Eva Rovers is writer and cultural historian. Her biographies of major Van Gogh-collector Helene Kröller-Müller and writer Boudewijn Büchs both received great critical acclaim. In cooperation with director Leo de Boer, Eva produced a documentary film about Kröller-Müller’s turbulent life (an English version of this film is available).
She obtained a master’s degree in Cultural Studies at the University of Utrecht, specialising in early twentieth-century Dutch art. In 2010 she was awarded a PhD at the University of Groningen for her biography of Helene Kröller-Müller. She has served as guest editor for the Oxford Journal of the History of Collections and has published in several international journals. Currently she is board member of Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, and board member of the Khardzhiev Foundation, which manages a unique collection of Russian avant-garde art.
After writing biographies for ten years, Eva shifted her focus to civil resistance and the way individuals can change the world. In 2017 she published the philosophical essay Ik kom in opstand, dus wij zijn. Nieuw Licht op verzet (I Rebel – Therefor We Are. Casting a Different Light on Resistance). Inspired by Albert Camus she sheds new light on rebellion in the digital age. A year later this essay was followed by Practivisme. Een handboek voor heimelijke rebellen (Practivism. A Handbook For Aspiring Rebels):
In a world in which a nuclear war seems only a tweet away, in which social media cultivate more suspicion than understanding, in which politicians are keen to listen to corporations rather than to people, a world which is threatened by pollution and overpopulation… in such a world it’s sometimes hard to remain optimistic. In Practivism Eva Rovers enters into combat with the paralysing powerlessness we all feel from time to time. Some of the many questions she discusses are: ‘Where do you start when you want to change anything?’, ‘What are the do’s and don’ts of a successful revolt?’, ‘Do online petitions have any use and what role can social media play when striving for change?’ To find the answers she consults philosophers, rebellious elderly people, smartphone protesters and many others. Her quest resulted in this bright, hopeful and practical handbook for common-or-garden activists: essential to anybody who wants to change the world, but doesn’t quite know how to. Read it, and find the rebel in you.
► BOUD. The Collected Lives of Boudewijn Büch (1948-2002)
Published in 2016 by Prometheus
Upon his death in 2002, Dutch writer Boudewijn Büch was revealed as a man who had misled the entire nation with his incredible life-story. The man who during his life had re-invented his personal history – to include a father traumatised by having to bomb his native city during the Second World War, as well as a son who died under tragic circumstances at the age of five – posthumously proved how eagerly both friends and the general public had wanted to believe that his fluid fiction was the solid truth.
The abundant attention devoted to his many mystifications has eclipsed the perception of the private person Boudewijn Büch and of his tumultuous career. It is remarkable that hardly any attention has been paid to the role Büch played in the Dutch cultural field during the two decades preceding his death. In retrospect he proves to be exemplary for the changing attitudes toward taste in the last quarter of the twentieth century, when the traditional distinction between high and low art began to fade. In an infectious way, Büch showed that a person does not need to be a stuffy professor in order to love history or poetry. He was a cultural omnivore, who worked as passionately on columns for the erotic magazine Penthouse as he did on articles on Rimbaud for quality newspapers. Through his work as a literary critic and columnist he entered the public domain and defined himself as a public intellectual. In part it was by means of this versatility that he managed to revive interest in literature, history and poetry among a broad and young audience.
► Eternity Collected. A Biography of Helene Kröller-Müller (1869-1939)
Published in 2010 by Prometheus / Bert Bakker.
An old metal chest filled with 3.400 letters sparked the search for the true story behind the world’s greatest Van Gogh-collector, Helene Kröller-Müller. In this compelling biography, Eva Rovers unravels the forces which made Kröller-Müller succeed in opening one of the first museums of modern art in Europe, despite fragile health, great personal tragedy and dwindling personal fortune. Today, the Kröller-Müller Museum is still world famous for its varied collection of modern art, which consists of paintings by Picasso, Mondriaan and over three hundred works by Vincent van Gogh. No less unique is the museum’s location in the midst of a vast natural reserve in the east of the Netherlands near Kröller-Müller’s native country, Germany.
Eternity Collected received great critical acclaim: it was declared to be one of the best books of 2010 by the leading Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad. It was awarded the Bookseller’s Decoration, the Dutch Foundation of Art Historians’ Jan van Gelder Award and the Hazelhoff Biography Award, an esteemed biennial prize for the best Dutch biography.
► 'Succeeds in captivating until the end, by cleverly weaving art, business affairs, private life and the spirit of the age together', Trouw.
► 'A more than interesting biography [...], an exceptional book. A pleasure to read, despite the density of information', De Groene Amsterdammer.
► 'A comprehensive portrait of a demanding, authoritarian but determined ‘Ma’am’', NRC Handelsblad.
► 'An exemplary and fascinating biography' and a 'compelling story', Vrij Nederland.
SUMMARY ETERNITY COLLECTED
Some women buy hats and handbags when they visit Paris, but when Helene Kröller-Müller was there she bought paintings by Vincent van Gogh. After a three day visit to the French capital in the spring of 1912, she returned home with no less than fifteen paintings by the then little known artist. Among these purchases were La Berceuse, Olive Grove and Portrait of Joseph-Michel Ginoux, which matched perfectly with other masterpieces by Van Gogh in her collection such as Four Sunflowers gone to Seed and The Sower (after Millet). With these significant purchases she contributed greatly to the artist’s reputation. Remarkably enough, Helene had only been introduced to modern art shortly before.
Helene Müller was born in the German Ruhr area and moved to the Netherlands when she married the Dutch entrepreneur Anton Kröller. Initially she led the life which was expected of the wife of a wealthy director. In 1911, however, her escape from death during a dangerous operation prompted her to devote the rest of her life to establishing a ‘monument to culture’. During the decade that followed, she collected work by (among many others) Signac, Seurat, Picasso, Braque, Mondriaan and, of course. Van Gogh. From 1913 onwards she opened her collection to the public by exhibiting it in the main office of her husband’s firm. For many years this was one of the very few places in Europe where a large collection of modern art was permanently on display. (Peggy Guggenheim, for instance, would not open her London gallery until 1938 and it was even later that she started collecting herself.) Among the many visitors to Helene’s gallery was the future director of the MoMA Alfred Barr, who praised the courage with which she collected.
To Helene her collection was a way to develop her own identity, independent of her role as a mother and wife. However, her German background also influenced her collection. The anti-German sentiments that arose in her new home country during the First World War made her aware of her roots again. She decided to volunteer as a nurse in a field hospital in Liège and set herself the goal of rehabilitating the German image after the war. Her monument to culture should plant a little German pride on Dutch soil.
When the first foundations of her museum were laid, fate turned against her project: the global crisis pushed the Kröllers to the edge of bankruptcy. It was only because of Helene’s determination that in 1938 – a year before her death – she was finally able to open the Kröller-Müller Museum. However, the price she had paid for this had been high.