Several paintings which were shown in 2008 in the exhibition Black is beautiful, Rubens to Dumas have been further investigated by museum curators and independent scientists. The research has yielded surprising new insights. And even better: works are being removed from museum depots to be prominently hung on the museum wall. This indicates that there is certainly progress compared to 2008 in the field of showing black and brown people on European works of art. Below are four new discoveries.
New insight I Another century, another country
One work, that was shown at the exhibition in 2008, turned out to be, after technical research, not seventeenth century Flemish but eighteenth century English.
At the time it was a work that I really wanted to show because of the appearance, attitude and look of the person depicted.The many question marks and suggestions around this painting had given me enough reason to choose it in 2008 in the context of Dutch and Belgian depictions of black an brown people. There was another reason why I wanted to put it on display in Black is beautiful. Rubens to Dumas. The private owner, in 2008 art dealer Sam Nijstad, told me a story, when I visited him to see the work. A large collector from North America was interested in buying it. But the sale was canceled because the museum that would inherit the collectors collection warned him that they did not want to put this painting on display in the museum. If I remember correctly because it has a black person on it.
At the opening of the exhibition in 2008 experts discussed the identity of the person on the picture and the artist who could have painted it. In general, it was thought: seventeenth century (c 1640-1650) and by a Flemish painter (possibly Jordaens). The work was shown alongside another man with a weapon: The now famous painting by Jan Mostaert from the Rijksmuseum from the first quarter of the sixteenth century. (it is possibly a portrait of Christoph le Mohr in service of Charles V revealed research by Ernst van den Boogaart).
Nijstad died in 2011 and the painting was auctioned and bought by a collector in Great Britain. He ordered a technical investigation. Result: materials showed that it must have been made in Great Britain in the eighteenth century. Maybe this was a disappointment to the buyer but it has made the depiction of person no les interesting and the question of who is the artist is still open.
Similar works in the exhibition of which the maker and portrayed soldier was known.
The exhibition in 2008 featured several portraits of people whose names were known. Like two comparable portraits depicting nineteenth century soldiers. Eveline St Nicolaas of the Rijksmuseum found after a thorough investigation the name of a soldier on a intimate and peaceful painting by Isaac Israels. It is a portrait of the wounded war hero Kees Pop. He wears a striking red bandanna around his head under his military cap.
In the same period the painter Johan Coenraad Leich has a totally different approach with war hero Jan Kooij.
In contrast with Isaac Israëls’ interpretation of the Black KNIL soldier, Johan Coenraad Leich has taken the classical approach in his depiction of, Jan Kooi (or Kooij), for he has portrayed him as an important man and a hero, with all his medals clearly displayed. Glowing with pride and martial spirit, Kooi gazes directly at the viewer with clenched fist. His grey-green clothing fits him like a glove. Although he was shot ten times during the conflict in Atjeh, there is no evidence of these wounds. See for more on these two paintings and the portrait by Jan Mostaert elsewhere on this site.
New insight II The girl finally has a name: Isabella
The history and career of this small painting by Simon Maris from the Rijksmuseum is remarkable. Before 2008 it was rarely or even never on display and located in the museum depot. Now it is included in the permanent display of museum collection. And even more important: more research is been done on her identity, by Lisa Lambrechts.
In the painting we can see a young black woman in nineteenth-century clothing seated on a large, probably seventeenth-century chair, although it may also be a reproduction. The little portrait has a theatrical air – with contemporary eyes you could also call it somewhat kitschy – on account of the fan which the woman holds in her hand and the large hat against which her face stands out so beautifully. A mirror also shows her hat from the rear. The young woman’s face and hands have been finely finished, while her clothing has been painted in loose strokes around her. It is unquestionably well painted. Maris was a leading portraitist at that time.
The Rijksmuseum called the work in 2008 Little negress, while another, probably much later version has been entitled both Mrs. Allwood and Mrs. Alting. The latter title derives from an owner of the work who claimed to have bought the picture from Maris himself.
But recently junior curator of the Rijksmuseum Lisa Lambrechts discovered her real name, Isabella, in the archives of the RKD and she even found photographs of the young girl by Maris. These pictures reveal that she must have been very young, around 12 years old, at that time.
It turned out to be appealing news because two mayor Dutch newspapers payed attention to the discoveries by Lisa Lambrechts. Below a fragment of the article in De Volkskrant:
New insight III Not Ethiopian but African-Indonesian.
At the exhibition of 2008 four works were shown with the model Adolf Boutar (d).
This drawing is one of the few true portraits of Adolf Boutar(d). He is seated here in western clothing and seems to be rolling a cigarette. Boutar looks like a worker who has just taken a brief break. The setting might be a café. This portrait may have been drawn shortly before or after Boutar posed for the members of the Pulchri Studio society of artists. In contrast with the images produced by all the other artists who depicted Boutar in paintings, drawings or watercolours, there is nothing exotic about De Zwart’s drawing, unless it is the vague contour of what might be an earring.
Adolf Boutar(d) and Breitner
These three works by George Hendrik Breitner on display at BB, 2008, are some of the many studies, scribbles, sketches, watercolours and paintings which Breitner made of themodel Adolf Boutar. In 2008 I thought, because of the literature that was written about him, he was of Abyssinian, or Ethiopian descent.
However I could have known in 2008 that Boutar was not an Ethiopian. In 2001, the archivist if the Hague Municipal Archives Svend Veldhuijzen drew up a list of his 20 years long research into black and brown people in The Hague Municipal archives. He wanted to publish it in 2001, but the information was not found interesting enough. Unfortunately, I was, during the preparation the exhibition of BB 2008, not aware of this unpublished research by Veldhuijzen. Only years later, in 2017, it caught my eye during my quests for Willem Frederik Cupido and Guan Anthony Sideron in the Hague Municipal Archive (with thanks to Jean Jacques Vrij en Annemarie van der Vegt).
Veldhuijzens alphabetically prepared list tells us about Boutar: ‘Boutard, Adolph Louis Edouard. Born Rebin Ringie (Sumatra) 27-9-1839. The Hague 5.12.1889 married Anne Marie Cuvillier, born Antwerp 17.12.1827. Deceased The Hague 15.6 .1885. Lived in The Hague after moving from Brussels since 1881. Performed in a Japanese evening of the artists’ association Pulchri Studio in 1886.’ Veldhuijzen also recorded his offspring. ‘Jean Baptiste Joseph Boutard born in Brussels 10.1.1871, deceased no later than 1936.’ Jean Baptiste Joseph married and had eight children. He probably had a brother with the same name who had three children.
In short and important ‘new’ news: Boutard was not Ethiopian but Indonesian, probably of African descent. And he is thus closely linked to Dutch colonial history (like the two soldiers Jan Kooij and Kees Pop above). Between 1831 and 1872 the Koninklijk Nederlands-Indisch leger (Royal Dutch Indian Army or KNIL) recruited more than 3000 soldiers on the Gold Coast in West Africa, now Ghana, and a further number from the region that is presently Burkina Faso. The Dutch wished to deploy the KNIL to expand their influence into the region of Atjeh on Sumatra, as this was rich in peppers and probably oil as well. However, the people of Atjeh rapidly managed to modernise their army and fought back courageously after Dutch attacks. The war in Atjeh lasted from 1873 to 1904. Around 800 Ghanaians fought for the Dutch against the Atjehers. (see the two wounded ‘war hero’s’ above)
Last year curator Frouke van Dijke of the Art museum in The Hague also wanted to know more about the identity of Boutar because they were planning to display several works by Breitner on which the model is depicted. She gave a genealogist the order to find more, and this research provided even more details than Svend Veldhuijzen found. For example, Boutard called himself ‘chanteur ambulant’.
A Dutch published these ‘new’ findings.
Recent New Insight IV: Model Jimmy van der Lak turned out to be Lou Drenthe
Nola Hatterman portrayed this man in 1930, on a terrace with a cold glass of beer and an open newspaper. In the newspaper there are announcements of all kinds of performances, with the title Sonny boy in the Royal Theater particularly prominent. It was long thought that this man on the painting by Nola Hatterman was Jimmy van der Lak. That appears not to be the case. About a year ago Ellen de Vries, biographer of Nola Hatterman, discovered a letter in which Hatterman talks about this painting and she mentions the man who poses: Lou Drenthe.
It is now regarded as one of the museum’s masterpieces, but was lost from the collection about 22 years ago. Since its recovery, it has had a remarkable career. The painting was on the cover of the exhibition catalog Magie en Zakelijkheid in 1999-2000 (Museum of Modern Art Arnhem). It was a favorite of the (international) press during the exhibition Black is beautiful. Rubens to Dumas. It then hung for years as an illustration of Jazz in Amsterdam in a corner in the Amsterdam museum. And now it has finally been recognized as a masterpiece by the Stedelijk Museum of Amsterdam that has had it in its collection since 1932.
The painting is an excellent example of the New Objectivity. One of the characteristics of New Objectivity is the use of objects that say something about the function of a portrait’s subject. Other characteristics are the ‘tight’ brush technique, the revival of early Renaissance models and the tilted, shop-window perspective. People and things are clinically and clearly rendered or objectified. Or as Jacob Bendien and An Harrenstein-Schräder articulated it: ‘The New Objectivity ignores mood. However it places the emphasis on state and not on disposition. This is why it is hard and clear.’ A year before Hatterman painted this work the society of artists to which Hatterman belonged, De Onafhankelijken, had held the largest exhibition of New Objectivity to date in Europe in de Stedelijk Museum of Amsterdam. It must have made an indelible impression on Hatterman given the works she made shortly after. Some are in the Stedelijk Museum collection.
A newspaper paid attention to the visit of the descendants of Drenthe, who went to look at the painting together with Ellen de Vries. Their memories are recorded.
See also: www.nolahatterman.com
In 2008 I was guest curator of the exhibition Black is beautiful. Rubens to Dumas. Important advisors: Elizabeth McGrath (Rubens and colleagues, Warburg institute Image of the Black in Western Art collection), Carl Haarnack (slavery in books), Elmer Kolfin (slavery in prints and paintings) en Adi Martis (contemporary art). Gary Schwartz made his research for The Image of the Black in Western Art available to me.
In 2012 my Anniversary book: 100 years Schiller 1912-2012 was published. Initiative, idea, text and editing (ES). Design and photography Monica Schokkenbroek.
In 2013 my book Cobra aan de gracht / Cobra on the Canal was published by Samsara publications.
In 2014 my essay ‘Painted Blacks and Radical Imagery in the Netherlands (1900-1940)’ was published in The Image of the Black in Western Art Volume V (I). (ed. David Bindman, Henry Louis Gates jr.)
(With On the terras, by Nola Hatterman)
In 2017 I published a book about the black servants at the Court of the Royal Van Oranje family. More than a thousand documents have been found about their lives. (only in Dutch)
All photos on this site are not intended for any commercial purpose. I have tried to trace all the rules and rights of all images. As far as I know, these images can be used in this way. If you ar a copyright holder and would like a piece of your work removed or the creditline changed then please do not hesitate to contact me.