UTRECHT, NETHERLANDS – To some people, Miffy is just a plain white bunny. To others, she is a prime example of minimalist art. But for six decades, she has been delighting young kids around the world, and now she is getting a museum of her own.
After a two-year renovation project, what was formerly known as the Dick Bruna House in the Central Museum of the Dutch city of Utrecht reopened this weekend as a bright, playful space dedicated to Miffy herself, which has also been carefully crafted as a hands-on experience for her young fans.
The original space devoted to Miffy’s creator — Dutch artist, author and graphic designer, Dick Bruna, who was born in Utrecht — opened in 2006 and drew some 50,000 visitors a year from all over the Netherlands, but also largely from Japan where she is a huge star.
But it was primarily more of an adult museum, packed full of a permanent collection of Bruna’s original drawings. And the question on every child’s lips was “where’s Miffy?” said curator Yolanda van den Berg.
So now children are getting an invitation to visit Miffy’s house — divided into 10 rooms designed specifically with kids in mind, where they can play and learn, and find out a little more about the man who created their idol.
Although she celebrated her 60th birthday in 2015, Miffy has changed very little down the years. Bruna wrote more than 120 picture books of which 32 are devoted just to Miffy.
Small and square, designed to fit little hands, each book tells a simple tale such as that of an outing to the zoo, a day at school or playing in the snow. They have sold more than 85 million copies and been translated into more than 52 languages, including Russian in 2011.
It is her endearing simplicity, along with her friends like Poppy the kind pig lady and Snuffy the dog, which has cemented the books’ universal appeal to preschoolers down the decades.
Miffy is a white girl bunny drawn with thick black outlines, pointy ears (although in her early days they were slightly more floppy), two dots for eyes, and an X for her mouth. She is always drawn against a background of bold primary colors, specially mixed for Bruna — mainly blue, green, yellow and what is known as “Bruna red.”
“What he wanted to do with his books was to create a safe world in which children can explore by themselves,” said Van den Berg. “And that’s what we’ve tried to do in the museum as well.”
Absent from the museum though are the computer animations and games seen in many exhibits today. “If it’s not a real experience, but a virtual one, it’s different,” said Van den Berg.
Bruna, 88, was born in Utrecht in 1927, and had been expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the family publishing company, which was once the largest in the Netherlands.
But drawing and art were his first love, and during a long study tour in Paris in the 1940s he became heavily influenced by the works of French painters Henri Matisse and Fernand Leger.
Returning to Utrecht, he started drawing book covers for the novels published by the Bruna company.
It was during a family holiday in 1955 on the North Sea coast that he spotted a white rabbit hopping around the garden, and turned it into a drawing for his young son Sierk. Thus Miffy was born.
The simple drawings in the Miffy books “have room for imagination and fantasy. They’re very clear lines,” said Evaline Reeskamp, education officer with the museum.
Bruna himself retired in 2011, and now the Utrecht museum has faithfully preserved his fastidiously neat, light-filled top floor studio where he worked for 30 years, and opened it up to the public to visit.