Willem Bastiaan Tholen: 'Holland's unique artist'

February 2020 - December 2020

From 6 February the RKD is mounting a small exhibition about the artist Willem Bastiaan Tholen (1860-1931). A selection of documents from the RKD's own collection will show the process by which Tholen's paintings were distributed and sold at the end of the nineteenth century.

Hague School

Following the tradition of the Hague School, Willem Bastiaan Tholen initially chose the Dutch landscape as his subject matter. But instead of using the typically brown and grey palette of the Hague School painters, Tholen painted his polder landscapes, autumnal woodland scenes and sand quarries in bright and fresh colours. His later subject matter includes painted street scenes in The Hague, for example a chat between neighbours in an alleyway. The compositions of these images are often cropped in unexpected ways, so that the spectator is invited to view everyday subjects in a new light

International fame

Tholen was a famous artist both in the Netherlands and abroad. Art dealers in England, Scotland and Canada organised exhibitions of his work, presenting him to the public as 'Holland's unique artist'. Letters, photos and other objects from the RKD’s own collection illustrate how Tholen’s paintings and watercolours were distributed and sold. Who were the dealers with whom Tholen worked? And who bought his paintings?

The exhibitions also attracted the attention of certain art critics, including G.H. Marius and Albert Plasschaert, who wrote about Tholen's work. Tholen knew Plasschaert in person. In his letters to Plasschaert, Tholen writes about the ups and downs of his work and his personal life, including his wife’s poor health. But he also mentions the trips he undertakes in his sailing boat, the Eudia. The exhibition 'Holland's unique artist': de verkoop van het werk van W.B. Tholen (1860-1931) ('Holland's unique artist': W.B. Tholen (1860-1931) and the sale of his work) at the RKD includes several letters from Tholen to Plasschaert.

More Tholen

The display at the RKD coincides with the retrospective exhibition Willem Bastiaan Tholen (1860-1931): een gelukkige natuur (English title: Willem Bastiaan Tholen (1860-1931): a Dutch Expressionist), which runs from 9 February to 31 May at the Dordrechts Museum. This exhibition was previously on show at the Fondation Custodia in Paris.

Left: Self-portrait of Willem Bastiaan Tholen (1860-1931), private collection, photo RKD.
Center: Letter from Willem Bastiaan Tholen to Albert Plasschaert, dated 1904, collection RKD.
Right: Willem Bastiaan Tholen’s studio in the Kanaal Villa, Scheveningen, collection RKD.