Het Lieverdje statue on Spui, Amsterdam

Het Lieverdje

Het Lieverdje (the Little Darling) is a small bronze statue on Spui square, in front of book store Atheneum. It was created by Amsterdam sculptor Carel Kneulman (1915-2008), first as a gipsum statue in May 1959, which was soon stolen. Kneulman referred to his statue as “my little garden gnome” — with it he had tried to capture the playful against-the-grain attitude of the Amsterdam population.

Statue Het Lieverdje on Spui square, Amsterdam

Statue Het Lieverdje (the Little Darling) on Spui square, in front of book store Atheneum (January 2021).

Writer Henri Knap organised a crowd­funding event to have a bronze statue cast, but in the end the needed cash was only raised when the Hunter Cigarette Company in Eindhoven donated the bronze version of the statue to the city of Amsterdam. It was revealed in September 1960. The name Lieverdje was coined after some columns written by Henri Knap for newspaper Het Parool from 1947 on, which described the various adventures featuring an Amsterdam street rascal, always looking for trouble but with a heart of gold. In Amsterdam undertone speak “lieverdje” best translates as “(hardly an) angel”.

Unveiling of Het Lieverdje at Spui square, Amsterdam, in 1960

Unveiling of the statue in 1960, writer Henri Knap and Emma van Hall-Nijhoff (wife of Mayor Van Hall) looking very pleased (Nationaal Archief).

The Provo Movement

When changes to existing politics and society did not materialize after World War II, young people started to question and challenge the status quo. Conflicts between defiant youth and authorities escalated more and more. In the 1960s the cigarette factory sponsored statue became the center of the so-called “happenings” by anti-smoke-mage Robert Jasper Grootveld and his entourage. The Provo movement — short for provocations — was born in 1964. There were also funny protests like “distri­buting raisins” to the passing public as a protest against stinginess — krent (raisin) being short for krenten­kakker (raisin shitter), Amsterdam speak for someone being very stingy.

The over-the-top violent reactions by the police to these happenings spawned even more of them, aimed at bringing about changes in society. In 1967 Amsterdam mayor Van Hall and chief of police Van der Molen were dismissed as a result of their reactions to the Provo manifestations. By the end of 1966 the manifestations around the statue stopped. The Provo movement’s unorthodox solutions hindered their long term success — the movement symbolically buried itself in the Vondel­park in May 1967.

Southern side of the Spui square, Amsterdam, in January 2021

Southern side of the Spui square. On the left the Oude Lutherse Kerk (Old Lutheran Church) from 1630, straight ahead church De Krijtberg (Chalk Mountain) on the other side of the Singel, on the right the statue Het Lieverdje (January 2021).

More Lieverdje Adventures

More than once the statue was dressed up for one reason or another, got smeared with paint, it even got kidnapped in 1966 by students from Groningen. It was found one week later — in the meantime the students had replaced it by a statue of a flower girl. In 1967, as a protest against bourgeois frumpiness — 21 year old artist Phil Bloom posed naked (dressed only in a bouquet of tulips) in front of the statue, of which a postcard was created which is available to this day. Soccer club FC Amsterdam (dissolved in 1982) made an image of the statue part of their logo.

Left: Lieverdje statue, Amsterdam, being cleaned in 1965 - Right: Lieverdje dressed up in Ajax football shirt

Left: Lieverdje being cleaned after being smeared with paint, 1965 (Nationaal Archief). Right: Lieverdje in Ajax shirt, honoring much loved mayor Eberhard van der Laan, who died in 2017. Gabber is Amsterdam Yiddish for buddy or homey (January 2020).

In 2012 it was toppled by a German truck backing up. Ironically the truck carried the slogan “Wir bewegen etwas” (we put something in motion). The broken ankles were repaired and the statue was placed back. In 2015 there was a court case when the statue was set on fire, leading to important case-law about the scope of the right to demonstrate. Since 2006 a Roze Lieverdje prize (a pink miniature of the statue) is handed out on Valentines Day to an Amsterdamer important for the rights of the LHBT community.

Passer-by looking at the empty pedestal of Het Lieverdje, Amsterdam, in 1966

Passer-by looking at the empty pedestal after the statue had been kidnapped by students from Groningen in 1966 (Nationaal Archief).

Kabouters Movement

The Kabouters­beweging (Gnomes Movement) was an alternative protest movement and local political party in the years 1969-1974, formed around ex-Provos Roel van Duijn and Robert Jasper Grootveld. They criticised consumerism, lack of housing and the destruction of nature. Most of their protests against the powers-that-be were playful and unconventional, aimed at irritating the so-called “good citizen” and the establishment.

City limit sign of Amsterdam, rebranded with paper Amsterdam Kabouterstad - Oranje Vrijstaat

City limit sign of Amsterdam, rebranded with paper “Amsterdam Kabouter­stad – Oranje Vrijstaat” (Amsterdam Gnome City – Orange Free State) in 1970 (Nationaal Archief).

The party Amsterdam-Kabouterstad (Amsterdam-Gnome-City) got 11% of all votes for the city council in 1970, becoming the fourth largest party in Amsterdam. In February 1970 they declared the founding of the Oranje Vrijstaat (Orange Free State) on Dam square. They formed a shadow government with departments for squatting, for biological food and for second-hand stores. They disbanded in 1971 because of internal conflicts and endless discussions. Former Kabouters like Roel van Duijn stayed politically active in the 1980s.

Left: front of Het Lieverdje, Amsterdam. Right: back of Het Lieverdje with added gnome statuette

Left: front of Het Lieverdje (January 2021). Right: back of Het Lieverdje with added Gnome statuette holding a sign “Long Live the Gnomes” (December 2021).

Kabouters Nu (Gnomes Now)

On March 11, 2021 a small bronze gnome statue, created by Ruchama Noorda, was revealed just behind the statue of Het Lieverdje, by the Kabouters Nu (Gnomes Now) movement. They claimed that the Kabouter Movement had never actually stopped but had “gone underground” for 50 years. In spring 2022 they aim to plant an apple tree (“to fruitify Amsterdam”) on the restructured Post­zegel­markt at Nieuwe­zijds Voor­burgwal.

Bronze statuette of a gnome at the back of Het Lieverdje, Spui, Amsterdam

Bronze statuette of a gnome at the back of Het Lieverdje (December 2021).

All in all the statue of Het Lieverdje has certainly earned its place in the Amsterdam collective memory as a center of societal change and protest.

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