LAWRENCE STEIGRAD FINE ARTS

Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits

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

Grootvader en Kleinkind (Grandfather and Grandchild)

signed C H van Wyk on the base

bronze, golden-brown patina

height: 13 inches (33 cm.), width: 13 inches (33 cm.), depth: 13 inches (33 cm.)


RELATED LITERATURE

B.L. Voskuil, Jr., Tentoonstelling van bronzen door Charles van Wijk, Amsterdam, 1901, unpaginated, no. 3

Helena Stork, Charles van Wijk exhibition catalog, Katwijks Museum, July 3–September 25, 1999, p. 66

 

Charles van Wijk’s (or Wyk) practical training began 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 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 schooling, 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 literarlly 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 (cire perdue) method” which permitted a freer handling but was lengthy and labor-intensive. Van Wijk did everything himself including the chasing and patination that 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 his work. He preferred executing small pieces, never higher than about 55 centimeters. Although his chosen medium was bronze, it often proved too costly and time-consuming for every sculpture. Some subjects exist only in plaster while others were just given a bronze coating. Striving to record his impressions through sculpting, he regarded such details as the mark of a fingerprint as adding to the overall expression of the piece. He also occasionally employed stone, marble or wood.[2] 

Around 1905 Van Wijk married Anna Maris, the daughter of the Hague School painter Jacob Maris. 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.[5]

After 1906 the majority of his work was devoted to commissioned portraits and monuments. One of the most moving is the memorial sculpture, executed 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 in public collections are in the museums of Amsterdam, Dordrecht, Enkhuizen, Haarlem, The Hague, Harderwijk, Katwijk, Laren, Rotterdam and Schiedam.

Either the work here or another cast of Grootvader en Kleinkind was first shown at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, exhibition of Leevende Meesters (Living Masters) in 1899 (no. 462). As was Van Wijk’s practice no more than three versions of this composition would have been cast. Our cast or another was next shown in October 1901 at an exhibition put together by the modern art dealer Bartholomeus Lambertus Voskuil in Amsterdam. At that point the bronze was the property of Heer Dentz v. Schaick.

Grootvader en Kleinkind is an early work in the sculptor’s oeuvre and although only 33 centimeters high, the bronze possesses a monumentality that resonates from its subject matter. It depicts iconic figures of the Hague School tradition of an old seaman and young girl who embody the past and future of the fishing communities. The sitters are inhabitants of Scheveningen, identifiable by the granddaughter’s cap. Van Wijk who was known to have always worked from life, was consumed by the reality of the harshness of the lifestyle of the villagers of the coastal towns along the North Sea. Deeply sympathetic to his subjects, the exaggeration of the grandfather’s hands, which must have cast and hauled endless nets and enormous wooden shoes that would have clomped countless miles, creates the image’s poignancy. Charles Fish Howell in a 1912 report expressed the general esteem placed upon the old fishermen of Scheveningen. “The faces of the elder fisher-folk are studies in wrinkles. Their eyes are brave and quizzical, but with a certain settled hardness, not perhaps to be unlooked for in men and women who came of a stock that for five hundred years has forced even the savage North Sea to yield them a livelihood … strong faces are these, hard, weather-beaten faces, but eloquent of tenacity and desperate courage. They have been called ‘the most poetic and original of all Hollanders.’”[7] In quiet contrast is the gentle figure of the young granddaughter absorbed in the knitting of a sock. It was very common at this time for Dutch women of all ages to walk around knitting as they pursued errands or waited on the beach for the return of the fleet.[8] As intended, the vigorous sculpting of this poetic union of youth and age in Grootvader en Kleinkind triggers a showering of light throughout, presenting a surprisingly different impression of the group from varying angles, in which humility ultimately coalesces into nobility.

 

 

[1] Biographical information taken from Helena Stork, op. cit., pp. 11–13; and Arend-Jan Sleijster, Willy Sluiter en de Kunstvereeniging ‘Katwijk’, 1908–1910, exhibition catalog 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] Ibid p. 36.

[7] Charles Fish Howell, Around the Clock in Europe, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 1912, pp. 144-145.

[8] Gussie Packard Dupois, “Our Picture Supplement and Its Artist,” in Intelligence: A Journal of Education, E.G. Vaile Publisher, Chicago, Illinois, June 1, 1901, p. 434.

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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