THÉRÈSE SCHWARTZE at Museum Paul Tetar Van Elven in Delft

Thérèse Schwartze (1851-1918) was one of the most sought after portraitists of the late nineteenth century. She painted the fine fleur of Dutch society and you could call her her majesty’s painter, having painted three queens. She asked large sums of about €50,000 for her works and nobody hesitated to pay them.

It was by no means a given fact that a woman painter in this era would be successful, let alone be as successful both nationally and internationally as Thérèse Schwartze was: she is the only Dutch female painter who is represented with a self portrait in the Uffizi in Florence.

Schwartze was born in an artistic family that loved travelling. Het grandfather had actually emigrated to the US, but her father, a reasonably talented portraitist, returned to Germany to finally settle down in Amsterdam. Even though she had a brother, her father decided that Thérèse’s talent was too great to go wasted so she was drilled to become a painter. Her sister Georgine pursued a career as sculptor (Thérèse tomb is by her hand).

Through her fathers network she received commissions already at the very young age of fifteen which resulted in a long term relationship with a number of the wealthiest families in Amsterdam. For instance four generations of the Van Loon family were painted by Schwartze. When her father died, Schwartze was only 23 and became responsible for her family’s income and she successfully took over the workshop.

Schwartze sold her very first works in Delft but her work can now be found in some of the big Dutch museums (the Rijksmuseum for instance owns Young Italian woman with the dog Puck painted between c.1879 – 1885). The majority of works are however, in private hands. It is thus no small feat for Museum Paul Tetar van Elven in Delft to convince these collectors to loan their works by Schwartze. And they look amazing, for this house (once owned by the modestly successful Delft painter Paul Tetar van Elven) resembles the very locations for which these painting were made.

My number one work in the exhibition is the pastel portrait of Mia Cuypers painted in 1886. Light blue is my favourite colour so that immediately struck a cord. After having spoken to the director of the museum Alexandra Oostdijk, the story related to this painting makes it even more interesting. Mia Cuypers was the daughter of Pierre Cuypers (yes, indeed, the architect of the Rijksmuseum and Amsterdam Central Station) and she fell in love with Frederick George Taen-Err-Toung, a Chinese merchant whom she met on the World Exhibition of 1883 in Amsterdam. Such a mixed relationship was unheard of and unacceptable in those days, which resulted in a book White and Yellow by Lodewijk van Deyssel, pseudonym for Mia’s nephew Karel Alberdingk Thijm. Despite all the objections Mia and Frederick married and Frederick had Schwartze make this portrait of his wife. That she was dressed in Japanese attire, does not make the pastel any less attractive!

This exhibition will run until the beginning of May and information in English is available. The English biography about Thérèse Schwartze ‘Painting for a living’ by Cora Hollema was recently published and is available in the museum’s book shop.  Wendy Fossen   17th January 2022