Uncompromising and incomparable – Museum Panorama Mesdag focuses on the forgotten artist Suze Robertson


‘Nelly at the Antiquities Stall’ by Suze Robertson (c. 1895-1898).Picture Piet Gispen Photography

She was a radical innovator who built self-consciously, uncompromisingly and undisturbed on her oeuvre for almost forty years. The themes she chose – still lifes, nudes, cityscapes and women in interiors – may have been mundane, her use of color and materials unparalleled and her technique groundbreaking. Streets are named after her, including in Amsterdam Overtoomse Veld, Almere and Hengelo. But who knows who she is anymore?

She has been wrongly forgotten as an artist, Suze Robertson (1855-1922), at the cradle of modern art in the Netherlands. The advocate here is Suzanne Veldink, head of museum affairs at Museum Panorama Mesdag. In 2013-2014, the museum in The Hague dedicated a small exhibition to Robertson, who was friends with the founders of the museum: Hendrik Willem Mesdag and Sientje Mesdag-van Houten. The couple also collected her work, thereby supporting her during difficult times.

From 2018, Veldink worked together with art historian and fellow curator Kees van der Geer and painting restorers Annemiek van Stokkom and Laura Kolkema on the extensive and very careful study around the corona restrictions. Suzie Robertson. dedicated. quirky. Modern. which was published ahead of a major retrospective opening on September 24. At the time, writes Veldink, they could not have imagined that various projects in 2022 would focus on female artists and their place in art history – such as the biography of Jolande Withuis and the six exhibitions on the equally passionate Jeanne Bieruma Oosting (1898 – 1994 ).

live naked

Susanne Robertson was ‘born to art’ in The Hague on 17 December 1855, as chairman Hendrik Haverman of the Hague artists’ association Pulchri said when she died. Her drawing talent was recognized at an early age, but was not encouraged with a ninth child of a bankrupt timber and brickwork merchant – her mother died when she was less than two years old.

From a foster family, she ended up in 1867 in the Nederlandsch Opvoedingshuis, a boarding school in The Hague, where drawing lessons were given; she came out with a “certificate of competence as a home teacher in drawing”. But she wanted more and persevered – it is Kees van der Geer who records her life story in detail. How she graduated with extra honors from the Art Academy in The Hague, which had only become possible for women a few years earlier. How she taught for a living; first in The Hague and then in Rotterdam, where she enrolled at the Rotterdam Academy. How, to her chagrin, she was not allowed to draw from the living nude like her male classmates – something she eventually got to do, an example of her determination and will.

In 1883, Robertson, then 27 years old, finally established himself as an independent artist in The Hague. In the early years, writes Veldink – who in the study focuses on the connection between her work and that of her predecessors and contemporaries – the legacy from, among others, the Hague School and the French realists is visible in style and choice of subject. But in her use of deep and glowing colors, she quickly moves in a different direction, where the work of the Italian artist Antonio Mancini seems to have played a key role, and with whom she shares an interest in paint and surface textures.

Through her marriage to the artist Richard Bisschop, Robertson became part of an influential but conservative artistic dynasty in 1892. She herself was open to new international movements, although for convenience she was often grouped under the umbrella term of the Eighties – according to Veldink, she was most often compared to his peer Breitner of all his peers. In later work, critics saw a relationship between Robertson and Van Gogh. But she was hard to notice.

Nelly or ‘Pietje’

After the birth of daughter Sara in 1894, the only child of Bisschop and Robertson, she had fewer opportunities for her own work. She took care of her daughter and went to teach a wealthy businessman in Leur in Brabant. According to Van der Geer, it was precisely this period in Leur that was a turning point because she had a nanny at her disposal who was also to act as a model (Nelly or ‘Pietje’) for dozens of sketches, drawings and paintings. She also experimented more and more with the medium, surface and structure of her paintings.

In the summer of 1898, Robertson returned to The Hague and decided to outsource Sara’s care to a foster family. After a period of relative poverty, her success grew and so did her profits; museums were increasingly interested in including her work in their collection. Interest abroad also grew, although there was no commercial success there.

In the last decade of her life she was highly valued, financially there were no more worries. But in the last period of the First World War she lost her inspiration and creativity, her marriage had been ‘unfortunate’ for her (as evidenced by the archives opened to her heirs without conditions), work was difficult and she died on 22 October, 1922 female, 66 years old. Hopefully, writes Veldink, this publication will ensure that Robertson now gets his well-deserved place in the canon of Dutch art history.

Suzie Robertson. dedicated. quirky. Modern.

Suzanne Veldink, Kees van der Geer, Annemiek van Stokkom, Laura Lolkema

Museum Panorama Mesdag/Scriptum art books Suze Robertson, €29.95,

200 pages

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