Oud Holland

May 2020: The breakthrough of Thérèse Schwartze

New issue: Oud Holland 133 (2020) 1

27 May 2020

Nineteenth-century Paris offered female artists opportunities, despite the fact that the art world was ruled by men and women were not admitted to official art institutes. The artist Thérèse Schwartze (1851-1918) was one of the few Dutch women to break through, as is shown in the current issue of Oud Holland.

This issue also focuses on a recently retrieved group of drawings and letters by Jan Toorop (1858-1928). In the present case, the coherence of the surviving works and relevant correspondence allow us to reconstitute a multifaceted picture of Toorop’s working practice and routine.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) included several black figures in his paintings, in mythological and Christian scenes in particular. This article argues that Rubens’ depiction of black Ethiopians might include symbolic references to alchemy and other scientific disciplines of his time.

The ‘fire wagon’ is a fascinating but neglected motif in Flemish and Brabantine art of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This article shows the meaning and use of this curious object. It describes a portable brazier with heated coals on four wheels that was easy to move from one place to another.

Tamara Dominici – A firepan on wheels: The mobile brazier in Flanders and Brabant in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries – pp. 1-9


This article deals with the presence of a specific type of a metal brazier, the fire wagon, in Flemish and Brabantine art of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. These works help us to understand the meaning and use of a curious object, that in the archival records is often referred to in Dutch as ‘vierwagen’ or ‘vuurwagen’. It usually describes a portable brazier on four wheels, that was easy to move from one place to another. Among the most relevant paintings in this context is the Ordeal by fire (ca. 1470), the right panel of The justice of Emperor Otto III, painted by Dieric Bouts (ca. 1415-1475). The archivist Edward van Even (1821-1905) was the first scholar to mention this motif. In particular, he associated the brazier with a similar fire pan mentioned in the Leuven Town Hall in 1470, which was made by the blacksmith Anthonysse Bruynincks.
Former scholars have generally concluded that these objects were relatively rare and unique at the time. In contrast to this, the author will show that the mobile brazier was, in fact, used as a tool in daily life, often to warm up large rooms in castles, abbeys, churches and workshops. Besides Bouts’ painting, the ‘vierwagen’ can also be recognized in Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen’s Saul and the witch of Endor (1526), and in the engraving The invention of book printing by Jan Collaert I (ca. 1530-1581). Moreover, the ‘vierwagen’ was also painted outside the Low Countries, mainly in Spain and Italy, as testified, for instance, by Pedro García de Benavarre’s Birth of the Virgin (ca. 1445) and Garofalo’s Holy Family (1515-1520). This suggests an international difffusion, at least on an artistic level, thanks to the presence of imported works of art or by Northern artists who had emigrated to the South.


Teresa Esposito – Black Ethiopians and the origin of ‘materia prima’ in Rubens’ images of Creation – pp. 10-32


Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) included several black figures in his paintings, in particular in mythological and Christian scenes. Scholars, among which Elizabeth McGrath, have devoted a great deal of attention to Rubens’ representation of Ethiopians, sometimes relating them to satyr-like, bacchanalian creatures in the company of Silenus, and in other cases as representatives of pagan people who became Christians. Relying largely on classical sources, McGrath further argued that in Rubens’ bacchic scenes, black participants were manifestations of natural exuberance and endless joy, while the inclusion of the African man among the saved in the Last Judgement (1615-1616) supports the view that Rubens did not convey any racial stereotypes. Building upon McGrath’s research, the author proposes alternative views of Rubens’ symbolic approach to the black figure in both secular and religious contexts.
The fascinating content of Rubens’ Theoretical notebook plainly shows how this erudite painter was very much aware of modern natural philosophical debates and contemporary notions of Paracelsian alchemy. This article sketches Rubens’ participation to an intellectual milieu wherein scientific subjects were discussed. For instance, Justus Lipsius (1547-1606) stated that knowledge of nature constituted an essential source of ‘philosophia moralis’. The allegorical reading of pagan myths and Christian narrative – a method encouraged by Lipsius – was conceived as an important tool for understanding the natural world. Commenting on early seventeenth-century discussions on the prime matter and its fundamental role in the creation of the universe and every existing being, the author argues that Rubens’ depiction of black Ethiopians might include symbolic references to alchemy and other scientific disciplines of his time. The intertwinement of the spiritual and material worlds makes Rubens a fascinating artistic interpreter of Lipsius’ revival of Stoic physics.


Hanna Klarenbeek – 'High working and high living': The Dutch portraitist Thérèse Schwartze (1851-1918) in Paris – pp. 33-64


Paris in the nineteenth century offfered young female artists, like their male colleagues, plenty of opportunities for artistic growth. The Amsterdam portrait painter Thérèse Schwartze (1851-1918) sojourned there at least seven times between 1878 and 1900. Despite the fact that the Parisian art world was ruled by men and that women were not admitted to official art institutes, Schwartze was one of the few Dutch women to nevertheless break through.
She exhibited frequently at the Paris Salon and took part in the various World Exhibitions that were organised there. With her paintings she managed to stand out of the crowd and be noticed by art critics, artists and art lovers. Her portraits were awarded with several honours. This eventually led the Galleria degli Ufffizi in Florence to commission a self-portrait for their famous artists’ portrait gallery. That likeness was honoured with a gold medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1889.
Schwartze’s success lay in the network of influential artists, critics and other notables whom she managed to group around her. Leading figure and portrait painters such as Jean-Jacques Henner and Léon Bonnat wielded their influence to help the talented young artist. Both the Dutch and French press took note of her travels, which in turn generated more portrait commissions in her homeland. Using a wide variety of primary sources, this article examines the obstacles Schwartze encountered in Paris and the strategies she relied on to as a woman to triumph in the artistic capital of Europe.


Bert W. Meijer – Arnhemse klanten van Jan Toorop: De familie Stokvis – pp. 65-76


A recently retrieved group of five drawings, five letters and two postcards by Jan Toorop (1858-1928), and a letter from his friend, the poet Miek Janssen (1899-1953), provide new insight into the nature of the contacts Toorop maintained with his customers. The related events mainly took place in the early years (1918-1919) of Toorop’s last or ‘catholic’ period in The Hague (1917-1928). The works by the artist, that play a role in this context, are still with the heirs of those who commissioned them, the Stokvis family.
Two drawings, made in Arnhem in 1919, are portraits of their children, Charlotte Hortense and Willy Stokvis. They form a modest addition to the more than five hundred known portraits by the artist. A third drawing, entitled Pitié, was purchased at the same time, and two small sketches – Sagittarius and Dinner at the Roskam – were probably a gift from the artist. The names of the sitters and clients of a considerable amount of Toorop’s portraits are known, but often there is no information on the facts and circumstances of a particular commission. In the present case the coherence of the surviving works and the relevant correspondence allow reconstituting a multifaceted and relatively exhaustive picture of Jan Toorop’s working practice and routine.