Pretty Brilliant: female artists in the RKD archives

pretty brilliant

On Friday 2 December See All This will be launching the second part of Pretty Brilliant, a special issue about female artists. In order to produce this issue, See All This worked together with the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History, which has selected nearly 30 female artists with whom everybody should become (more) familiar.

Pretty Brilliant

The series Pretty Brilliant provides a much-needed supplement to art history which has thus far been presented principally from a male perspective. The three issues will be a useful reference and source of inspiration for curators, art historians, education staff and other art-history professionals. The first part, published in 2020, was soon sold out and received glowing reviews. This next part is dedicated to artists who experimented with alternative lifestyles; to those who sought lives committed to expression on the margins of society, away from the centres of power.

pretty brilliant
1. Cover See All This #28
2. Cor Dekkinga, Lotti van der Gaag, 1958, collection RKD
3. Anonymous, Charley Toorop, c. 1920-1925, collection RKD
4. Anonymous, Lou Loeber, October 1967, collection RKD

The RKD’s contributions

The RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History cares for a unique national collection of analogue and digital material – it has an art library, expertise, literature, picture documentation, databases and archives – all relating to Dutch art in an international context. Female artists are by no means overlooked: of the more than 250,000 artists in the database, around one fifth are women. And of the roughly 400 archives in the care of the RKD, one quarter belonged to women or art movements in which women were active. In the coming years the RKD will intensify its research into the role of women in the art world. In order to produce Pretty Brilliant, See All This asked Kriszti Vákár, curator for modern and contemporary art at the RKD, to do some research into female artists. She dived into the databases and archives at the RKD and selected nearly 30 Dutch female artists of whom everybody should be aware, including Lotti van der Gaag, Charley Toorop and Lou Loeber.

Lotti van der Gaag

Lotti van der Gaag (1923-1999) was a pioneer of modernist sculpture in the Netherlands. Her sculptures were not based on the closed model of the classical human figure. Working from her imagination she created fantasy figures from clay. In 1950, after training at the Vrije Academie (Free Academy) in The Hague, she went to Paris, establishing herself in the former factory in the rue Santeuil, where Karel Appel and Corneille also had studios. In Paris she attended classes in sculpture with Ossip Zadkine. Under his influence her sculpture developed from small, compact figures in clay to more open, monumental constructions powerfully combining form and space. Although her work is closely related to that of the avant-garde CoBrA movement, with whom she regularly exhibited, she never became a member. Lotti van der Gaag was an individualist who always pursued her own path. The RKD has an impressive series of photographs portraying Van der Gaag at work during her time in Paris, by Marianne Dommisse and Cor Dekkinga.

Charey Toorop

Charley Toorop (1891-1955) is best known for her large and powerful portraits and self-portraits. In her youth she learned to paint with her famous father Jan Toorop, but she went on without formal training, creating her own version of realism. Through her father, she encountered avant-garde artists from an early age and exhibited with great names such as Cézanne, Picasso and Braque. As well as portraits she painted still lives, city views and landscapes, using striking colours and bold linear forms. She lived a life of her own choosing, in which painting came first. Men and her children took second place, as emerges from her remark, ‘We keep coming back to that thing: the fight between sex and work. They do not really go together – at least not with me; being a woman and being a creative artist means conflict.’ The RKD houses her archive, including correspondence from Mondrian, a portrait photograph by Man Ray and several family albums with biographical photographs. In addition there are nearly 300 letters from Charley Toorop to the art dealer G.J. Nieuwenhuizen Segaar which can be consulted via the RKD website.

Lou Loeber

Lou Loeber (1894-1983) grew up in a well-off liberal, public-spirited and art loving family. She trained as an artist at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. Lou Loeber painted landscapes, city views, factories, people and still lives. As time went on her work became more consciously stylised under the influence of De Stijl and Mondrian. Loeber’s view was that art had to make an important contribution to the creation of a socialist society. As a socialist she wished to make art accessible to ‘the people’: in her work she preferred to simplify reality and make it abstract. Her landscapes and objects are composed of sharply defined fields of bright colours. She replicated paintings in order to keep prices low. The RKD cares for Lou Loeber’s archive which consists of correspondence and the typescript of her autobiography of 1980.

See All This #28, Winter 2022/2023: Pretty Brilliant women in the arts vol. II will be in the shop from 2 December.