AGNIETA CORNELIA GIJSWIJT (Gorinchem 1873 – Amsterdam 1962)
The Art Student
signed and dated on the depicted picture frame in the upper right A.C. Gijswijt 04, and numbered 55 on the reverse
oil on canvas
19 ¼ x 25 ½ inches (48.8 x 64.7 cm.)
Private Collection, Chicago, until 2015
The Art Student was executed in 1904. Undoubtedly the setting is the Dagtekenschool voor Meisjes in Amsterdam where Agnieta Cornelia Gijswijt was a teacher. Intensely focused on the task at hand, a young art student attempts to paint a daisy onto the surface of a vase. A difficult task for an experienced paintress; for a student the standard advice was considerable practice, and “wiping it off repeatedly, until the teacher considers it done well enough to be preserved by firing it”. Her effort to succeed is palpable. The white shirtwaist defines the student as a modern woman. Designed to resemble menswear with a folded over collar and tie, but retaining a hint of femininity with puffed and pleated sleeves, this garment permitted an unprecedented freedom of movement. As these blouses were mass produced, they were affordable and were also easily laundered. They essentially became the uniform of working class women of the period. Her only accessory is a maroon beaded necklace.
Gijswijt began her studies at the Rijksadademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam, from 1893-1898. She studied with August Allebé, Carel Lodewijk Dake I, Nicolaas van der Waay, and Anna Wijthoff. Further study trips were taken to Paris, Belgium, London, Italy, and Normandy. She painted genre, portraits, still lifes, and cityscapes, executed in oil, watercolor, and pencil, as well as etchings. Starting in 1903 until 1924, she was a teacher at the Dagtekenschool voor Meisjes. The school was founded in 1878 as part of the Maatschappij voor de Werkenden Stand (Society for the Working Class), and prepared girls for entrance into the Normaalschool, the Rijksacademie van Beeldende Kunsten, or for a drawing teacher’s certificate. The school had come to fruition largely due to the efforts of Jeltje de Bosch Kemper (1836-1916), an advocate of economic independence for women. She devoted her life to opening up new work opportunities for women, which she believed were based on a foundation of proper education. One area in particular that De Bosch Kemper regarded as potentially offering women financial security, was in the production of pottery and decorative objects, that could then be sold in shops and stalls they owned. Women had been traditionally viewed by men as “somehow biologically fit for making domestic wares” being more “dexterous, delicate, and meticulous” and “better at designs drawn from nature and subject matter that dealt with flowers and children”. Further it was felt that their retiring and modest nature “made them particularly well suited for semi-skilled, repetitive work”. De Bosh Kemper used such prejudices to full advantage in her endeavor for female independency.
Gijswijt’s students included Jo van Oosten Slingeland, Catharina Elisabeth Wassink, and Engelien Reitsma – Valença. Reitsma-Valença recalled Gijswijt as an excellent teacher who helped her cram for the entrance exam to the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten. She also associated Gijswijt with the Amsterdam Joffers, because of the commonality found in their art. The Joffers were a group of female artists working in Amsterdam during this period, whose members included Lizzy Ansingh, Jo Bauer, Ans van den Berg, Nelly Bodenheim, Marie van Regteren Altena, Coba Ritsema, Coba Surie, and Betsy Westendorp-Osieck. Their diverse styles were categorized as aligned with Dutch Impressionism. Evidence of Gijswijt’s close affiliation to the group is further suggested by a 1919 portrait of Nelly Bodenheim at work, now in the collection of the Instituut Collectie Nederland, Amsterdam. Gijswijt was a member of Arti et Amicitae and Vereeniging Sint Lucas. In 1899 and 1903 she took part in contemporary art exhibitions in Amsterdam, as well as in Arnhem, 1901. In 1904 she illustrated the book Sprookjes uit Indie (Fairytales of India) by Lina Tervooren. One work by the artist is in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Exemplified by both painter and sitter, The Art Student constitutes a rarity in art of the period, as it documents the changing lifestyles of Dutch women in the early part of the twentieth century. Freed from past constraints, under the guidance of such as Gijswijt who stood at the forefront of women who devoted their lives to art and female education in a progressive school, this student represents the future’s potential. Gijswijt’s portrayal of the painting of a daisy as a revolutionary act is a brilliant summary of the struggle.
 Linna Irelan, “Pottery” in Appendix to the Journals of the Senate and Assembly of the Twenty-Ninth Session of the Legislature of the State of California, volume IV, State Printing Office, Sacramento, CAL., 1891, p. 256.
 Amy T. Peterson, Ann T. Kellog, Clothing Through American History: 1900 to the Present, Greenwood Press, 2008, p. 174; and “Shirtwaist” in Encyclopedia of Fashion at fashionencyclopedia.com.
 Biographical information taken from Bart de Cort, I Laugh When I Hear That the Fish in the Water is Thirsty, Engelien Reitsma-Valença (1889-1981) drawer, graphic artist, painter, Lulu, 2009, pp. 29, 133, fn. 46; and “Agnieta Cornelia Gijswijt” on rkd.nl (RKD Explore).
“Jeltje de Bosch Kemper” in Online Dictionary of Netherlands URL on resources.huygens.knaw.nl/vrouwenlexicon/lemma/data.
 Pamela H. Simpson, “Review, Potters and Paintresses: Women Designers in the Pottery Industry 1870-1955” in Women’s Art Inc., volume 13, no. 2, p. 47.
 Dr. Ilya Sandra Perlingieri, “Paintresses: Victorian Women China Painters and Potters” on www.antiquesjournal.com, p. 3.
 Bart de Cort, op.cit., pp. 29, 133, fn. 47; and “Agnieta Cornelia Gijswijt” on rkd.nl, op. cit..
 “Amsterdamse Joffers” on rdk.nl (RKD Explore).
 Pieter A. Scheen, “Agnieta Cornelia Gijswijt” in Lexikon Nederlandse Beeldende Kunstenaars 1750-1880, Uitgeverij Pieter A. Scheen BV,’s-Gravenhage, 1981, p. 185.