Willy Boers Archive

 Archief Willy Boers

In October, the RKD received a surprising bequest from Onno Boers (1936-2021), consisting of hundreds of artists’ letters from the twenties and thirties of the previous century. The letters were written by more than a hundred different artists, among them Marc ChagallPiet Mondrian and Kees van Dongen. The majority turned out to be addressed to Leopold van Oijen, who, in 1931, founded an almost forgotten art society in Paris, where ‘all champions of living art’ were represented.

Artists’ letters

Recently, the RKD received the bequest consisting of six binders containing approximately 300 letters, which were compiled in the nineteen seventies by the father of Onno Boers, artist Willy Boers (1905-1978). Onno Boers’ bequest is an addition to the archive of Willy Boers, which is already in possession of the RKD. Although part of the collection seems to be of a somewhat random nature, a substantial number of letters appear to be addressed to one person. This was Paris-based Dutch publisher Leopold van Oijen, who corresponded with artists such as Georges Braque, Fernand Léger, Georges Vantongerloo and Piet Mondrian. Towards the end of nineteen seventy, Van Oijen donated the letters to Willy Boers, whose interest in graphology had prompted him to start a collection of artists’ letters. Boers intended to use these for research into the ‘reflection of personality in handwriting and (works of) art’. Besides the donation of approximately 250 letter by Van Oijen, Boers to this end separately collected dozens of artists’ letters as well.

 Archief Willy Boers
1. Letter from Piet Mondrian to Leopold van Oijen, 13 October 1931, collection RKD, Willy Boers Archive
2 & 3. Letter from Piet Mondrian, Fernand Léger en André Lurçat to Leopold van Oijen, collection RKD, Willy Boers Archive

Leopold van Oijen

Leopold Willem Herman van Oijen was born in The Hague on 15 September 1894. He pursued a career in the army, where he climbed the ranks to become artillery commander Lieutenant-Colonel. Aged 30, he left his native country for Paris. There he became involved in Galerie Bonaparte, established at 12 Rue Bonaparte, and led by Dutchman Léopold Emmanuel van Leer. Van Oijen became responsible for the Éditions Bonaparte published by the gallery. As publisher and founder, he was furthermore involved in other Parisian periodicals and societies. For instance, he was director of L’informations féminine, founded in 1927 under the editorship of well-known French feminist Marcelle Kraemer-Bach.

Cercle Artistique de Paris

In 1930, Van Oijen decided to establish a society of modern artists and architects. For this purpose he tapped into contacts he had established at Galerie Bonaparte. The many prominent artists Van Oijen was in communication with could themselves also introduce artists. This becomes clear from a previously unknown letter by André Lurçat, Fernand Léger en Piet Mondrian, in which the signees included a list of twenty architects they nominated as member. In November 1931, Van Oijen’s efforts resulted in the founding of the Cercle Artistique de Paris. This society brought together the finest representatives of painting, sculpting, architecture, theatre, film, music, letters and criticism. Its purpose was two-fold: on the hand, the society was meant to improve relations between the different disciplines, on the other hand, the immediate contact between artists and the public needed to be restored, since, according to the society, this had become blurred due to the involvement of the art trade. In Van Oijen’s view the public could be reached by organising a sales exhibition in the society’s ‘spacious meeting house’ in the vicinity of the Place de l’Étoile (currently: Place Charles de Gaulle). If the Cercle ever actually made use of a spacious meeting house near the Place de l’Étoile is questionable. In 1932 the address of the Cercle was still the same as the Galerie Bonaparte.

 Archief Willy Boers
1. Note from Georges Braque to Leopold van Oijen, collection RKD, Willy Boers Archive
2. Postcard from Gino Severini to Leopold van Oijen, 19 February 1929, collection RKD, Willy Boers Archive