Kleve – perhaps better known as Cleves – has always been a sedate little place, though one steeped in history: in the Middle Ages, it was the proud residential capital of a dukedom; in the 19th century, a spa town with special flair.
The bronze city model shows the network of alleys in the old town, surrounding Burgberg – Castle Hill – and the Stiftskirche, or Abbey Church. For centuries, the open space you’re standing in now was the garden of the Friars Minor – their monastery complex surrounded the Unterstadtkirche, the Lower Town Church.
That remained the case in the 19th century, as Cleves gradually outgrew its medieval city wall. Take a few steps towards the fountains and look up the slope – do you see that sturdy brick building? Beyond it, there’s a four-story villa with pale plastered walls and a plinth and window surrounds of stone.
This mansion was built in the mid-19th century by Barend Cornelis Koekkoek, a successful painter. Koekkoek was Dutch and had come to Cleves as a young man. His great speciality was wooded landscapes, which were so delicately painted that it’s virtually impossible to see a single brushstroke, even from very close up.
Today, his lordly home is a museum, where you can admire his paintings and those of his fellow artists. That’s because Koekkoek attracted quite a number of students and established what became known as the Klever Romantik – the Cleves Romantic style.
For his mansion, he chose an angular design reminiscent of upper-class Italian town houses. However, he soon found himself in a dispute the local city authorities. The mighty stone plinth that extends across the lower floor jutted out into the road by an extra four inches!
Fortunately, the artist, his architect and the authorities were able to reach an agreement. Koekkoek moved into his mansion, created some breath-taking pictures, received prominent visitors … and enjoyed the view over the garden of the Friars Minor outside his windows.
If this has made you curious, why not stop by? The B.C. Koekkoek House will be delighted to welcome you for a visit.
Alle Fotos, wenn nicht anders bezeichnet: Klaus Oberschilp, 2020, © B.C.-Koekkoek-Haus