Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits


CHARLES HENRI MARIE VAN WIJK (The Hague 1875 – The Hague 1917)

Babykopje Met Muts (Baby with Bonnet: The Artist’s Son)

signed Charles v Wyk in the lower left

bronze, golden brown patina

height: 6 inches          (15.2 cm.)


Private Collection, Chicago until 2012


Charles van Wijk’s (or Wyk) practical training began early in the foundry of his father Henry B. van Wijk in The Hague. Van Wijk’s skills in sculpting were obvious from a young age and encouraged by his father. Drawing lessons began with his uncle Arie Stortenbeker an amateur painter and by 1887 at the age of twelve he was enrolled at the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague. The chief instructor was the Belgian sculptor Antoine ‘Eugene’ Lacomble who taught Van Wijk the art of modeling. The painter Fridolin Becker, another professor at the academy during this period, was also influential. Throughout his formal studies he continued to work in his father’s shop. After completing his studies, Van Wijk was granted an internship at the famous Parisian foundry F. Barbedienne, secured by a letter of recommendation from the Amsterdam philanthropist and art collector A. C. Wertheim. The Parisian Foundry was the largest and most modern of the period and specialized in the casting and finishing of small sculptures in different metals and sizes, the perfect environment in which to hone his skills. From 1896 – 1897 the artist worked in Brussels where he came under the influence of the Flemish sculptors’ Charles van der Stappen, Jef Lambeaux and most importantly Constantin Meunier. In direct opposition to the period’s dominant classical sculptural tradition, Meunier embraced the plight of the common laborer as his subject-matter. He literarily put the heroics, pride and pathos of the worker engaged in the struggle for survival on a pedestal. Divorced from the excesses associated with contemporary sculpture these figures are muscle-bound yet generalized forms that bluntly engage the viewer. Van Wijk shared this interest in the portrayal of the mundane, subjects he had tentatively investigated prior to his contact with Meunier.[1]

Upon his return to The Hague themes of the commonplace came to the forefront of his work. Executed in a naturalistic yet impressionistic manner, echoing the subject-matter of the Hague School painters with long periods spent in Katwijk, Van Wijk’s studies of the lives of its fisherfolk now dominated his output. He worked outside dragging clay packed in wet rags in a wheelbarrow to enable modeling from life while observing subjects engaged in their daily routine. Not possible in the studio, he further explored the effects of light, air, and weather on his work which aided in his development of a strong sense of line and volume. He regarded natural light as the key to his impressionistic method. He used these clay models to cast in bronze employing the “lost wax method” (cire perdue) which permitted a freer handling but was lengthy and labor intensive. Van Wijk did everything himself including the chasing and patination which resulted in a high level of perfection to the finish. Each subject consisted of at most three casts, although in some cases he did variations. He never numbered images and rarely dated. He preferred working on small pieces, never higher than about 55 centimeters. Although his chosen medium was bronze, it often proved too costly and time consuming for every piece. Some subjects only exist in plaster while others were just given a bronze coating. Striving to record his impressions through sculpting, such details as the mark of a fingerprint was regarded as adding to the overall expression of the piece. He also occasionally employed stone, marble or wood.

Around 1905 Van Wijk married Anna Maris the Hague School painter Jacob Maris’ daughter. They lived in The Hague with neighbors’ Hendrik Willem Mesdag, Willem Maris, Jozef Israëls and Arthur Briet nearby. Another close friend was Willy Sluiter, with whom Van Wijk regularly traveled to Nunspeet, Elspeet, Scheveningen and Volendam to work. Van Wijk’s sculpture had proved popular from the start of his career, receiving his first gold medal in September, 1899 during the exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. In the Universal Exposition of Paris, 1900 and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St. Louis, 1904 he was also awarded gold medals. In 1915 he won a silver medal at the Panama – Pacific Exposition, San Francisco;[3] at which time an art critic wrote “the display of sculpture in the Netherlands section, while not otherwise important, is notable through the inclusion of three subjects by Charles van Wyk."[4] He was a member of both "Arti et Amicitiae" in Amsterdam and Pulchri Studio, The Hague, the main locations in Holland where contemporary artists could exhibit and sell their work. He also had regular shows at most of the important Dutch dealers of the period including Oldenzeel and Reckers, Rotterdam; Kunsthandel Buffa, Amsterdam; and J.J. Biesing, The Hague.

After 1906 the majority of his work was devoted to commissioned portraits and monuments. One of the most moving is the memorial sculpture 1914 – 1915 for the grave of the painter Bernardus Johannes Blommers which features a profile portrait of Blommers, a palette with brushes at its base and a weeping life-size figure of a young Scheveningen girl. The art publisher Harms Tiepen described it in terms of “monumental grandeur of poignant grief.”[6] Works held in public collections include the museums of Amsterdam, Dordrecht, Enkhuizen, Haarlem, The Hague, Harderwijk, Katwijk, Laren, Rotterdam and Schiedam. In the retrospective of Van Wijk’s work held at the Katwijk Museum in 2008 – 2009 there were two other Babykopje Met Muts identical to our work except one is plaster and the other plaster coated in bronze.[7] The piece represents one of Van Wijk’s three sons, Alfred Jacob (b. May 17, 1907) Jacobus Hendricus (b. August 4, 1909) or Hendrik Jan (b. October 23, 1911). From surviving letters and cards the artist had a very close relationship with these boys and not only sculpted their heads but feet and hands as well. Although he exhibited these “heads” they were never for sale during his lifetime. Charles Van Wijk regarded his family as more important than anything else in his life.[8] One has only to view Babykopje to know this to be true. Beautifully executed with painstaking patination it is the embodiment of pure joy and a testament to the overwhelming love a father has for his child.



[1] Biographical information taken from Helena Stork, Charles van Wijk, exhibition catalog Katwijks Museum, July 3 – September 25, 1999, pp. 11 – 13; and Arend-Jan Sleijster, Willy Sluiter en de Kunstvereeniging ‘Katwijk’, 1908

– 1910, exhibition catalogue Stichting Katwijks Museum, Katwijk, October 11, 2008 – January 10, 2009, pp. 131 – 132.

[2] Arend-Jan Sleijster, op. cit., pp. 12, 15, 34. [3] Ibid, p. 36 – 37.

[4] Christian Brinton, “Sculpture at the Panama – Pacific Exposition” in The International Studio, November, 1915, volume LVIII, no. 225, p. IX.

[5] Arend-Jan Sleijster, op. cit., pp. 36 – 37.

[6] Arend-Jan Sleijster, op. cit., p. 36.

[7] Ibid. For images see frontispiece and p. 56, no. 37. [8] Ibid, pp. 36 – 37.

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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