Willem Bastiaan Tholen, The Arntzenius Sisters, 1895, Oil on canvas. – 38.3 × 58.8 cm
Museum Gouda, Gouda, inv. no. 55498
© Photo Tom Haartsen

Tholen was a prolific artist who tried his hand at a great variety of subjects. Although his landscapes and seascapes are the most familiar of his works, his urban views and interiors are often more arresting. He was interested above everything else in atmosphere, colour and light. His work is related to the paintings of the naturalist movement known as the Hague School, and also to those of the Amsterdam Impressionists, yet Tholen enjoyed less attention than some of his contemporaries.

The exhibition opens with the artist’s early works. As of 1880, Tholen regularly visited the isolated village of Giethoorn and he was the first artist to study this unusual village with its bridges and canals, where almost all communication was by boat. Tholen’s first taste of success came with the vast landscapes of the peat bogs around Kampen and his picturesque views of Giethoorn.

Although Tholen’s earliest paintings follow the tradition of the Hague School, with atmospheric landscapes in mostly grey hues, some of his paintings of Giethoorn, which he visited usually in summer, reveal brighter colours and are bathing in sunlight.

In 1885, the artist Willem Witsen (1860-1923) invited Tholen to Ewijkshoeve, a large property in a forest and an important meeting place for artists, writers and musicians. The painters who gathered there aspired to a more personal, sensitive style than the one in vogue at the time and looked for modern, often urban, subjects to paint.

Tholen explored new motifs while at Ewijkshoeve and produced a large number of paintings, prints and drawings which attract our attention by their unexpected points of view. The paintings he executed during the period 1885-1903 are considered to be the best and most modern of his output. He took inspiration from his immediate environment, from the poetry of the everyday, the simplest things becoming potential subjects. For example, he was fascinated by the vegetable garden and its cold frames, making a number of paintings and etchings of the scene.

In 1886, Tholen moved to The Hague where he was to remain for the rest of his life. With his wife, he lived from 1890 on the first floor of the Kanaalvilla. Bram Arntzenius (1850-1920) resided on the ground floor of the same villa, with his wife and six children. Tholen often drew and painted the Arntzenius children during the 1890s. One of these works is regarded as one of his finest paintings: The Arntzenius Sisters now in the Museum Gouda.

During these same years, Tholen painted a number of urban views, including the sunlit painting of construction workers in The Hague. The same interest in the world of work can be found in the view of the interior of an abattoir, or the picture of an alleyway where a delivery man is chatting to a domestic servant.

In 1901, Tholen commissioned a traditional sailing boat, the Eudia, to be built and sailed it around the Dutch lakes. From this time on he concentrated more and more on seascapes and views of fishing villages, with their harbours and boats. Tholen used a number of original framing devices to show fairly simple subjects to their advantage, as for example a jetty with a tight composition.

The final part of the exhibition is devoted to the artist’s oil sketches and drawings. A particularly gifted and prolific draughtsman, he filled a large number of sketchbooks, and often sketched en plein air.

Tholen’s art is timeless. Movements like De Stijl and Expressionism had no influence on him, in spite of the fact that he continued to work until 1931, the year of his death.

The retrospective, organised jointly by the Fondation Custodia and the Dordrechts Museum, contains about one hundred works (paintings, drawings, prints), from Dutch museums and private collections as well as from the Fondation Custodia.


Fondation Custodia121 Rue de Lille, 75007 Paris | France