14 July 2018 till 18 November 2018

By the sea

Jan Toorop, Piet Mondrian and Jacoba van Heemskerck

Piet Mondriaan (1872-1944) Seascape, 1909 Oil on cardboard 34.5 x 50.5 cm  Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

In the early 20th century, the coast of Zeeland exerted a magical pull on artists. Domburg, in particular, would see a steady procession of painters in the summer who were inspired by the landscape and the phenomenal, bright light. The most famous of these were Jan Toorop, Piet Mondriaan and Jacoba van Heemskerck. They fell under Domburg’s spell, and began producing colourful, sparkling paintings with glorious light effects. The sea was their main subject, but they also painted the characteristic landscape of dunes, with church towers, lighthouses and other features that can still be seen to this day. With more than fifty paintings, the exhibition promises to take the visitor on a delightful journey through a beautiful part of the Netherlands.

They beautifully capture the splendour of the sky, light and water in combination in a completely different style.

Although they were all at different points in their development as artists, Piet Mondrian, Jan Toorop, Jacoba van Heemskerck and Ferdinand Hart Nibbrig enjoyed lively social contact with each other between 1908 and 1915 during their frequent visits to Zeeland. All four drew inspiration from the beautiful surroundings there, and shared their experiences. They were concerned first and foremost with artistic matters like light and colour. Each painted in their own version of the Luminist style, producing some highly attractive paintings, vibrant, colourful, works with magnificent light effects.

The work that Jan Toorop (1858-1928) made in Zeeland not only shows his great urge to experiment, but also his love of the light and nature. Toorop was the first one to start visiting Domburg, in 1898, and he had a great interest in the people of Zeeland and their work on the land and at sea. His works from around 1903 are in a charming pointillist style, while in later years he opted for gradually looser and wilder brushstrokes that make a much more spontaneous and lively impression. This style is known as divisionism. In his work, Toorop was seeking ‘the deeper essence of reality’, and was at this time becoming more and more influenced by Catholicism. He had a large network, and in the summer months he was the hub of the group of artists working in Domburg. Toorop produced paintings and numerous drawings depicting country life on Walcheren and the bathers at the beach. The exhibition traces his development with a fine selection of his Zeeland work.

Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) visited Domburg for the first time in 1908. He stayed at Loverendale Villa, the summer home of art collector Marie Tak van Poortvliet and her partner, artist Jacoba van Heemskerck. Charley Toorop, daughter of Jan, recalled how ‘that mad Mondrian sat in a Buddha pose right in the middle of the beach’. At first he was interested most of all in the houses and other buildings in Domburg. The style of Lighthouse at Westkapelle and Little House in Sunlight of 1908 is very similar to Toorop’s divisionism. Their subjects also overlapped. Mondrian returned to Domburg in 1909, this time with his friend Cornelis Spoor of the Theosophical Society. The sea views and dune landscapes he produced then seem to stem from an inner perception of nature rather than any attempt to ‘objectively’ depict it. By the Sea will show how Mondrian explored this spiritual approach in his Zeeland work (towers, churches, dunes, sea views and trees) and in the years that followed.

Jacoba van Heemskerck (1876-1923) had an asthmatic condition and the sun and sea were good for her health. Van Heemskerck and her partner Marie Tak van Poortvliet lived separately in The Hague. Tak van Poortvliet had Loverendale Villa built at the base of the dunes near Domburg. The two women spent their summers together there from 1908. Jacoba was inspired by the natural environment in Zeeland, the dunes and the characteristic trees. This place was also important for Mondrian. He made sketches of a distinctive tree in the garden of Loverendale, preliminary studies for The Red Tree (1908-1910). For the first few years, Jacoba was still exploring artistic styles. Partly under the influence of Mondrian, her interest in theosophy began to grow. She was advised by Jan Toorop, and so initially began working in a Luminist style. One fine example of this work is Two Trees (1910) from the Gemeentemuseum’s collection. Shortly afterwards, Cubist influences made their way into her work, as they did with Mondrian. Eventually, she developed an entirely unique form of Expressionism akin to the style of the German Expressionist movement Der Sturm.

Having been encouraged by Jan Toorop, Ferdinand Hart Nibbrig (1866-1915) spent the summer in Zoutelande in 1911. The landscape and the surrounding area inspired him so much that he had a villa built in the dunes, and returned every summer until his death in 1915, making pointillist paintings in which he attempted to capture the bright light. Hart Nibbrig wanted to depict the landscape and his experience of it as ‘truthfully’ as possible, and so his work process was a lengthy one. He would make several sketches outdoors and only then would he start work on the painting in his studio. There, he would create the painting bit by bit. The exhibition will feature several village and beach scenes that are imbued with an unshakeable sense of calm.

A summer magazine will be published to accompany the exhibition (available at the museum shop, price €7.50). The exhibition will overlap for two months with The Hague School & Scheveningen, with work by Hague School artists like Jan Hendrik Weissenbruch, Anton Mauve, Willem Roelofs and the Maris brothers, with a particular focus on pieces they made in Scheveningen, the nearby seaside resort. They beautifully capture the splendour of the sky, light and water in combination in a completely different style.

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