Willem Witsen (Amsterdam 1860-1923)
View on 'Kraansluis' Amsterdam
Signed and numbered
11* 12,5 inch (27,9 * 31,8 cm)
Willem Witsen was the son of an iron merchant and a patrician and grew up in this way at 530 Prinsengracht and later, in 1867, the Westeinde, corner Nicolaas Witsenkade. From 1876 to 1884 he took drawing lessons at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten. During that period he was also a board member of the Sint Lucas artists' association, named after the patron saint of painting.
After a while he withdrew to the family's house in Lage Vuursche and consciously distanced himself from the intensive friendship life in the city. However, Witsen's apparently withdrawn existence did not mean that he lost his central position in Amsterdam club life, also because many Amsterdam visitors came. From April 1887 he returned to Amsterdam and used the studio of his friend George Breitner for several months. From 1888 to 1891 he resided in Camden (London). It was here that he saw the work of James McNeill Whistler and developed an interest in photography. In 1891 he returned to Amsterdam where he became a member of the artists' association Arti et Amicitiae.
Witsen belonged to the Tachtigers, a group of young artists with great artistic and even political influence in the eighties of the 19th century. Painters such as George Hendrik Breitner, Isaac Israëls, Eduard Karsen and Jan Veth. The stately building on Oosterpark, where Israels worked, became a meeting place for his friends in 1891. He was especially good friends with the poet Willem Kloos, who had dedicated a number of poems to him in De Nieuwe Gids of October 1888, in which he also published.
The melancholy, brooding Witsen was not a real impressionist. The often wintry performances under gloomy skies are a bit too strict for that. During his first one-man exhibition, at art dealership Van Wisselingh en Co. in 1895, the sale of the dark paintings initially did not go very smoothly. A few years later, after his second exhibition, his Rotterdam prints, an Amsterdam series, some views of Ede, but above all a series of watercolors, proved to be a great success. Prizes at the World's Fairs in Paris and St. Louis brought him international attention.
In addition to being a painter, Witsen has become an important graphic artist. In 1885 he founded the Dutch Etching Club with two art lovers. He also experimented with color etchings and aquatints. Several of his prints are mirrored.