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Panorama by Dutch artist a cultural historic display of Bollenstreek

Work took eleven years to finish

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

VOORHOUT, the Netherlands – Tourists from all over the world still flock in record numbers to the dazzling flowering bulb show at Keukenhof, but they see steadily less of the colourful quilt of tulips that once covered the entire Bollenstreek each Spring. Rising real estate costs make growing flowering bulbs elsewhere in the Netherlands financially more attractive, while owners sell the traditional bulb fields to build new subdivisions. The memory of the colourful Bollenstreek will live on, thanks to a newly created, huge art scene: the Bollenstreek Panorama. Sponsored by a local history group, artist Leo van den Ende painted a million tulips on canvases complete with the landscape that increasingly is being lost. Van den Ende’s labour of love took eleven years to complete.

Van den Ende’s ‘canvas’ already was attracting attention while it was being created but the day he could officially put down his brush, the artist himself was decorated becoming the centre of attention: the 73-year old painter was being inducted into the Order of Orange-Nassau as a knight, a deserved recognition for preserving the Bollenstreek’s memory on canvas. A record assignment, the work took about 10,000 hours to complete and covers the astoundingly large surface of 250 square metres. While other large projects such as the Mesdag Panorama involved a group of artists, Van den Ende insisted he do it all on his own.

Another significant history detail for the latest Dutch master piece is the fact that the owner of the flowering bulb farm sold his property of which the bollenschuur, Van den Ende’s gallery, was a part while the painting was in progress. The farm, previously owned by bulb grower C. Colijn, soon will follow the way of other bulb farms: covered over by new housing and business parks while displaced growers continue elsewhere in places such as the Noordoostpolder, the Wieringermeerpolder and other lower-priced acreages throughout Friesland, Drenthe and Groningen, which, off course, are all within driving distance. Well beyond the horizon are those growers who have relocated to Northern France, to England and even to New Zealand.


Soon, the Bollenstreek will be a thing of postcards and memories, laments Van den Ende, who moved to Voorhout thirty years ago when it was a community of 5,000. Now Voorhout is a town of 17,000 and growing. On the other hand, the bulb acreage has shrunk to fifteen percent of its original size. Emigrants who return from abroad no longer recognize the area, says Van den Ende, but are elated to see the scenery as depicted on the panorama, often exclaiming: that’s the way I remember it.

Van den Ende was not the only one who regretted the demise of the bulb fields. A group of concerned local people had been talking about the loss of their cultural heritage and sights and, over 12 years ago, studied the feasibility of creating a panorama to preserve it on canvas. The idea seemed attractive enough that Leo van den Ende started researching it to develop a concept, an undertaking that took four months to finalize. Painting the panorama was started soon after, in early 1997.

There was no particular spot left in the area as a model for his work. So Van den Ende crisscrossed the Bollenstreek numerous times to look for remaining bulbs fields, usually encroached by housing developments, for inspiration. Next at home, he created his concept on a series of panels on a scale of 1 to 10, which he projected on full-sized panels. The result is a collage of beautiful sites that are recognizable to many viewers: the characteristic buildings of the villages and towns in the area between Wassenaar and Haarlem. Included is Heemstede’s Manor Te Manpad, Noordwijkerhout’s windmill, Lisse’s Agatha Church, one of Hillegom’s remaining bollenschuren, Warmond’s Nieuw Alkemade farmstead, and Katwijk’s water tower. All met Van den Ende’s critera for his panorama.


Because the bollenschuur was still being used to process the seasonal bulb crop, the panels had to be taken down when Van den Ende had to made room again for a few months. With these circumstances in mind, he produced canvases that could be rolled up without fear of cracking the surface. The last couple of years, the artist kept working during the winter months.

Different artists offered to help Van den Ende with his project but he felt that the uniformity of the style would suffer. Noting that every artist has his own unique style, he decided to go it alone. He did admit that he also liked the idea of having only his signature on the canvas.

The public was allowed to check up on progress. At times it was bothersome when trying to solve an art technical problem with onlookers pressing for answers to their questions. Onlooker’s input and suggestions had an impact on the final project as well, however. Among these was the comment that he had painted all the cow breeds of the Netherlands, except the one local breed – the blaarkop – which had become all but extinct. The breed now is represented on the panorama. Others queried him on specific buildings, why was the St. Bavo Church not included and the Engelenkerk? A review made him include these historic buildings. A side benefit that has been noted already by local heritage promoters is that some of the buildings on the canvas that had been slated for demolition are now being restored and kept in better repair.


The legacy of the Bollenstreek Panorama may not be its style – for his art Van den Ende was taught by an adherent of the impressionist The Hague School – but its cultural historical value. The area’s beauty, its unequalled character and unique role in the horticultural history of the Netherlands and the world of tulips as well as a landscape all but gone, are Van den Ende’s contribution to an identity otherwise sliding from view on the skids of progress. In an era in which digital photography masters the world of images, Panorama Bollenstreek may yet give the book on Dutch landscape art another chapter.

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