Anton Mauve, painting and social background

On 21 November, to Singer museum in Laren, the Netherlands.

Last year, bronze sculpture in its garden, by Rodin and others, had been stolen. It has been replaced with recent sculpture, like the “Braamboot” (blackberry boat), by Maria Roosen.

There are two exhibitions inside the museum with related themes. One is about nineteenth century painter Anton Mauve, who became well-known by painting sheep and other subjects around Laren. The other exhibition is about art owned by the local authorities in Laren, and Eemnes and Blaricum villages close to it. There is a link to a third exhibition as well. That exhibition is in Teyler’s museum in Haarlem. Its subject is Mauve, before he first came to Laren in 1882. The Singer museum Mauve exhibition is especially about 1882 to 1888, when the painter died while living in Laren, fifty years old.

Mauve is an interesting artist in various ways. Not just because of his works. Also because he gave his relative Vincent van Gogh his first lessons in painting. And because the links of his art to society, in the Netherlands; and also in other countries like the USA.

That the Singer museum is here today should be seen in a context of economical and social changes in the Netherlands in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. More specifically it is here, because its founder William Singer (1868-1943), being an admirer of Mauve, wanted to live where Mauve had worked.

This video, from 2013, is about a Singer museum exhibition about Anton Mauve and other Dutch impressionists.

The village of Laren is in a sandy hilly region, going from the southeast of Noord-Holland province to the southeast of Utrecht province. These hills arose during the Ice Age.

Traditionally, farmers’ and others’ incomes on this sandy soil were lower than in clay and/or peat regions surrounding the hills.

In the late nineteenth century, something changed. There was an influx in the hilly regions of het Gooi and Utrechtse heuvelrug of rich people; and, in some villages like Laren, also of artists. Ever since 1882, Laren had an advantage over other villages in that the tramway from Amsterdam stopped there.

Until then, rich people usually lived in the centres of cities like Amsterdam. And, if they lived in the countryside, along the Vecht river in the marshy region west of the hills.

During the nineteenth century, appreciation arose for the scenery of the sandy regions, partly stimulated by artists’ works. The sheep farming of a village like Laren so far had been a sign that farmers could not afford the cows of their richer colleagues. Now that painters saw those sheep as picturesque, rich people might want to build mansions near the scenery depicted by the artists. Some rich new immigrants to villages like Laren might buy works of art by other new immigrants, artists. In Eemnes, traditionally a richer, “cow”, not sheep village, not hilly, not sandy, this hardly happened. Today, Eemnes local authorities possess fewer works of art than their Blaricum and Laren colleagues.

The influx brought a rise in average income for villages here. However, an average not necessarily reflecting itself in better situations for local poor farmers and farm workers. Some individuals might make some money by occasionally posing as painters’ models.

William Singer to a certain extent might be included in both categories of immigrants. He was the son of a rich steel plant owner in Pittsburgh in the USA. However, he preferred art to steel. With his wife Anna, he went to Europe. In 1901, they settled in Laren. In 1911, there they had built the mansion De Wilde Zwanen, the core of the museum (and concert hall) buildings of today.

Singer did paint himself, though he became better known as an art collector than as an artist.

Anton Mauve, Shepherdess with flock

Some of the artists were unaware of poverty in a village like Laren where they worked, or at least did not show it in their work. Here, one is reminded a bit of the fictional stage character Clementine Bos, as written about by Herman Heijermans in 1900. Clementine, an artist, is sympathetically interested in poor fisher folks’ lives as a subject for her art; but does not really understand them. Anton Mauve had a view of the village poverty being romantically picturesque. His depictions of poor farmers, farm hands, shepherds and loggers show this. It was a problem for Mauve to identify with poor people, as he himself was far more commercially successful than most artists. He often had trouble keeping up with demand for his work. Rich people in the Netherlands, like Queen Emma, and in the USA, like steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, bought his art (“Forestry workers”, in Carnegie’s case). Both in views on poor people and in success while still alive, Mauve differed from Vincent van Gogh. Like with many other artists, after Mauve’s death even more money was made from his paintings. One was sold in the early twentieth century at an auction in the USA, for more money than a Rembrandt at the same auction.

Mauve was not the first painter who had discovered Laren, though his moving there was influential. The first painter there had been Josef Israëls in 1874. Mauve then still lived in The Hague, as part of the The Hague school. However, urbanization around The Hague limited Mauve’s choice of subjects for landscape painting there. Albert Neuhuys had followed Israels. He influenced Mauve’s work: so far, Mauve had either painted no, or small, human figures in his landscapes. In Laren, Mauve started to paint larger (romanticized) human figures, including inside buildings. Another influence here was Jean-François Millet from France, the only Barbizon school painter to depict many human beings.

Mauve himself was depicted too: by Wally Moes (1856-1918), one of just two female artists I saw at these two exhibitions. Another painting by her depicted girl pupils at the Laren seamstresses’ school. According to the exhibition, Ms Moes was one of the few artists genuinely interested in the fate of the poor people of Laren.

Another one was Chris Beekman (1887-1964). This communist artist, also represented in the Singer museum, depicted poor people of Laren in works like Drie figuren met handkar, from 1917. He also painted a portrait of famous Dutch social democrat, later anarchist Domela Nieuwenhuis, and was a co-founder of the De Stijl artistic movement, with links to abstraction and Dadaism.

Photos of the Mauve exhibition: here.

Back from the museum, across the heath so often depicted by Mauve and his colleagues. Porcelain fungus in woodland not far from the Laren heath.

Rightist philosopher Scruton and art: here.

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1 thought on “Anton Mauve, painting and social background

  1. Pingback: Van Gogh watercolour to museum | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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