That the museum is here today should be seen in a context of economical and social changes in the Netherlands in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The village of Laren is in a sandy hilly region, going from the southeast of Noord-Holland province to the southeast of Utrecht province. These hills arose during the Ice Age.
Traditionally, farmers’ and others’ incomes on this sandy soil were lower than in clay and/or peat regions surrounding the hills.
In the late nineteenth century, something changed. There was an influx in the hilly regions of het Gooi and Utrechtse heuvelrug of rich people; and, in some villages like Laren, also of artists.
Until then, rich people usually lived in the centres of cities like Amsterdam. And, if they lived in the countryside, along the Vecht river in the marshy region west of the hills.
During the nineteenth century, appreciation arose for the scenery of the sandy regions, partly stimulated by artists’ works. The sheep farming of a village like Laren so far had been a sign that farmers could not afford the cows of their richer colleagues. Now that painters saw those sheep as picturesque, rich people might want to build mansions near the scenery depicted by the artists. Some rich new immigrants to villages like Laren might buy works of art by other new immigrants, artists.
The influx brought a rise in average income for villages here. However, an average not necessarily reflecting itself in better situations for local poor farmers and farm workers.
William Singer (1868-1943) to a certain extent might be included in both categories of immigrants. He was the son of a rich steel plant owner in Pittsburgh in the USA. However, he preferred art to steel. With his wife Anna, he went to Europe. In 1901, they settled in Laren. In 1911, there they had built the mansion De Wilde Zwanen, the core of the museum (and concert hall) buildings of today.
Singer did paint himself, though he became better known as an art collector than as an artist.
While other artists were sometimes unaware of poverty in a village like Laren where they worked, or at least did not show it in their work, Chris Beekman (1887-1964) did not. This communist artist, also represented in the Singer museum, depicted poor people of Laren in works like Drie figuren met handkar, from 1917. He also painted a portrait of famous Dutch anarchist Domela Nieuwenhuis, and was a co-founder of the De Stijl artistic movement, with links to abstraction and Dadaism.
The Dutch communist party was rather small about 1920 in the Netherlands. About 2% of the national vote; rather unevenly spread. Many villages with hardly any support, and on the other hand over representation in cities like Amsterdam and among farm workers in some northern regions. Also in Hilversum, the biggest town of the hilly Gooi region, communists were comparatively strong, with three seats in the local council. Once, a councillor of a Protestant political party asked the council to subsidize his Christian organization Eben Haezer. What, did one of the communist councillors (of Jewish ancestry) ask, does Eben Haezer mean? So far, the Lord has helped us, the Protestant replied. Yeah, the communist said: so far, the Lord helped. But that was not enough; and now the local taxpayers are supposed to help? The whole council laughed.
Back from the 1920s to today.
There is a special exhibition in the Singer museum about fairgrounds as seen by nineteenth and twentieth century artists from Belgium and the Netherlands.
In the late 19th century, fairground attractions like carousels were mechanized by steam engines. Isaac Israels depicted such a carousel.
There was also Le manège, by Bram van Velde.
And late twentieth century paintings by Gerrit Sol.