The Warp and Weft of Memory

Gisèle-dAilly-van-Waterschoot-van-der-Gracht
Gisèle at Herengracht 401, exact year unknown, courtesy of
the Castrum Peregrini Foundation

“Every poet of furniture — even if he be a poet in a garret, and therefore has no furniture — knows that the inner space of an old wardrobe is deep.” Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, 1958

The Warp and Weft of Memory is a research project with Castrum Peregrini, which ran from September 2016 to October 2018.  The work explores the wardrobe of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht and the ways in which it reflects her life, work, and various histories through textiles and clothing. The research not only mined the past but also made connections to the present. As a whole, the project had different public manifestations: public lectures, educational events, an online narrative combining fact, fiction and artefacts.

Gisèle’s closet, which is filled with clothing spanning decades of her life. The traces of her body can still be sensed through the shape of the clothes; she was a relatively small woman with a slight figure. Even as she grew older, her shoulders curved but her stature remained the same. Her wardrobe illustrates her fascination with travel, textiles, and design. For example, there is a woollen handmade vest with bright trim from Greece, a vibrantly coloured silk jacket from China, several items that were fashioned specifically for her by the renowned Dutch designer Dick Holthaus, and also there are practical clothes, such as her modest trousers and matching cardigan, which was the daily uniform she wore to her studio. These items not only reflect chapters in Gisèle’s remarkable life, but also the history of the Netherlands before, during, and after the War, women’s roles as they evolved in society, the privileges of class, and the persona of the artist. While each garment will have its own story, it can be woven into a fabric of other narratives past and present. To return to Bachelard’s sentiments, “the inner space of an old wardrobe is deep”, especially in relation to memory.

Collaborators and contributors so far are:
Kate Pullinger
Frans-Willem Korsten
Andre Castro
Ana Isabel Carvalho and Ricardo Lafuente (Manufactura Independente)
Cristina Cochior
Cesare Davolio
Riek Sijbring
Castrum Peregrini: Michael Defuster, Frans Damman & Lars Ebert


Self-portrait in her favourite North American Hudson
Bay Coat, Oil on canvas 1948

A Brief History:
Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht was born to a mother of Austrian nobility and a Dutch father who was a geologist for Royal Dutch Shell. As a child, her father’s work brought the family to the States and various other places until they returned to the Netherlands to live in Bergen. At that time, Bergen was a centre for poetry, literature and the arts; Gisèle took up drawing and painting and befriended eminent literary figures such as E. du Perron and Adriaan Roland Holst.

Moving to Amsterdam to develop her work, it was there that her life took a pivotal turn. As the War encroached, she was asked by the German poet Wolfgang Frommel to hide a group of young Jewish men. Housing them in the upper floors of her Herengracht apartment, she not only took care of their daily needs, but also along with Frommel, tutored them in literature, poetry, and fine art. Castrum Peregrini, Latin for ‘castle of the pilgrims’, became the name of their tiny secret refuge, and after liberation, it became the namesake of the foundation, which at that time focussed on publishing.

Although Gisèle remained close to Frommel and the men they hid, that period alone did not define her. With the support of the Dutch American Foundation, she toured the States speaking about her experiences as an artist during the war. She also continued her practice as an artist.

She met Arnold d’Ailley in Paris, who was then the mayor of Amsterdam. They had an affair, and he eventually left his position, divorced his wife and married Gisèle. The two lived in an abandoned monastery on the Greek island of Paros until Arnold became ill with terminal cancer. Gisèle spent many more years on the island painting and sculpting, but eventually losing her beloved monastery, she returned to Herengracht 401. Frommel passed away in the nineteen-eighties and Gisèle continued to work in her studio and live in the building until her death at the age of one hundred in 2013.

Having lost its founder, Castrum Peregrini is in a state of transition as it reimagines the space of Herengracht 401 without Gisèle physical presence. To look at her legacy and more broadly its relation to cultural heritage, the foundation has initiated a series of projects reflecting upon Gisèle’s archive, work, and rich collection of possessions, before they are dispersed across a variety of museums, individuals, or resituated within the foundation itself.
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Support & Funding:
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The Mondriaan Foundation has generously awarded me the ‘Stipendium for Established Artists with Commissioner’. This funding is for two years and was used for the research and development of my work within Castrum Peregrini.

The Start-up Grant from the Creative Industry Funds (Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie) enabled me to establish a general approach in handling digitized artefacts, along with the more interpretive and fictional elements. Moreover, it gave me time to establish a core group of collaborators.

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The foundation has and continues to give access to Gisèle private archive and living space.