WILLEM BASTIAAN THOLEN at Dordrecht Museum

W.B. Tholen   Self-portrait (1895) courtesy of Dordrechts Museum

At the moment, the Dordrecht Museum offers visitors two exhibitions. Its Slow Fashion,  as well as a retrospective on Dutch artist Willem Bastiaan Tholen (1860 – 1931). He was considered to be one of the most talented artists of his time. Though now mostly remembered as a landscape artist, he was known to be very versatile.

Tholen never finished secondary school, it seems. He preferred to nurture his talents and attended art academies in Kampen, Amsterdam, Delft. Though talented, he ensured he would be able to support himself by obtained teaching degrees. He did work as arts’ teacher for a while.

At the start of this exhibition, visitors come across works by a young Tholen next works by Paul Gabriël. Tholen spent time with Gabriël in the latter’s Brussels studio. Both are considered members of The Hague School, though some also call Tholen a Dutch impressionist. The friends likely influenced each other. They spent summer holidays painting typical Dutch landscapes in the areas around Kampen and Giethoorn.

At the time, Giethoorn was still a rural beauty of a Dutch village: unspoilt and undiscovered by tourism. There are quite a few wonderful scenes of Giethoorn’s characteristic bridges and women washing dirty dishes in ditches. But the scenes Tholen painted, soon attracted the first tourists.

Tholen was a keen sailor who became more and more successful. He had his own sailing boat built and started sailing and painting around the Zuiderzee, now known as the IJsselmeer. After typical Dutch landscapes with mills, cows and water meadows; visitors come across dreamy Zuiderzee fishing villages.

The weather in Tholen’s paintings always seems to be quiet and sunny. I only spotted one work showing a stormy Zuiderzee, as well as a small number of night-scenes. More characteristic seems Tholen’s painting ‘Dukdalf’ from 1919: no wind disturbs the water near Enkhuizen.

Once Tholen moved to The Hague, he joined its art scene. His friend Willem Witsen regularly invited Tholen to spend time at the Witsen family’s country estate. There, Tholen was not the only artist to stay with the Witsen family. He met other artists, including Breitner and Mauve. Meanwhile, Tholen’s work became internationally known, with paintings ending up in for instance American and Canadian collections.

Now mostly known as a landscape painter, contemporaries marveled Tholen was able to turn his hand at anything. Portraits are displayed in the middle section of this exhibition. Towards the end of the exhibition, some of Tholen’s drawings, sketch-books and prints are on show.

The exhibition shows roughly a hundred paintings; eighty drawings and etchings. Many of the exhibited works come from private collections. This retrospect is a joint project by the Dordrecht Museum and Fondation Custodia, in Paris. It first opened in Paris, before travelling to the Netherlands. Visiting it in Paris, journalist and television presenter W. de Bruin tweeted, it was well worth a visit. You can take him and me at our words!   Kate  12th February 2020

The exhibition Willem Bastiaan Tholen – een gelukkige natuur  continues until 1st June. Exhibition texts are in Dutch and English.