Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht (1912 - 2013), painter and publisher

On the 6th floor of a slim corner building on Herengracht you can find the spacious roof top studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht. She lived and worked here, high above the centre of Amsterdam, till her death in 2013. 
When stepping into Gisèle's home and studio one can immediately tell that she must have been an extraordinary woman. And everything we hear and read about her only underlines and even surpasses this first impression.

Gisèle, the daughter of a Dutch father who worked as a geologist and an Austrian mother (a baroness), spent her childhood in Austria and in the US. When she was 18 she began her studies at l'École des Beaux d’Arts in Paris but only after one year the Economic crisis hit Europe and forced Gisele's family to return to The Netherlands, shortly before World War II. They settled in the costal village of Bergen, which was back then the centre of the Dutch art community where Gisele met artists and intellectuals.

In 1939 Gisèle moved to Amsterdam. She had found herself a small apartment on the third floor of Herengracht 401.
Only a few months later World War II reached The Netherlands; it was attacked by the Wehrmacht and forced under German occupation. 
During the entire war Gisèle was hiding two German jews, teenagers, who had fled Nazi-Germany to supposed "neutral thus safe" Holland. Together with their teacher Wolfgang Frommel, a German writer, who had fled his home country as well, Gisèle turned her tiny apartment into a hiding place. Its code name was Castrum Peregrini: Fortress of the Pilgrims. 

Nowadays Castrum Peregrini is a cultural centre that organises debates, exhibitions, seminars and lectures. There are also several studios for artist residencies. The activities of Castrum Peregrini focus on the relation between the individual and society and are aligned with its core values freedom, friendship and culture. 
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht-46
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht-46
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Gisèle had a great love for Greece. Together with her husband Arnold d’Ailly she has lived and worked there for several years in an abandoned monastery on the island Paros. After her husband's death she returned to The Netherlands. Her studio is flooded with light, it has thick white walls and white bricked stairs - Gisèle has turned this place into her own piece of Paros in the middle of Amsterdam. You find yourself surrounded by hundreds of found objects like shells, pieces of wood, fishbones and stones that cover the shelves and windowsills. Wooden chairs, rough pottery and braided baskets, dried flowers and pumpkins, little statues and figures... it's an endless collection of precious things. Treasures from Gisèle's 100-year-life that have been carefully selected and skilfully arranged into beautiful still lifes.
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht-46
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Even though during the war Gisèle had not registered with the Kulturkammer* she was able to get commissioned paintwork and support herself and the men she was hiding in her tiny apartment.
After the war she made numerous stained-glass windows a.o. the Begijnhof Chapel (here) and the Krijtberg Church in Amsterdam, and she designed tapestries (here and here) for the ship SS Rotterdam. She was also responsible for the interior design of several American embassies. 
But above all Gisèle was a painter. She made figurative images where myth and reality mingle, and in her various self-portraits you can easily recognise her striking face.
Greece has not only influenced her life but also her work strongly. In the 1960's she made 30 abstract paintings showing circular shapes that where inspired by the reuse of ancient marble pillars in Greek walls.
In 2016 the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam adopted Gisèle's five-panel painting ‘Moira’ (1956). 
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht-46
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht-46
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
After the war Gisèle acquired the entire building on Herengracht 401. It became the permanent home of the Castrum Peregrini community and in the 1950's the publishing house Castrum Peregrini was set up and had its offices under the same roof. Together with her husband Arnold d'Ailly, the former mayor of Amsterdam, Gisèle moved to the upper floors. And in the 1970's she expanded her space into a former school building next door and set up her studio on the top floor.
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
The former safe house on the third floor stayed more or less unchanged through all these years. Entering the tiny apartment with its mostly original interior is like an instant time travel. "It is a magical place that puts you in touch with your deepest feelings and drives: fear, mistrust, survival instinct, sacrifice, self-assertion, responsibility, trust, love, belief in truth and justice. It leaves nobody unmoved", writes Michaël Defuster, the director of the Castrum Peregrini Foundation. (The House of Gisèle, Highlights of Memory Machine and Intellectual Playground 2014 -2017, Foundation Castrum Peregrini, 2017)
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht
Castrum Peregrini, the former home and studio of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht-46
*Kulturkammer: Once the Germans had taken Holland, they started to impose their rules and regulations on Dutch political, social and cultural life. They formed a Kulturkammer (a Chamber of Culture) to which all artists had to subscribe, or else they would not get any work. The Kulturkammer made sure all art was in furtherance of the Arian spirit and did not criticize or ridicule the German regime, nor favorably depict their despicable foes, England and America. Nearly all Dutch artists became a member of the Kulturkammer. Only those who could fend for themselves in their own livelihood had a chance of staying independent, and even then they were closely watched in case they created any unfavorable propaganda. Source: Lambiek
Read more about Castrum Peregrini here.
Castrum Peregrini on Instagram and Facebook.
An interview with Gisèle on Freunde von Freunden
The documentary "Het steentje van Gisèle" in 'Het Uur van de Wolf' can be found here.
Photography + text: Julia Kaiser
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