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Two atypical artworks by Jan Schoonhoven in the Julie van der Veen archive

"In the autumn of 2020, I made contact with the Dutch-French couple, Herman and Narcisse Vollenbroek, the caretakers of the Julie van der Veen archive in southern France. In my bachelor's thesis, I conducted research on students of André Lhote, and Van der Veen was one of them. The archive consists of around a hundred paintings, a dozen sketchbooks, graphic works, and the correspondence between Van der Veen and her mother. Within this extensive archive, the couple discovered two lithographs by Jan Schoonhoven that they couldn't place accurately. These works were not mentioned in recent literature, and similar pieces were not easily found online. They asked me to investigate further.

Jan Schoonhoven, Tijdvissen,
Jan Schoonhoven (1914-1994), Tijdvissen, 1949, litho, 22 x 30 cm.

Julie van der Veen Archive

Julie van der Veen (1903-1997) came from an affluent family, which allowed her to travel and paint for large parts of her life. Van der Veen was born in Java in 1903 but moved to The Hague with her parents in 1908. She studied at the Academy of Fine Arts. In the early 1930s, while in Paris, she was introduced to André Lhote's lectures by an acquaintance and decided to take lessons. She alternated between living in southern France, Paris, and The Hague. Shortly after World War II, Van der Veen joined the Haagse Kunstkring (an artists' association), where she exhibited multiple times. It was there that she became friends with Jan Schoonhoven. Little is known about the contact between Schoonhoven and Van der Veen, but the two prints by Schoonhoven found in her estate suggest they were on friendly terms.

Jan Schoonhoven

Jan Schoonhoven (1914-1994) is one of the most significant Dutch representatives of the Zero movement. In the 1960s, he gained recognition for his well-known monochrome reliefs made of papier-mâché, paper, and cardboard. Zero was a reaction against the emotional and naive tendencies in art, as seen in the Cobra movement and abstract expressionism. Schoonhoven aimed to create objective art using everyday materials, stripped of emotion. Even in the formal titles of his reliefs, such as R 70-58, this sober objective resonates.

The two prints from the archive precede Schoonhoven's Zero period. Both lithographs are signed in the plate as JJS '49 and annotated on the back: Tijdvissen (Time Fish) and Drie frivole dikken (Three Frivolous Fat Ones). The titles reveal a less Zero-oriented Schoonhoven. The distorted fish armed with clock hands bring to mind Salvador Dalí, while the Three Frivolous Fat Ones stand side by side, dancing with their angular bodies. Schoonhoven used sandpaper to treat the paper, giving the figures an almost archaic appearance.

Jan Schoonhoven, Drie frivole dikken
Jan Schoonhoven (1914-1994), Drie frivole dikken, 1949, litho, 23 x 31cm.

Catalogue Raisonné

Herman and Narcisse Vollenbroek decided to visit me in Haarlem and entrusted the two prints to my care. I reached out to Ron Koster, an art advisor and colleague in Haarlem specializing in modern and abstract art. His primary area of interest lies in Zero and minimal art. He was surprised to see these works as he had not encountered them before. Consequently, he contacted Antoon Melissen, an eminent expert on Schoonhoven's oeuvre responsible for the catalogue raisonné of his unique works.

Melissen was not familiar with the two prints either, although he knew of another composition featuring time fish and frivolous fat ones. Koster and Melissen quickly realized that they were not the appropriate individuals to assess these pieces. That's when Koster played his final card: Camillo Rigo.

Rigo, as a co-author of Jan Schoonhoven: Edities (2016), is the specialist in Schoonhoven's prints. He informed us that the respective works are most likely monoprints. As the name suggests, a monoprint is a print of which only one impression is made. These prints were never produced in editions. It is known that Schoonhoven gifted such prints to friends and acquaintances, a practice also followed by Julie van der Veen with her graphic works. Perhaps they were part of an artistic exchange, a friendly gift, or a reciprocal gesture for a favor. Unfortunately, the letters in the Julie van der Veen archive do not shed light on this matter, although research is ongoing.

Consequently, the two lithographs represent a curiosity in art history, an experiment by Schoonhoven. As such, they will not be included in the next edition of Jan Schoonhoven: Edities since they do not constitute official editions. However, they will be included in Camillo Rigo's personal archive. Nevertheless, they are two remarkable artworks that should not be missing from the collection of an avid Schoonhoven collector."


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