Forget Pim Fortuyn: here are 20 genuine Dutch greats...

A month-long survey in the Netherlands resulted in the murdered politician being named as the greatest person in the country's history. Daniel Howden identifies 20 others with a better claim to that title
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The Independent Online

The populist politician Pim Fortuyn beat off all-comers, from Vincent van Gogh to Johan Cruyff, in a poll yesterday to find the "greatest" Dutch person in history.

The populist politician Pim Fortuyn beat off all-comers, from Vincent van Gogh to Johan Cruyff, in a poll yesterday to find the "greatest" Dutch person in history.

The controversial result of the month-long contest which drew hundreds of thousands of votes in the Netherlands came just two weeks after the killing of Theo van Gogh - the great-grand-nephew of the Dutch Master - which sparked a wave of anti-immigrant feeling.

Mr Fortuyn, 54, became the first victim of a political assassination in Holland in more than 300 years, when he was gunned down by an animal rights activist on 6 May 2002, nine days before a general election.

With nationalist feeling running high, the right-wing icon left even William of Orange, glorified as "Father of the Fatherland", as an also-ran.

As a parliamentary candidate, Mr Fortuyn broke the mould of Dutch consensus politics by promoting a strong anti-immigration stance. Openly gay, his sharp mind, combative style and campaigning against bureaucracy endeared him to much of the public who had grown unhappy with the backroom dealings in The Hague.

The contest prompted a massive public response as people cast their votes via telephone or internet, spurred on by celebrities who took turns to champion one of 10 final-round candidates. Mr Fortuyn was declared the winner with 115,000 votes, compared with 111,000 for William of Orange.

Willem van Oranje, as he is known to the Dutch, had to accept second place despite being the man who led the Netherlands to independence by spearheading a Protestant revolt against the Catholic Spanish in the 16th century. Willem Drees, the architect of Holland's post-war welfare state, and still affectionately known as "Father Drees", was a distant third, along with the footballing icon Johan Cruyff.

William of Orange supporters may turn to the American model to have their candidate declared the winner after the television company KRO, which oversaw the vote, admitted that late ballots favoured their man. When the result was declared, Mr Fortuyn, who never held public office, led by around 4,000 votes, but late voting cast a different picture with the "Father of the Fatherland" winning by more than 31,000.

Rembrandt van Rijn


The ultimate Dutch Master, Rembrandt is a giant figure in the history of art, whose enormous body of work launched Holland's Golden Age in the 17th century. His works, which today command huge prices, were enormously influential within the artist's own lifetime. He used his singular brushwork, incomparable use of colour and mastery of light and shadow radically to change the way people viewed one another. He portrayed religious figures as human, and humans as soulful and poetic. Though his life was marked time and again by tragedy and trouble, his art grew ever more light and soaring. The only sibling of a large family to receive a formal education, he dropped out of college to pursue painting in a move that delivered him fame and fortune. His legacy includes a remarkable series of self-portraits, almost a hundred of them (including some 20 etchings) which were executed throughout his long career. Together they give us a remarkably clear picture of the man, his looks, and - more importantly - his emotions, as age, misfortune and sorrow etch wrinkles and lines in his face. In all, Rembrandt produced around 600 paintings, 300 etchings, and 2,000 drawings.

Vincent van Gogh


Despite being second only to Rembrandt in the roll-call of Dutch Masters, Van Gogh has become a paradigm for posthumous recognition. He had little or no success during his lifetime and relied on his brother for money. He produced all of his work during a single decade before succumbing to mental illness (possibly bipolar disorder). Aged 37 he committed suicide. Today, several of his works rank among the most expensive in the world.

Anne Frank


The diary she kept helped the world to put a name and a recognisable face to the anonymous millions who died in the Holocaust. It records the experiences of the Frank family and friends hiding in an Amsterdam attic from July 1942 to escape Nazi persecution. They were betrayed two years later and Anne died of typhus in a concentration camp in March 1945. The diary has sold more than 25 million copies in 55 languages.

Johan Cruyff


Johan Cruyff was the ultimate exponent of the football philosophy known as Total Football. As a player, he was known for his grace, reflexes and mesmeric ball skills. The latter gave rise to the Cruyff turn, a dazzling trick even elite footballers struggle to emulate. His career spanned 48 caps and 33 international goals, and highlights include winning the European Cup three times (1971-3) with Ajax, a hat-trick of European Player of the Year awards and leading Holland to runners-up spot in the 1974 World Cup.

Rutger Hauer


Bruekelen-born Hauer made the move to Hollywood in the 1980s on the strength of a string of psychopathic roles, including a blond android intent on killing Harrison Ford's hard-boiled detective in Ridley Scott's seminal sci-fi movie Blade Runner. He terrified a generation of drivers with his portrayal of a serial killer in the horror classic The Hitcher. After making a string of straight-to-video action movies, he cashed in on his hardman image by starring in a host of big-budget adverts.

Ruud Lubbers


Prime minister of the Netherlands from 1982 to 1994, and politically a conservative, Lubbers was regarded by many as an heir to Margaret Thatcher. Born in Rotterdam, he studied economics at the Erasmus University under the first Nobel Prize laureate in economics, Jan Tinbergen. He is the country's longest-serving prime minister, and after leaving office became the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

DJ Tiësto

Disc jockey

The King of Trance was modestly billed at this summer's Olympics as the biggest DJ in the world. That's quite a fillip for Tijs Verwest, whose fans insist: "Listening to his music is like going on a awesome roller-coaster ride." This year, Tiësto has had a world tour, produced two albums, and performed at the opening of the Athens Games. He topped it off by claiming the world's top DJ award for the third year in a row.

Mata Hari

Dancer and spy

Mata Hari was the stage name of Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, a Dutch exotic dancer who was accused, convicted and executed as a spy during the First World War. Born in Leeuwarden, she moved to Paris after a failed marriage, where she posed as a princess from Java and had affairs with a string of powerful men. She famously declared at her trial: "Harlot, yes. But traitress? Never!"

William of Orange

Father of monarchy

William, Prince of Orange, led a Dutch revolt against the Spanish in 1568 that set off the Eighty Years' War and resulted in the independence of the Netherlands. A wealthy nobleman, William became unhappy with the Spanish persecution of Dutch Protestants, and turned against his former masters. The Dutch national anthem, known as "The Wilhelmus", commemorates him.


Priest and scholar

Born in Rotterdam, Erasmus was an ordained priest of the Roman Catholic Church. He was acquainted with most of the scholars of Europe and his circle of friends was especially large in England; it included Thomas More and Henry VIII. Erasmus's works are mainly satirical and critical. Erasmus was finally brought into open conflict with Luther, and attacked his position on predestination in On the Freedom of the Will.

Sylvia Kristel


Sylvia Kristel starred in the title role of the 1974 movie Emmanuelle, a soft-porn exploration of the sexual awakening of a young European in Thailand that spawned a never-ending series of spin-offs. The daughter of strict Calvinist parents, Kristel has registered an IQ of 164, and completed her higher education by the age of 15. However, she took up modelling at 17.

Hieronymus Bosch


The prolific Dutch painter was a master at depicting sin and human moral failings. His works contained complex and highly original symbolic figures and iconography, some of which became the inspiration for 20th-century surrealists. Among his most famous works is The Garden of Earthly Delights, which shows Paradise, Earth, and Hell, with depictions of fantastic punishments.

Paul Verhoeven

Film director

Among the few Europeans to make it in the Hollywood film industry, Verhoeven is best known for violent and special-effects movies such as Starship Troopers, Robocop and Total Recall. His other films include Basic Instinct. He started making obscure documentaries while in the Dutch navy. His first major success came in 1969 with the television series Floris, starring his compatriot Rutger Hauer.

Baruch Spinoza


Born in Amsterdam to a family of Portuguese-Spanish Jews, Spinoza was to become one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy. He is considered the founder of modern biblical criticism. Known as both the "Greatest Christian" and the "Greatest Atheist", Spinoza contended that "God" and "Nature" were two names for the same reality. His local synagogue rewarded him for his work by expelling him.

Hendrik Berlage


The father of modern Dutch architecture, Berlage advocated a return to simplicity of form and clarity of line. His theories can be seen most clearly at work in the Amsterdam Stock Exchange (1898-1903) and the Diamond Workers' Union Building (1899-1900). An admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright, Berlage greatly influenced the Amsterdam School of architecture, and modern urban planning.

Willem Barents


Willem Barents was the Dutch navigator and explorer who gave his name to the Barents Sea. In the late 16th century he made three pioneering voyages in search of the North-east Passage. On the third voyage, his vessel became trapped in the ice and he was compelled to winter in the north. His crew left the ship in two open boats on 13 June 1597 and most escaped, but Barents died on 30 June.

Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit


Born in Danzig, Prussia (now Gdansk, Poland) Fahrenheit spent much of his life in Amsterdam, in his adopted country of the Netherlands. He spent his career making meteorological instruments and invented the first mercury thermometer in 1917. He also invented the hygrometer (which measures atmospheric humidity) but is best known for lending his name to the temperature scale.

Fanny Blankers-Koen

Olympic medallist

The "Flying Housewife" became a Dutch legend when as a mother of two she won four gold medals at the 1948 London Olympics in the 100m, 200m, 800m hurdles, and the 4x100m relay. At the time, women athletes were frowned upon. No woman has surpassed her tally of four golds on the track and she was named Athlete of the Century in 1999, five years before her death.

Jan Sweelinck


A composer and organist, Sweelinck was among the most influential and sought-after teachers of his time. He wrote over 250 vocal works, including motets and madrigals, but is best known for his 70 keyboard works, which include monumental fugal fantasias, concise toccatas and well-ordered variation sets. Amsterdam's music school, the Sweelinck Conservatorium, is named after him.

Hendrikje van Andel

Oldest woman

Hendrikje van Andel was declared the world's oldest person by the Guinness Book of Records in July this year. A retired Dutch needlework teacher with a passion for football, she celebrated her 114th birthday in a retirement home in the northern Dutch town of Hoogeveen. She ascribes her longevity to her diet: "I eat a herring and drink a glass of orange juice every day."