World Fine Art professionals and their Key-Pieces, 122 - Suze Robertson
Already in the early 20th century, Suze Robertson (1855-1922) was seen as the female companion of Vincent van Gogh. She was a little bit odd and went against the norm. A female artist, at that time, was something strange.
Like Vincent van Gogh, she searched her subjects for a while in Brabant, first in Dongen, then in Leur. Both artists were captivated by the life of the simple human being. Van Gogh drew spitters, sowers, peasants and peasant women. Robertson chose women and children as a model.
Already when she lived, she was considered a very talented artist, although her work was more appreciated by colleagues, art critics and art collectors than by the general public. Charley Toorop named her the most important artist from the 19th century.
The series of works Suze Robertson acquired most of her fame with is that where her servant maid Pietje was model. Liesbeth Brandt Corstius, nominated the portrait of Pietje on a farm chair in 2006 as being 'the most beautiful painting of the Netherlands'. Pietje was a simple peasant woman. Stately and sober she is sitting on her chair, the background decorated with gold. Thanks to Pietje, Suze Robertson could become one of the first female professional artists in the Netherlands.
Suzanne Robertson was born in The Hague on March 17 1855 as the youngest of nine children in the family of The Hague merchant John Robertson, who belonged to a Scottish family, and Maria Cornelia van der Vliet. When Suze was two years old, her mother died. She was raised with a sister by her uncle and aunt. The sisters were put together at the boarding school of Elize van Calcar in Wassenaar. Suze was especially fascinated by drawing and piano playing.
Elize, a sister of Geesje Mesdag-van Calcar, was a well-known progressive educator in that time. Doubting between a destination in music or in visual arts, Suze chose the last one. In 1874, she enrolled at The Hague Academy of Fine Arts. She turned out to be a talented student and soon her performances at the academy were awarded with several medals.
In 1877, Suze got her diploma. She then lectured until 1882 to the five-year high school for girls in Rotterdam. In these years she also began to paint. In order to improve herself, she entered the Rotterdam Academy of Fine Arts. She caused a scandal when she demanded, like her male colleagues, to be admitted to the ‘nude class’.
A local newspaper wrote it was a shame. However, Robertson didn’t feel like being sent away, the result is reflected in her work. She was able to display striking human figures, especially women, in their daily lives.
In 1882, Suze accepted a job at the Golden Girls School at the Herengracht in Amsterdam. In her free hours she visited the Rijksacademie, where she drew and painted models. She got friends with painters like Lizzy Ansingh, Marie van Regteren-Altena and Jo Bauer-Stumpff. Together they formed the group of Amsterdam Joffers - the name came from art critic Albert Plasschaert. It became increasingly difficult to combine her job with painting. She gave up her well-paid job as a drawing teacher and dedicated herself to the arts.
Pulchri Studio in The Hague
In the fall of 1884, Suze Robertson moved to The Hague, where she became a member of the pictorial society 'Pulchri Studio'. She made sure that women were allowed to attend the Pulchri reading table two hours a week, which was not permitted. She came in contact with painters like George Breitner, Van Gogh, Willem de Zwart and Richard Bisschop. She painted mainly portraits, nudes and still lifes.
In 1892 she married Richard Bisschop (1849-1926), painter of church interiors, and in 1894 their only daughter Sara was born, who would later make drawings and etches. Between 1895 and 1898 the family stayed in Leur, Brabant. Suze there gave drawing lessons to Doctor Dolk in exchange for free living space.
The family returned to The Hague in 1898, where Suze once again painted with a lot of energy. It was a productive period. The award of her work with gold medals at exhibitions in Paris and London in 1900 contributed to the decision to let daughter Sara be taken care of. All day she worked in her studio.
She focused on the subject and then painted her characters in a flow, in charcoal or chalk lines. In the first place, she wanted to express her social involvement and inner feelings in a spontaneous way. Her subjects remained traditional, but the effect was expressive and modern by her technique of powerfull broad paint motion. She is one of the first Dutch expressionists.
In 1907, she was invited to exhibit her work in the newly opened branch of the Larensche Kunsthandel in Amsterdam. Critics like G.H. Marius, Albert Plasschaert and C. Kikkert, art collectors and colleagues were very excited about her paintings. She solds for no less than ten thousand guilders, a major amount of money in that time.
For more than thirty years, Robertson was active as a painter. She was especially concerned with the lives of women in the countryside. Again and again, she portrayed them doing household work or production work in the textile industry and agriculture. You see women: peeling potatoes, washing dishes, cutting bread, washing clothes, knitting, breaking branches, putting the corn up and spinning on the spinning wheel.
In addition to the oil paintings, she also drew and painted many busy women. Particularly in the drawings it is striking how she learned to accurately depict human figures. The composition was carefully considered. The making on the canvas then went quickly. It seemed like she had finished in a very short time. But there was a lot of preparation in advance.
Honorary exhibition in The Hague
For the last seven years of her life, she often worked with her daughter Sara Bisschop, with whom she also had an exhibition in 1917. After she had an honorary exhibition in Pulchri Studio in 1921, she died on October 18, 1922 in The Hague at the age of 67.
After her death, her work was still regularly displayed. Major exhibitions were held in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in 1955 and in 1984 in the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, in 2003/2004 in the Museum Rijswijk and in 2008/2009 at the Museum Kempenland in Eindhoven.
Robertson's work is in museum collections of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Gemeentemuseum The Hague, the Groninger Museum, the Kröller-Müller Museum, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, the Rijksmuseum Twenthe and the Central Museum Utrecht.
Exhibition in Panorama Mesdag
In 2013 / 2014, Panorama Mesdag presented an overview of Suze Robertson’s works. Suze was friends with Geesje Mesdag-van Calcar and with Sientje Mesdag-van Houten, wife of the famous Mesdag and also a painter. In the new remodeled halls of Panorama Mesdag oil paintings and pastels by Suze Robertson were to be seen, and also some bills she had to pay, all from private collections.
1) Antiquities exhibited, 2) Batenburg church, 3) Self-portrait, 4) Pietje, 5) Pouring milk , 6) Woman at table, 7) Spinster, 8) Alley, 9) Reading girl