Petrus Josephus Hubertus (Pierre) Cuypers (1827-1921) was born in Roermond in the Netherlands, into a Roman Catholic family. His father was a merchant and church decorator. His own talents were quickly discovered, and in 1844 he went to study architecture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, about 85 miles away over the border with Belgium. Some of his teachers were pioneering Belgian neo-Gothicists, and soon after returning home from his highly successful student years, he set off for Germany, where he admired (for example) the completed Cologne Cathedral. In the early 1850s he also studied under Viollet-le-Duc in France, coming to know him personally, and imbibing "the latter's Gothic-based ideas on rational construction" (Van Dijk 15).
As Roermond's town architect, he set about encouraging the arts and crafts, not only in his own office, but by establishing the Atelier Cuypers-Stoltzenberg in 1852. This produced fittings for church interiors. Controversy surrounded his restoration, or rather completion, of the town's Munsterkerk, which involved adding two tall Gothic towers to it, and in 1865 Cuypers moved to Amsterdam. Here he became a leading figure both as an architect and as a prominent Catholic in the period following Catholic emancipation. He was influenced not only by Rhineland Gothic and Viollet-le-Duc, but by developments in England: specifically, by the work and ideas of fellow-Catholic A. W. N. Pugin (see "Cuypershuis"), and the ideals of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. As he continued to encourage the arts and crafts and practice them himself, his studios both in Roermond and Amsterdam became "the best example of imitation in the Netherlands" of the Arts and Crafts movement encouraged by Ruskin (Bank and Van Buuren 154).
Cuypers' reputation extended beyond the Netherlands, and he received some important commissions both in Belgium and Germany. He was known in British architectural circles too. In only the second general meeting of the RIBA, in November 1871, H.W. Brewer, whose name is often found in architectural illustrations of the period, gave a paper "On the Revival of Gothic Architecture in Germany and Holland," in which some of his churches are particularly praised for showing "great skill, not only in their structural features, but also in their internal decoration" ("Gothic Architecture"). Later, Cuypers' Rijksmuseum and Central Station, standing "literally like two gigantic gateways" (Van Dijk 15) to his adopted city, gave him an even higher profile. Despite initial objections from the Protestant community at home, which associated the Gothic with Catholicism, and criticism of the "bastard Gothic" of this "well-known Catholic architect" in the London Times too ("The New National Museum"), the former in particular came to be accepted as a landmark building. Eventually, Cuypers received formal recognition here. On 28 June 1897, at the 16th general meeting of the RIBA, its then president George Aitchison presented Cuypers with the Queen's Royal Gold Medal for the promotion of architecture for that year. In his address, Aitchison gave a brief resumé of Cuypers' career:
The president reported to the gathering that up to 1894 he had built a Cathedral and 61 churches and chapels in various parts of Holland and Belgium; he had restored 57 ecclesiastical buildings, mostly cathedrals and churches, and had built museums, railway stations, mansions, villas, and private houses, besides his great work of the Royal Museum at Amsterdam. In addition to this he had started schools all over Holland.
In his response, significantly enough, Cuypers not only thanked the president for his kind words, but added (speaking in French), "that, if he had had any success as an architect, the example which had been given him by his colleagues in Great Britain had greatly contributed to it."
Cuyper believed in a "'community art' in which all arts and crafts were organically united with architecture at their head" (Van Dijk 15); hence the arrangement of the stained glass windows in the Rijksmuseum's former entrance hall, by the English stained glass artist W. F. Dixon, in which architecture has the central place. Perhaps Cuypers' promotion of a "socially engaged art" (Bank and Van Buuren 150) was just as important as his architectural work, if not more so. But his influence gradually waned. Having spent a lifetime promoting traditional craftsmanship, he was highly critical of Art Nouveau, calling it in a speech of 1901 an "infectious disease" and a "parasitic plant" (qtd. in Bank and Van Buuren 149). By now, following the death of his second wife in 1898, he had returned to Roermond, leaving his architect son Joseph to run the Amsterdam office. Cuypers died in Roermond in March 1921. Although, as was the case with Victorian architecture in Britain, a good many of his best buildings were demolished in the twentieth century (see "Architects"), he is commemorated there by the statue shown top right (see "Statue of Cuypers" in "Sources") and the Cuypershuis Museum on Perre Cuypersstraat. It is good to see an architect thus honoured. — Jacqueline Banerjee.
"Architects: P. J. H. Cuypers (1827-1921)" (in 2 parts). Archimon: The Virtual Museum of Religious Architecture of the Netherlands. Web. 8 August 2013.
Bank, Jan, and Maarten Van Buuren. Dutch Culture in a European Perspective: 1900: The Age of Bourgeois Culture. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Print. (This has a wonderful photograph of Cuypers in his workshop at Roermond, supervising his craftsmen, p.150.)
"Cuypershuis." Museum website (in English). 8 August 2013.
"Gothic Architecture In Germany — The." The Times. Thursday 23 November 1871: 2. Web. 8 August 2013.
"The New National Museum at Amsterdam." The Times. Thursday 13 August 1885: 13. Web. 8 August 2013.
Obreen, Frederik Daniel Otto. Guide to the National Museum of Amsterdam. 2nd ed., enlarged. Schiedam: H. A. M. Roelants, 1890. Internet Archive. Web. 8 August 2013.
"Royal Institute Of British Architects." The Times. Wednesday, 30 June 1897: 13. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 8 August 2013.
Van Dijk, Hans. Introduction. Architectural Guide to the Netherlands: 1900-2000. By Paul Groenendijk and Piet Vollard. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2006. 8-54. Google Books, full view. Web. 8 August 2013.
Last modified 8 August 2013