The Merchant's House of Martha van Grootheest de Kleijne
In 1742 the house at the Singel 224 in Amsterdam, originally built in 1638, was bought by the widow of Tamis van Grootheest. The young widow, Martha de Kleijne, is a wealthy merchant who obtained her wealth mainly through her trade in tea. In Europe the drinking of tea starts in the 17th century and becomes extremely popular in the 18th century. From 1728 onwards, the VOC (United East-India Company) starts sailing directly to Canton (China), which gives the Dutch tea trade an enormous boost.
Right: View of the Singel around 1684, detail of a painting by Abraham Storck.
As a merchant Martha is held in high esteem by other merchants. During her marriage she was deemed as ‘capable’ by her husband, thus gaining her the right to trade as a ‘public merchant’. As a widow she manages to strengthen her position as a merchant with a significant increase in income as a result. Martha sees an opportunity to display her increased wealth and higher social status by remodelling and including all the latest fashion into her newly acquired house.
The bell-shaped gable is decorated with a richly ornamented top in Louis XIV style, with slightly indented spring stones, a curved, richly decorated fronton and an elegant vase on top. The house is enlarged by building an ‘achterhuis’ or ‘back house’ and a garden house. An elegant high ‘stoop’ is added to the house, with the servants entry below the front door. The front door has a monumental surround topped by the Amsterdam coat of arms.
The drawing on the left gives an impression of how the house must have looked around 1743. The drawing shows two shuttered attic windows, indicating the house actually had two attics for storing the merchant’s goods.
Around 1739 the first rococo elements appeared in Dutch interiors. In Martha van Grootheest de Kleijne’s new interior the natural forms of asymmetrical curls and rocailles of the new rococo style are used in abundance.
Martha invests her money in houses and gives out loans which in turn give her more huge profits. Martha has three children from her marriage with Tamis van Grootheest, all of whom inherited the smart business sense from their mother. Upon Martha’s death in 1797, the three children inherit a considerable fortune. The house on the Singel remains family property, but it is no longer inhabited by the family. In the course of the 19th century a few minor changes to the facade take place; new windows are put in and the lower shuttered attic hatch is replaced by a window. The whole house is now in use as living-accommodation, thus losing its function as merchant’s house.
Almost a century later, in 1893, a fierce fire destroys part of the top floors.
The van Grootheest de Kleijne heirs decide to sell the property. The new owner, Mr. Leo Rickx, spends much of his time in England and has become very interested in the English ‘Arts & Crafts’ style. As he has the building restored , he himself designs a large library and study at the front of the house in the style of the Arts & Crafts. He also includes the staircase in the new design. His English wife Emma is delighted with all the rococo detail still present in the house and has a few 18th century pieces of family furniture shipped over from England to decorate some of the rooms in the house with.
The next three photographs show the Singel around 1894. The photo’s were taken by the famous Dutch artist George Hendrik Breitner.
In 1960 Catharina Rickx, the granddaughter of Leo and Emma Rickx, marries Tamis van Grootheest de Kleijne, a direct descendant of Martha van Grootheest de Kleijne. The house is owned by the Rickx’ family until in 2004 the Singel 224 is bought by Martha van Grootheest de Kleijne, daughter of Catharina and Tamis.
Two hundred and sixty-two years have passed, but again the house at the Singel 224 is owned by Martha van Grootheest de Kleijne. The house is filled with some of the same furniture that was in the house two centuries earlier, with the addition of some of the English family-furniture from the Rickx family. The good business-sense has also remained in the family, Martha is an antiques dealer, specialising in 18th century antiques and Arts& Crafts furniture.