Impressed and overwhelmed – that was probably how 19th century visitors felt when they came into the house through this entrance. At the top of the stairs, then as now, there was a bust of the owner gazing down at them: the great Dutch artist Barend Cornelis Koekkoek, a man who once proudly laid claim to the title of “prince of landscape painters”.
Born in Zeeland in 1803 to a family of painters, he was in his early thirties when he settled in Cleves with his young family in 1834. Such was his success that he could afford to have this house built just over a decade later. People of wealth and power loved his art, and unlike many of his contemporaries, Koekkoek had not the slightest difficulty in finding clients willing to purchase his works. In 1845, he joined the entourage of the Dutch King Willem the Second on a journey through Luxembourg. The marble used in this stairwell was a gift from the king to his painter. The King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm the Fourth, also admired and acquired Koekkoek’s romantic landscape paintings – and the crème de la crème of the European aristocracy followed suit.
For the design of his house, Koekkoek drew on examples from the Italian Renaissance. The barrel vaulting and the coffered ceiling, for example, are reminiscent of Roman villas. The stucco decoration on the walls alludes to the subject of married love, with burning hearts and Cupid’s arrows. It also references something that would become a source of inspiration and wealth for Koekkoek – nature, in the shape of plants, leaves and flowers.
So the moment they entered the house, visitors were left in no doubt that they were dealing with a confident, successful artist. Anyone who wanted to buy a painting by Koekkoek would have climbed the stairs to the piano nobile, the “noble floor”. They were then led into the “Grand Salon”, an impressive exhibition space.
Please follow in their footsteps. Once you reach the hallway at the top, turn left. That’s where you’ll find our next stop.