Designs for stained glass windows by W.A. van de Walle. Background information

Willem Albertus van de Walle was born in 1906. His talent for drawing became apparent when he was still very young. He received professional training and developed into a versatile artist. In his long career Van de Walle created oil paintings, stained glass windows, wall paintings, posters, book illustrations and political cartoons. In the 1920s and 1930s he received many commissions from the social democratic trade union movement. The confederation NVV and its associated unions were growing in size and influence, and the unions wanted to demonstrate their increased power through monumental buildings and offices. These structures were often decorated by artists with stained glass windows and wall paintings.

Stained glass windows were Van de Walle's speciality. In 1927, he designed windows for the Troelstra-oord, the educational and vacation center of the trade union movement near Beekbergen. A series of commissions followed for similar windows in the offices of trade unions and related organizations. Most of the windows were lost through fire or renovation. Luckily, the designs, which had been executed by Van de Walle in full size and used as models in the stained glass workshop, were saved.

W.A. van de Walle always worked figuratively, aiming to tell stories using symbolic and historical figures. He used a great deal of decorative detail and warm, glowing colors. His work appealed to the union administrators, who were looking for art with an educational character that could be understood by their members.

The Troelstra-oord

In 1927 the first trade union educational and vacation center was opened: the Troelstra-oord. It was built on the heath near Beekbergen and was founded by the NVV in honor of Pieter Jelles Troelstra, leader of the social democratic party SDAP. During the summer it accommodated sixty people, trade union members with their families, who could stay one or two weeks in the countryside. The rest of the year the center was used for union training and conferences. The main organizer behind the foundation of the Troelstra-oord was F. van de Walle, NVV administrator, and W.A. van de Walle's father.

Architect J.H. Mulder, Jr. designed a building with a monumental entry and a large straw roof. No trouble or expense was spared for the interior decoration. Works of art and well designed furniture were intended to evoke an uplifting spirit in the visiting workers and stimulate their appreciation of beauty. Showpiece was the stained glass frieze in the dining hall, which was forty meters wide and designed by W.A. van de Walle. It showed a historical chronicle of the role of labor in civilization, from antiquity to the industrial age, culminating in the foundation of the NVV.

In 1950 the Troelstra-oord burned down. Most of the stained glass windows were lost. Although a few windows from the tower are in the trade union museum De Burcht in Amsterdam, from the freeze in the dining hall only the designs are left.

De Centrale and other stained glass windows

After his work for the Troelstra-oord, Van de Walle received a series of commissions for decorations in trade union and related organization buildings. He created some wall paintings in boardrooms, as well as many stained glass windows for the union of building workers, the factory workers' union and the workers' insurance company De Centrale. He always worked with the workshop of Nico Schrier and Huib de Ru in Haarlem, where his designs were executed with great care.

In the 1930s Van de Walle's style changed. The colors became deeper, the figures larger and more monumental. The compositions also became more distinct, with a single figure in the foreground, and a stylized background. The lead lines followed the contour of the main figure and supported the composition. The windows for De Centrale, showing six branches of industry, are a high point in this respect. The windows were removed and lost during renovation in the 1950s (later the whole building was torn down), but fortunately the designs were saved.

After the Second World War, Van de Walle designed several more stained glass windows and wall paintings for trade union offices. But his stately symbolic figures were no longer in step with the times. The emphasis in the new union office buildings was modernity and efficiency, and works of art like Van de Walle's were considered old fashioned.

Revived interest

It was only in the 1980s that interest in Van de Walle's work revived. Some of the remaining windows were restored by trade unions. The trade union museum De Burcht held an exhibition of the windows and designs in 1995. After the artist's death in 1995, his heirs donated a collection of his designs to the trade union museum De Burcht, which lent this collection to the IISH. In 2002 the trade union FNV Bondgenoten published a book about Van de Walle and his work: M. van der Heijden, De bond in glas en lood, FNV Bondgenoten, Utrecht 2002, ISBN 90.5260.061.9.