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Paint brush princesses & Professional paintresses

Publication and Database
The exhibitions

Throughout the nineteenth century female artists in Holland gained in prominence, more so than in previous centuries. They began exhibiting and selling their work more and more often. Furthermore, they became members of artists’ guilds and from the eighteen fifties the academies of fine arts gradually opened their doors to female applicants. In short, as the century wore on, they progressively took their place in the art world.

In the present art historiography on the nineteenth century, female artists of the time play a modest role. Their position and development have till now been underexposed. This is mainly due to the persistent misconception that it was inappropriate for ladies to strive to be a professional artist and that (well-to-do) ladies only practiced the visual arts as a hobby.


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Thérèse Schwartze, Portrait of Queen Wilhelmina at the time of the inauguration, ca 1898, oil on canvas, 202 x 136 cm, House of Orange-Nassau HistoricCollections Trust, The Hague

The works by these women often remain forgotten for years in Dutch museum storage depots. It is regrettable to see that they lack in the attention they deserve, considering they are generally of a high quality and would not be out of place in the permanent collection of many a museum. In only a few locations, such as The Mesdag Collection in The Hague and Het Loo Palace in Apeldoorn, does one get a wider impression of the female artists of this century. Both museums are responsible for a respectable number of works of art by female artists from the nineteenth century and almost all of these are presented in their permanent collection.

The RKD, The Mesdag Collection and Het Loo Palace would like to bring attention to female artists active in Holland in the nineteenth century by conducting extensive art historical research, and in doing so pull them out of obscurity. In February 2012, the results of this project, that started in 2008, will be presented in various ways.

Publication and Database
All of the biographical data on female artists gathered during this investigation have been incorporated into RKDartists& and the database now counts 1100 names of Dutch female artists who were active between 1808 and 1913, the cut-off points of this study. Where possible, three or more works by each one have been entered into the RKD’s digital image bank, RKDimages. These two databases constitute the digital appendices of the Dutch publication ‘Penseelprinsessen en broodschilderessen. Vrouwen in de kunst 1808-1913’ (Paint Brush Princesses & Professional Paintresses. Women in the fine arts 1808-1913), with a summary in English, printed by Thoth Publishers in Bussum. This book affords numerous new insights into the position of Dutch female painters in the nineteenth century and its development, and draws attention to many talented but forgotten individuals.

Look up more than 1600 works of art by paint brush princesses and professional paintresses in RKDimages

The exhibitions
It simultaneously serves as the catalogue for the double exhibition Penseelprinsessen (Paintbrush princesses) to be held in Het Loo Palace from 18 February to 27 May 2012 and in The Mesdag Collection from 30 May to 26 August 2012. The presentation in Apeldoorn emphasises female artists in and around the Dutch court. The exhibition in The Hague focuses on professional female artists of the nineteenth century. Together, the museums will be displaying more than 150 paintings, miniatures, drawings and sculptures by known and unknown female artists that for the most part have rarely, if ever, been seen in museum galleries.

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Sientje Mesdag-van Houten, At the Veluwe: the Bennekom Hay, before 1891, oil on canvas, 101 x 125 cm, The Mesdag Collection, The Hague

This project is partly made possible by the Mondriaan Foundation, the SNS REAAL fund, Pieter Haverkorn van Rijsewijk Foundation, the Harten Fund Foundation, the J.E. Jurriaanse Foundation and the Gijselaar-Hintzen Fund.

Do you have any information on a female artist from this period or would you like to find out more about the project? If so, contact:

Hanna Klarenbeek, MA
Researcher/guest curator


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