Hammacher, Abraham Marie Wilhelmus Jacobus

Full Name: 
Hammacher, Abraham Marie Wilhelmus Jacobus
Other Names: 
"Bram"
Date Born: 
1897
Date Died: 
2002
Place Born: 
Middelburg, Netherlands
Place Died: 
Abano Terme, Italy
Home Country: 
Netherlands
Gender: 
male
Overview: 

Art critic; museum director (1947-1963); professor of art history (1952-1968); Van Gogh expert. Hammacher grew up in Middelburg as a sensitive child with strong affinities for music, literature, and painting. He played the violin, painted and drew. In 1917, after graduating from high school, he went to Utrecht to study law, with a view to becoming an attorney, like his uncle and grandfather. One year later, however, he changed his mind and started writing on literature and art. His first contributions in the newspaper the Utrechts Dagblad (UD) mark the beginning of his career as an art critic. The editor in chief of the UD, Pierre Henri Ritter jr. (1882-1962), offered Hammacher a regular position in 1920 where he remained until 1927. He also began publishing articles in various periodicals. In 1926, he married Anna Sophia Hooft Graafland (d. 1956). In the same year he became an art critic for the Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant (NRC). In 1935 he joined the editorial board of Elsevier's Geïllustreerd Maandschrift, in which periodical he frequently published. Between 1923 and 1945 he worked in the Dutch postal services (PTT). His first studies on art history appeared in the 1930s, including a monograph on Romanesque sculpture, Vorm en Geest der Romaansche Beeldhouwkunst (1936). During World War II he published Amsterdamsche impressionisten en hun kring (1941), which won the 1941-43 Wijnaendts-Francken prize, awarded in 1947. Between 1945 and 1947, Hammacher headed the Department of Fine Arts of the Ministry of Education, Arts and Science. In 1947 he was invited to become director of the Rijksmuseum Kröller Müller in Otterlo. One of his major concerns was the completion of the museum complex, designed by the Belgian architect, Henri van de Velde (1863-1957). The new wing of the building, begun during the war, had remained unfinished. Under Van de Velde's supervision, this part of the museum, which included a sculpture gallery, was completed in 1953. Hammacher's comprehensive study on Van de Velde, De wereld van Henry van de Velde (The World of Henry van de Velde), which appeared in 1967, reveals his great admiration for this many-sided artist. In the same period, Hammacher's interest in modern sculpture led to important acquisitions, with an emphasis on international artists. He also broadened the museum collection with African and Oceanic art. Acquisitions of two works of the English sculptor Barbara Hepworth in 1953, led to a life-long friendship with this artist. In the same year he also visited and befriended the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY. In 1957, he married the Belgian art historian Renilde van den Brande. A major event in his career was the opening, in 1961, of the sculpture garden of the Kröller-Müller museum, illustrating the evolution of modern sculpture. His growing expertise in this field is reflected in a number of publications, including monographs on Hepworth (1958), Lipchitz (1960), Marino Marini (1969), and others. The Evolution of Modern Sculpture. Tradition and Innovation, one of his major studies, appeared in 1969. The impressive Van Gogh collection of the museum was another challenge for Hammacher. At age 16, he had read the 1914 publication of Van Gogh's letters, Vincent van Gogh. Brieven aan zijn Broeder. As the director of the Kröller-Müller, he was instrumental in the organization of a number of Van Gogh exhibits all over the world. The 1949-50 shows in New York and Chicago won great acclaim, as well as the 1958-59 exhibitions in Japan. In his own museum he changed the display of the paintings. In 1948 his first Van Gogh monograph appeared in the Palet series. Between 1952 and 1963 he combined his many tasks as museum director with an extraordinarius professorship of art history at the Technische Hogeschool of Delft (now Technische Universiteit Delft, University of Technology). On the initiative of J. G. van Gelder, Utrecht University granted him a doctorate honoris causa in 1958. In 1963, Hammacher became full professor at Delft University and retired from the Kröller Müller. He retired from this position in 1968. Hammacher kept traveling and publishing in the many years that followed. He was the chairman of the editorial team of the third revised 1970 edition of the Van Gogh catalog by J.-B. de la Faille, The Works of Vincent van Gogh. His Paintings and Drawings. Hammacher also contributed to this edition with "Van Gogh and the Words", a survey on Van Gogh reception of 80 years. Hammacher and Renilde retired to Brussels in 1978. In 1982 a documentary biography on Van Gogh followed, which he co-authored with his wife. A remarkable work is his 1981 Phantoms of the Imagination: Fantasy in Art and Literature from Blake to Dali. He added a new chapter on contemporary sculpture(1960s-1980s) of his 1969 sculpture book, retitling it as Modern Sculpture. Tradition and Innovation, 1988. In 1994 he wrote a study on Georges Seurat, Silhouet van Seurat. On his hundredth birthday in 1997, the Kröller-Müller Museum honored its former director with an exhibition on four Spanish sculptors: Picasso, González, Miró, and Chillida. While traveling in Italy, he died at age 104. His son, Arno Hammacher (b. 1927) was a photographer. Hammacher's publications demonstrate his broad interests in Dutch and international art. Inspired by his readings of Sigmund Freud and others, he saw the subconscious as a key to the creation of works of art. In Phantoms of the Imagination, Hammacher explored dreams, vision, and surreal imagination as psychic experiences of writers and artists. Generally Hammacher used a formalistic approach on visual art; his study on modern sculpture focuses on the stylistic and spatial aspects of art works. He was one of the art historians who accepted Abraham Bredius and the authentication of the Vermeer Christ at Emmaus, actually painted by forger Han van Meegeren (1889-1947).

Selected Bibliography: 
[for a complete bibliography, including his UD and NRC articles, see] "Publicaties A. M. Hammacher" in De Ruiter, Peter. A. M. Hammacher: Kunst als levensessentie. Baarn: de Prom, 2000, pp. 521-582; Vorm en Geest der Romaansche Beeldhouwkunst. Amsterdam: De Spieghel, 1936; Amsterdamsche impressionisten en hun kring. Amsterdam: J. M. Meulenhoff, 1941; Jacques Lipchitz; his Sculpture. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1960; Barbara Hepworth. London: A. Zwemmer, 1959; Le monde de Henry van de Velde. Antwerp: Fonds Mercator, 1967; Marino Marini. Sculpture Painting Drawing. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1970; "Van Gogh and the Words" in de la Faille, J.-B. The Works of Vincent van Gogh. His Paintings and Drawings. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff International, 1970, pp. 9-37; The Evolution of Modern Sculpture. Tradition and Innovation. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1969, [enlarged edition:] Modern Sculpture. Tradition and Innovation. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1988; Phantoms of the Imagination. Fantasy in Art and Literature from Blake to Dali. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1981; and Hammacher, Renilde. Van Gogh, a documentary Biography. New York: Macmillan, 1982; Silhouet van Seurat. Otterlo: Kröller-Müller Museum, 1994.
Sources: 
Van Gelder, J. G. "A.M. Hammacher en zijn geschriften" in Bibliografie der geschriften van prof. dr. A. M. Hammacher. Otterlo, 1963, pp. 7-16; De Gruyter, W. Jos. "Een persoonlijke herinnering" in Bibliografie der geschriften van prof. dr. A. M. Hammacher. Otterlo, 1963, pp. 17-22; De Standaard, 26 April 2002; Il Giornale dell'arte, 24 June 2002; De Ruiter, Peter. A. M. Hammacher: Kunst als levensessentie. Baarn: de Prom, 2000 [with a list of additional biographical literature on p. 584].
Contributors: 
Monique Daniels