The picture books about Frog (‘Kikker’ in the original Dutch) are among the best-loved pieces of Dutch children’s literature. Frog, created by – and alter ego of – Hague artist Max Velthuijs (1923-2005), is a lovable, wide-eyed optimist who shares the adventures of everyday life with his friends Duck, Hare, Pig and Rat. This spring, the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag focuses on this familiar grass-green figure in an exhibition that reveals how many of the elements in Frog’s world are echoed in works of art in the museum’s collection.
Velthuijs’s illustrations are masterpieces of simplicity, but appearances can be deceptive: to achieve that ‘artless’ effect, some of them had to be redrawn many times and the artist might spend a year on illustrating a single book. The universe that Velthuijs created for Frog is not a fairytale world: he was not afraid to address existential issues like death, grief, fear and love. But on the whole it is a world of friendship and enjoyment. Frog is a happy-go-lucky character who sees the sunny side of life.
The exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum is part of a series of Frog events (known as the Kikkertiendaagse) taking place over the last ten days of March in honour of Max Velthuijs, who died in 2005. This is the second such ten-day festival to be organised by the publishers of the Dutch editions, Uitgeverij Leopold. The exhibition will showcase the original drawings for Velthuijs’s picture books, arranged in five groups to illustrate recurrent themes from the books: Frog in the rain, Frog in bed, Frog and birds, Frog sitting down and Frog eating.
These groups of original Velthuijs illustrations will be surrounded by paintings and works on paper drawn from the collection of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and themselves showing many of the elements in Frog’s world. The featured artists will include, for example, Jan Mankes, Giorgio Morandi, Hermanus Berserik and Co Westerik – the last two of whom were personal acquaintances of Max Velthuijs. The display will also include a number of items from the fashion and decorative arts collections.
In the course of the exhibition, the museum will programme a wide range of extra activities designed for Max Velthuijs’s young readership. These will include a museum lesson entitled Kikker kijkt naar kunst (‘Frog looks at art’), during which school groups will visit the exhibition with a guide, and a workshop called Kikker en ik (‘Frog and I’) where passages from the books will be read aloud and small children can make their own paintings of Frog.