Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits


WILLEM VAN DEN BERG (The Hague 1886 – Leiden 1970)

A Woman of Almelo Wearing her Sunday Cap

signed WILLEM V.D. BERG. in the lower right

oil on panel

7 ¼ x 5 inches          (19.5 x 13.5 cm.)


Private Collection, Utrecht


Willem van den Berg’s A Woman of Almelo Wearing her Sunday Cap possesses a solemnity usually associated with medieval donor panels. Similarly posed, viewed in profile, garbed in black and wearing the equivalent of a wimple, the reference is unmistakable. Throughout his career Van den Berg’s admiration and fascination for the varying regional groups that dwelt in the Netherlands was a consistent factor in his output. In this panel he has painted a villager from the Almelo region and transformed her into an icon, yet incorporated elements indigenous to her home.

Our sitter is depicted in a white lace cap that was commonly worn around 1900 on Sundays, but “naked” as it lacks the elaborately woven ribbons traditionally worn to cover the thin plain ribbons that held the cap in place.[1] Just visible along the edge of the cap are gold ornaments affixed to a golden cap or plates that were worn beneath the outer-cap.[2] Her only other accessory is a red coral necklace with a gold clasp worn in the front. Coral was believed to ward off disease and evil spirits.[3]

Willem van den Berg painted still lifes, animals, genre, landscapes and portraits but was best known for his renderings of peasants, farmers and particularly Scheveningen and Volendam fisherfolk.  He first trained with his father Andries van den Berg a renowned painter, print-maker and teacher at the Academy in The Hague. He later enrolled at the Academie voor Beeldende Kunst in The Hague and was a student of Carel Frederick Louis Wild and Willem Adriaan van Konijnenburg. Van den Berg also took study trips to Belgium, Italy, England, and worked with the Barbizon artists in France. Afterwards he became an instructor in the Eerste Nederlandse Vrije Studio in The Hague.  In 1926 he exhibited a painting at the Jeu de Paume, Paris. In 1938 he moved to Amsterdam. From 1939 until 1953 he was the director as well as an instructor of the National Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam. He proved to be a popular teacher and his students included Jan Batermann, Joop Broek, Jacobus Johannes Brouwers, Jan Engelberts, Lydia Hoeffelman, C.J. ten Hoope and Kurt Löf among many others. In 1959 he received second prize at the International Art Exhibition in Edinburgh. He was a member of the “Arti et Amicitiae” Association in Amsterdam, the Pulchri Studio in The Hague and one of the Gooische artists who painted in Laren. He also worked as a graphic artist executing linocuts and lithographs. His works can be found in the museums of Amsterdam, Assen, Budapest, Deurne, Enkhuizen, The Hague, Laren, Rotterdam and Trieste.[4]

The chief influences on his work were the paintings of Willem Adriaan van Konijnenburg, Johann Joseph Aarts and as evidenced here the old masters.[5]  As a result of his time among the Barbizon painters, a connection to Jean François Millet is also evident.[6]  Van den Berg has been characterized as a naïve artist and was included in such shows as Meesters der Europese Naieven at the Centraal Museum, Utrecht in 1970. Such terminology seems somewhat inadequate when describing the particular magic this artist created as he always remained unaffected by contemporary trends, continually seeking his own way perpetually defying definition.[7]

We are extremely grateful to Dr. Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, Director of the Textile Research Center, Leiden for her assistance in the writing of this entry.



[1] Written communication from Dr. Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, Director of the Textile Research Center, Leiden, dated August 4, 2013.

[2] “Tour in the Netherlands” in The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle, volume 129, January to June 1821, John Nichols and Son, London, p. 515.

[3] Katlijne Van der Stighelen, “Peter Paul Rubens” in Pride and Joy, Children’s Portraits in the Netherlands 1500-1700, exhibition catalogue Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem, October 7 – December 31, 2000, p. 124.

[4] Biographical information taken from Hans Vollmer, Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler des XX. Jahrhunderts, volume A-D, Veb. E. A. Seemann Verlag, Leipzig, 1953, p. 177; Joachim Busse, Internationales Handbuch Aller Maler und Bildhauer des 19. Jahrhunderts, Verlag Busse Kunst Dokumentation GMBH, Weisbaden, 1977, p. 94; K.G. Saur, Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon Bio-Bibliographischen Index A-Z, München, 1999-2000, p. 318; and Dirck Brinkkemper, Peter Kersloot, & Kees Sier, “Willem Hendrik van den Berg” in Volendam Schildersdorp 1880 – 1940, Waanders Uitgevers, Zwolle, 2006, p. 56.

[5] K.G. Saur, op. cit., p. 318.

[6] Ellwood Hendrick “Netherlanders at the Arts,” in The Art World, A Monthly For the Public Devoted to the Higher Ideals, volume 3, The Kalon Publishing Company, Inc., New York, 1917, p. 234.

[7] Dirk Brinkkemper, op. cit., p. 56.

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