It’s perhaps fair to say that the work of Jan Veth is not widely known outside of the Netherlands, and even within the Dutch art world the names of his contemporaries such as Isaac Israels and George Breitner are more often found in the museums. All the more reason perhaps for a large scale gathering together of Veth’s work, which is exactly what can be currently found in the Dordrechts museum.
I don’t often go out of my way to see an exhibition that is almost entirely portraits. But I did know enough about the artist’s work to know that it might be worth the trip and give a look into the faces and lives around the artist in the at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century.
This is of course a period of huge changes in the art that was being made in Europe. The waves made by the Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, Cubists and others were sweeping across the continent. Jan Veth though was ploughing a very different furrow. Originally, he showed more interest in becoming a painter of the landscape, but became increasingly drawn towards portraiture making paintings, prints and drawings.
Walking around the exhibition there is an extensive collection of the artist’s work that the curators of the exhibition have brought together. Many of the paintings are quite formal the in the poses chosen, particularly when the subject is a man, although the couple of examples I’ve included below are rather the exceptions to this rule!
But it was the paintings of the women in the exhibition that I found myself returning to. These seemed to offer something rather different. Whether it was his three sisters posed sitting size by side, the stunning side on view of Maria Veldman against a swirling green background or the intensity of Davida Wilhelmina Hacke staring out at us the viewer, these are women and paintings with attitude. They look at us or past us, but either way, it feels like they know that we are there, and I think this is the reason I enjoyed the confrontation with them, because it did feel like a confrontation, not just a one-way encounter.