Large Doll’s House of Lita de Ranitz at Haags Historisch Museum

    Jessie Burton’s novel and subsequent TV series The Miniaturist made the doll’s house of Petronella Oortman world-famous and hoards of people went to the Rijksmuseum to see it. But did you know they are more showcases doll’s houses in Dutch museums? Contemporary ones to Petronella’s you find in the Frans Halsmuseum in Haarlem and in the Centraal Museum in Utrecht. At the Kunstmuseum in The Hague you can marvel at the 18th century doll’s house of Sara Rothé van Amstel. Also in The Hague, at the Haags Historisch Museum in a newly designed room, the Large Doll’s House of Lita de Ranitz (1876-1960) built in the early 20th century can be admired. Like the illustrious 17th and 18th century predecessors this house is not meant to play with, these are showpiece doll’s houses. Of course throughout the centuries the majority of doll’s houses were toys and only a smaller number were used as a showpiece. However, in the 19th century the toy doll’s house became more an instruction model: while playing children would learn how a household was run.
   This was also the case when Lita, as a small girl, played with the doll’s house her father had made. When in 1908 the exhibition Opvoeding van het kind (Education of the child) was organised, she decided to send in her old doll’s house. She patched it up here and there to make it presentable again.
   After the show closed, the house remained in her room (she was still single at the time) and she started to collect more items for the house until no more objects fitted in. At first she thought an extension to the house would suffice, but a teacher at the local vocational school suggested a completely new house. The idea appealed to her, as she writes ‘I could have a house without land, without taxes, without expensive maintenance, at construction costs that were not too much above my means‘.
   In 1910 the completion of the new doll’s house was celebrated by hoisting the Dutch flag on top. It was constructed according to Lita’s wishes and modelled after the type of Swiss style houses that were built in the Statenkwartier in The Hague. Like these, Lita’s  freestanding villa was equipped with modern features such as electric light, a bathroom with bath, a telephone and central heating. There is even a vacuum cleaner!
   Many people came to marvel over the house and brought items to decorate it. Even Queen Emma dropped by, signed the guest book and gifted an ivory table with a chess set. Lita’s friends and family helped her fill the rooms with al kinds of wonderful miniatures from all over the world.
  The most impressive items in the house however, are the miniature paintings (size credit card). Many The Hague School painters donated a miniature painting for the house. You can spot works by Anton Mauve, Paul Gabriël, Johan Akkeringa and Willem Bastiaan Tholen (with whom she married years later). They loved doing that, or as Jan Toorop said to Lita when he saw her doll’s house at an exhibition: ‘Child, I will also make a painting for your house’.
   She was no child anymore at the time, but her passion for doll’s houses never disappeared and at the end of her live she owned no less then twenty doll’s houses and doll’s rooms, some of which are on display next to the Large Doll’s House at the Haags Historisch Museum in The Hague.    Wendy Fossen   31st March 2024