Caroline de Westenholz
Caroline de Westenholz was born in London to Albert Friedrich Paul Freiherr von Westenholz and Elisabeth Henriëtte van Hasselt. Her father was born in Hamburg, had Swiss nationality and lived in London since 1938, with his family. In French speaking Switzerland the German ‘von’ had changed into the French ‘de’.
Her parents divorced when she was still a baby and her Dutch mother took Caroline back to the Netherlands. When she was six years old, her mother remarried Albert Vogel, a Dutch solo actor and art gallery owner. Caroline’s own father never got in touch again. She got to know him only when she was 25 years old.
Caroline grew up in the jet set of The Netherlands. Alberts sister was the celebrated actress Ellen Vogel, the Grande Dame of the Dutch stage. Another sister, Tanja, was a ballet dancer.
After her mother remarried, Caroline’s parents house became the centre of the Vogel family. Albert and Liesje Vogel entertained a lot. Actors, artists, aristocrats, professors, politicians and princes came to their house in Wassenaar, just north of the town of The Hague and to their villa Kalamalka on the island of Majorca. It was this colourful childhood amidst the artistic elite of the 1960’s and 1970’s that instilled in Caroline a lifelong passion for art and literature, which eventually resulted in the founding of the Louis Couperus Museum in The Hague in 1996. In her book De Vogels. Een flamboyante theaterfamilie Caroline describes the story of the warm, theatrical Vogel family, tracing their origins back to 18th century Saxony.
Caroline studied art history at Leiden University and embarked on a career as a professional art historian and publicist. In 1979 she married Chris Rehorst, assistant professor in the history of architecture. The marriage ended in divorce six years later.
In 1982, her stepfather, Albert Vogel jr died unexpectedly of a massive brain haemorrhage. He was only 58 years old. Caroline wanted but one thing, and that was to continue his work, be it on Louis Couperus or for contemporary art. At first she did this by continuing Vogel’s art gallery, now called Ornis (Greek for ‘vogel’ or bird; see the above picture of Caroline in Ornis). In 1983, she organised the second retrospective of Yayoi Kusama’s work in Europe. One year later, she mounted one of the first projects of John Körmeling in the gallery.
In 1986, Caroline obtained the MA degree in art history. In the beginning of the new century she passed her PhD degree at the university of Amsterdam on a biography of her step grandfather, Albert Vogel sr.
Ornis International Gallery did not become a commercial success. In 1985, Caroline closed the gallery and moved back to London. There she became the first European employee of the satellite TV channel MTV Europe, which was launched in Amsterdam on 1st August 1987.
In a garden in Kensington Caroline met the man who was to become her second husband, Peter ffrench-Hodges. They got married in 1988.
As of 1992, Caroline and her husband lived in the South of France for a number of years. Here she picked up her art historical training again. She discovered the hotel in Menton where Aubrey Beardsley died, in March 1898. The resulting story was published in England and in France.
Also, Caroline located the house in Nice where Louis Couperus wrote De boeken der kleine zielen (The Books of the Small Souls), De berg van licht (1906) and Van oude menschen, de dingen, die voorbij gaan…. (Of old People and the Things that Pass). Unfortunately, De berg van licht has not (yet) been translated into English. It relates the story of the rise and fall of the decadent Roman emperor Elegabalus and it is a masterpiece of decadent writing.
In 1994 Caroline was approached by the Louis Couperus Genootschap (Society) in order to lecture about her stepfather, Albert Vogel, and his bond with his favourite author: Louis Couperus. In the statements of that society she read that its aim was the foundation of a museum for Louis Couperus in the town of The Hague. Caroline realised that this would be the ultimate fulfillment of her dream to continue her stepfather’s legacy. The Louis Couperus Museum opened in Vogel’s former art gallery in 1996.
In 2013, Caroline was awarded the Zilveren Anjer (Silver Carnation) for the founding and upkeep of the Louis Couperus Museum (the Dutch equivalent of a Companion of Honour). The following year, she received the Victorine Hefting Prize from the city of The Hague for the same reason.