My weekly visits to RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History in The Hague started on the 8th of april. During the six to seven hours that I’m there I open archive boxes and read, sometimes standing in between the shelves with books, sitting when delving deeper. I wander through the space and slowly lose focus. The search fans out in all directions and one thing leads to an other, it has many similarities to my own artistic practice when developing a new idea, so I can go along with it. At this stage I will not force myself to make choices or aim for a direction.
A temporary inventory of possible finds and questions.
The studio visit by Alexander Ver Huel to Ary Scheffer and especially the description of a visit to Wiertz’s studio. A small document of some 20 pages A5 stapled together. He describes his excitement and expresses his wonder looking at the enormous paintings and the trope l’oeuil paintings on walls of the studio. Together with my own photo-archive of artists’ studios I read “Mythen van het Atelier”( myths of the studio), a book based on extensive research at the RKD. Also Mayken Jonkman points out Rachel Esner’s text “in the artists studio with L’Illustration”. In a box labeled ‘Frankrijk 1800-2000 Dela’, I find two pages from L’Illustration with a description of a visit to Paul Delaroche’s studio. An engraving of the workspace accompanies the text.
The absolutely wonderful letters by Matthew Maris, reflecting on his life, dealing with the commercial aspects of being an artist and his participation as a soldier in the 1870 revolution in Paris.
The feud between Carel Vosmaer and Conrad Busken Huet about literary active women, in Vosmaer’s opinion their voices will lead to a greater appreciation for the arts but Busken Huet worries about the competition by these female writers . The correspondence between the men becomes gradually more hostile , an extra complication (Huet’s backing of the Dutch governments’ suppression of the Indonesian press), means the end of their friendship. I am attracted tot his fight over female writers because I’m developing some blogtexts on ‘lost women’. The physical overpainting by Courbet of Mme Proudhon and Jeanne Duval. Or the rejection by the French republicans of female participation in the revolutions of the 19th century (utopian socialism inspired by Saint-Simon and Fourier offered more possibilities in this aspect). I’m reading “The Woman of Ideas in French Art, 1830-1848” by Janis Bergman -Carton
Red studiowalls; Scheffer and also Adolph von Menzel. There will be more examples I’m sure
Dutch contemporary critiques of ‘A Jewish Burial ‘ by Hein Burger warning about “a dangerous experiment to introduce Courbet’s realism in our country”, and that “one can already detect in ‘a Burial’ the probability of stranding on the cliffs of an ugly reality”.
Caricatures by Jan Holswilder for ‘de Lantaarn’ a Dutch satirical magazine, technically as well as artistically on a very high level and with a high degree of social commitment. To just show one, Dutch and Belgian policemen play a game of tennis with gypsies on the border between the two countries.
A menu found in a box labeled ‘1456, Toegepaste Grafiek’, for a dinner on the 20th of november 1904. The occasion is the publication of a range of “Books on Children’s Lives”, apparently books about street arabs were popular at the end of the 19th, beginning 20th century. The opulent ten- course menu provides a stark contrast to the children’s poverty. The menu is made out to M.J Brusse, a journalist and writer of a book called ‘Boefje’( little rascal), the drawing on the cover is by Theophile Alexandre Steinlen.
In the text by Ver Huel of his visit to Ary Scheffer’s studio he observes Scheffer wiping over a canvas with a wet sponge to enhance the viewing experience. In a photograph of Jozef Israëls in his studio one can see a little paintingtable . On it a metal can on a stick and a couple of sponges. I do use sponges sometime to fill in large areas ( of air in particular) but I’m amazed about Scheffer’s action and wonder how Israëls used them.
The text by Jonathan Crary “Géricault, the Panorama, and Sites of Reality in the Early Nineteenth Century” stimulated me to start a new big painting and a linocut. In ‘RKD bulletin 2012-2’, “De weg naar het heilige der heiligen, de donkere tocht naar het atelier van de kunstenaar” van Mayken Jonkman, she describes and analyses the passage through long and dark corridors and over high steps towards the studio of the artist, a journey from the dark to the light. In this article she makes a reference to Jonathan Crary’s “Techniques of the observer. On vision and modernity in the 19th century”.
Jeroen Kapelle “Carel Vosmaer en de kunstenaars van de Haagse etsclub”, brings back many nostalgic feelings, thinking about the days and evenings with ‘de Enige Echte Eindhovense Ets Club’ at Grafisch Atelier Daglicht with beers, friendship and music. I connect experiences of that time with Emiel Heijnen’s research on learning outside of schools as published in “Re-Mixing the Art Curriculum’’ and the principle of ‘The Commons’ as defined by Pascal Gielen. Ideals that are hard to ‘sell’ to politicians these days.
My research of Martersteig’s ‘Pariser Barrikaden 1848’ continues, in one of the boxes labeled ‘Duitsland 1800 -Heden’ I find a portrait of Paul Delaroche, Martersteig studied with him to better himself in the art of history painting, also a text from ‘der Cicerone’ by E.Redslob dated 1914 (With seven illustrations of works mostly from the collection of his family). In another folder I find four reproductions; a “family of the artist”, the Weimar painting that drew my attention to this painter. But the image that really catches my eye is a painting called “die heisse Suppe”. A young hawker has removed his basket with wooden toys . He sits on his knees and eats soup from a pot which a housekeeper, sitting on the steps, holds in het lap. In its sentimentality it reminds me ‘het Italiaantje’( The little Italian) as mentioned in a lecture by Gerard Rooijakkers about the door-to-door selling of catchpenny prints in Brabant.
I read about little painted portraits made to resemble a mezzotint by Boilly. Over the course of his career he made more than 5000! These portraits were his major source of income, his autonomous works in which he addressed contemporary issues were not popular with collectors. Matthijs Maris called the paintings he made on demand ‘potboliers’ or ‘suicides’. The question how to finance one’s own autonomy is a dilemma many artists struggle with.
In E. R.D. Schaap’s “Romantiek” I read about the suicide of baron Gros, also a subject I want to know more about. Schaap , a painter himself, clearly voices his opinion about works of artists. For instance in this fragment in which he describes Millet’s chosen subjects; “I dare to claim that it was never revealed to me to value a clothed peasant more than a naked woman, not even as the subject for a painting.” Information on E. Schaap in RKD images reveals a photograph of his studio on Villa Nova, on the walls many a landscape but also a reclining nude woman!
The two versions of “Napoleon crossing the Alps”, the shift in political accents when comparing the paintings by Jaques-Louis David and Paul Delaroche. Also of course, in connection to my magazine/ autobiography ‘Ezel’, the mule in Delaroche’s painting has my attention.
Gathering all this information brings an important question to mind, which is; am I still researching the theoretical context of my work over the past twenty years or am I building a new theoretical space for future works?
I convince myself that it is necessary to keep reflecting on my original research question, as I formulated it at the end of 2017 in the application for a gueststudio in Paris. This is; how can I as an engaged artist combine tradition and actuality in my practice and in what way can a study of 19th century practices help me in this?
To be honest I have to admit that a question like this also aims to find arguments to account for an already chosen direction. A given fact is that in my new works I already combine elements from the world of high art with imagery of caricature and catchpenny prints.
My ambition is clear, I want my works to function in society, through them I aim for dialogue and to take part in the democratic debate. I refuse to accept a marginal position for the arts in our days. A big inspiration for me is the status of the arts in the 19th century.