Schoonhoven at Prinsenhof in Delft

Artworks on paper are extremely fragile as is shown by the impressive Apostle House by Jan Schoonhoven (1914-1994), now on display at the Prinsenhof in Delft. Measuring 36 x 35,5 x 9 cm it is quite large considering the fact it is all made of card board and paper and besides that it is almost seventy years old.

After an intensive restoration project, the Apostle House has been cleaned of dead insects, dents have been removed and it is now standing tall again for all of us to admire.

Schoonhoven is one of the most famous post war artists of The Netherlands known for his minimalist works of art. Well known are his papier maché works of white reliefs which he started making in the second part of his career. Born in 1914, he attended the Academy of Fine Arts in The Hague and worked in an Expressionist manner being inspired by artists like Paul Klee and Otto Dix.

After the Second World War he was searching for a new style and fell into a depression. To keep himself occupied he started making toy buildings of paper for his little son. Quite enjoying to work with this material, he decided to make some constructions for himself. Being a devout catholic he was attracted by the tall Gothic churches as well as by the architecture of his hometown Delft. Quite a few of his later reliefs can actually be related to detailed photographs he had made.

Stepping in the footsteps of Vermeer, the play of light and shadow also became a source of inspiration for Schoonhoven. His rhythmic repetitions of his handmade paper reliefs change continuously depending of the atmospheric circumstances. Having turned into an artist of abstract works, he became one of the founding members of the ‘Nul group’ which started in 1960. In their conviction, art should not communicate any ideas nor convey any emotion. Schoonhoven therefore gave his works alphanumeric titles: R for Relief or T for Tekening (= Drawing) followed by the year and the serial number.

The ‘Apostle house’ (ca. 1955) turned out to be crucial in his artistic development for while working on it he explored the possibilities of ordinary materials like cardboard, papier maché and toilet paper rolls which resulted in his reliefs made of only these materials.

Slim and tall it reminds us of the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, a fine example of the Radiant Style of Gothic architecture. The link between his later work is the bottom of the work: a geometric pattern to stabilise the card board structure.

Schoonhoven didn’t just build a chapel, he also filled it with 40 saints, angels and holy animals, all cut out from cardboard. Together they represent the house of God for Schoonhoven placed them in a hierarchical positions: the closer to the top the more important the saint is.

I wish they could have made a 3D impression of the house which would allow you to wonder through the building and seeing the figures up close. Nonetheless, the video about the restoration process gives you ample insight views to help you imagine what the inside looks like.   Wendy Fossen  1st July 2021