The figures in Mari Andriessen’s sculptural group Memorial to the Fallen 1940-1945 are by no means small, yet nevertheless they are almost lost on Stadhuisplein amid the plethora of outdoor cafés and hoardings. It was quite different at the unveiling on 4 May 1957 by Princess Wilhelmina. Then the two male figures of the group looked directly onto the new Lijnbaan, while the woman still had an undisturbed view of the town hall on the other side of Coolsingel. Along with Ossip Zadkine’s The Destroyed City, Memorial to the Fallen 1940-1945 is one of Rotterdam’s most important war memorials.
Plans for a memorial to honour those who perished in the harbour city during the German occupation began with a competition organized by the Central Rotterdam Committee, set up on 16 May 1945, which later became the Foundation for the Resurrection of Rotterdam. In February 1947 the designs of the 34 entries were exhibited in the city’s Boyjmans Museum. Unfortunately these did not conform to the Committee’s quality requirements, so that no first prize was awarded. In the end the Committee commissioned the architects Oud and Kraayvanger to produce a design. At the same time the Dutch Circle of Sculptors, who had dissuaded its members from taking part in the competition, now under its own initiative proposed three sculptors: Han Richters, Paul Grégoire and Mari Andriessen. It was the latter who received the commission in 1953. In the same year he presented his first rough design of a sculptural group on a plinth. In this initial design a man and a woman are depicted lifting a child in the air and handing it over to each other. According to C. van Traa’s written reaction, who as director of Rotterdam’s post-war reconstruction and urban development was involved in the commission, he appeared to doubt whether the sculpture was suitable ‘for the heart of a somewhat hard city’. He invited Andriessen to come and stay with him and take in the atmosphere of the city and the new Lijnbaan. The sculptor then made a second design, a sculpture comprising a woman and two men, but thought this was too static. At a later stage he added a child to the group. And this was how the memorial was finally realized.
The depiction is symbolic. The woman is looking back at the harrowing past. With head bowed she points to the pain and despair the war had created. The man on the other side looks to the future, spade in hand ready to contribute to post-war reconstruction. The man in the middle forms a link between past and present. By way of the child, who is partly leaning against the woman’s legs, he attempts to gain the woman’s attention and liberate her, as it were, from the past. The child, meanwhile, looks up hopefully at him. While the man is a link in a metaphorical sense, the child is a formal connecting element between the figures in the sculptural group and the various directions in which they are looking. The placing of the sculpture at Stadhuisplein on the Coolsingel was no mere accident. It is a symbolic location in that the bronze group forms a link between the past – the old Rotterdam with its City Hall, one of the few buildings that survived the bombings undamaged – and the Lijnbaan, the new city centre following post-war reconstruction. Notwithstanding the alarming events the bronze group represents, the sculpture itself comes across as more serene than dramatic.
Until the Second World War Mari Andriessen was known only in limited circles. From a Catholic background, his commissions were mainly for the Catholic church. After leaving the State Academy of Art in 1923 he produced many reliefs and small sculptures depicting biblical themes. Most of his religious sculptures were linked to architecture and are quite flat and highly stylized. This kind of work was apparently not his greatest strength. In the second half of the 1930s Andriessen was first given commissions outside Catholic circles. He began modelling his sculptures and for the first time he produced freer and more three-dimensional works. Over the years he stressed more and more the gestures and poses of the figures he portrayed and these became typical of his post-war work. Since Andriessen was involved in the resistance movement during the Second World War, it is logical that when it ended it was in fact he who was asked to produce memorials commemorating those that perished. The Docker, produced in memory of the 1941 February strike on one of Amsterdam’s squares, Jonas Daniël Meijerplein, is by far the best-known example. It emanates a resoluteness which is missing from most of Andriessen’s other memorials. Even the Rotterdam sculptural group, because of its more or less metaphoric arrangement, is more considered and less pithy in essence than its Amsterdam counterpart.
Tilanus, L., De beeldhouwer Mari Andriessen, Weesp 1984. / Ramaker, W. and B. van Bohemen, Sta een ogenblik stil. Monumentenboek 1940/1945, Kampen 1980.