop
In 1853, at the age of twenty-five, Pierre Cuypers designed and built a strikingly symmetrical building on the outskirts of his hometown of Roermond. Not only is it the home for his own family, but there is also plenty of room for workshops. It is a unique complex in which he lived and worked with his many employees. In this 'factory house', Cuypers was able to realise his ideas. The neo-Gothic building is a sample of what he wanted and was capable of as an architect and a showpiece of his artistic views. His calling card is an innovative blend of traditional brick construction (his favourite building material) and international, English-inspired Gothic. The austere facades of the workshops flank the central, more decorated, facades of the living areas that are embellished with tile tableaux and statues. This is considered the epitome of Cuypers' building decorations. Cuypers designed not only buildings, but also complete interiors. In the workshops near his house, his employees realized all these designs for sculptures, paintings, and furniture by hand.
The living area was arranged according to modern nineteenth-century insights. It was a large mansion, equipped with every comfort. In the garden was a sculpture gallery and a woodshed, where the wood needed to produce sculptures and furniture was stored and dried.

Craftsmanship
From his workshops, Cuypers delivered countless works of art, statues, ornaments, and altars around the world. Orders come in based on an extensive catalogue and fabrication takes place almost on an assembly line. All this about a century and a half ago, at a time when, as a great entrepreneur, he was providing jobs in his city. Craftsmanship is paramount. Early in his career, Cuypers designs a series of painted neo-Gothic furniture. They are inspired by the Middle Ages and show great craftsmanship. The details are beautiful and surprising. He is also the designer of the throne, on which the king delivers the speech from the throne every year during Prince's Day. This throne dates from 1904.

Pierre Cuypers is in the spotlight again  

Vondelstraat
If there is one street in Amsterdam that can be associated with Cuypers' name, it is Vondelstraat. The eye-catcher of this street, developed largely by Cuypers himself, is the
Vondel Church. Since 1881, the architect lived at 77 Vondelstraat in the left half of a double villa designed by himself called Oud Leyerhoven. On the front facade, he had tile tableaux installed to the design of the painter George Sturm. The accompanying captions by Alberdingk Thijm put into perspective the criticism that prominent artists such as Cuypers inevitably had to endure during their careers: 'Jan bedenckt et / Piet volbrenght et / Claesgen laeckt et / Och, wat maeckt et'. ('Jan invents it / Pete accomplishes it / Claesgen denounces it / Ah, what does it matter '. With this, Cuypers clearly indicates that he cared little about how he was thought of.

Pioneers of the Dutch Modern House
For those who are curious about more stories about the developments in Dutch residential architecture in the twentieth century, Iconic Houses has made a video in which five specialists discussing the following topics:

  • Hygiene and Health in the Modern Home by Hetty Berens, Curator of the Sonneveld House.
  • Palaces for the People by Valentijn Carbo, Architectural Historian at Hendrick de Keyser Monuments.
  • A Woman’s Place: Clients & Architects, by Natalie Dubois, Curator of Design at the Centraal Museum Utrecht.
  • Experiments with Space by Robert von der Nahmer, resident of the Diagoon House.
  • Home as a Self-Portrait: Architect ‘s Houses by Natascha Drabbe, Architectural Historian and owner of the Van Schijndel House.

The 1 hour video can be streamed via the webshop.

About the author
Natascha Drabbe, architectural historian and resident of the renowned Van Schijndelhuis in Utrecht, is Executive Director and Founder of Iconic Houses, the international network of owners and managers of architecturally significant houses from the twentieth century. This group of museum professionals, lovers of modern heritage and private owners of modern houses strives to preserve modern residential heritage. The website iconichouses.org serves as a platform for more than one hundred and fifty Iconic Houses around the world, of which no fewer than 24 are in the Netherlands. The houses can all be visited (some only by appointment) and in some you can even stay overnight.

This article previously appeared in Dutch Magazine Herenhuis #87, January/February 2022. Translated with www.DeepL.com.

Publication date 20 October 2022