This week we have two painters to celebrate, and they couldn’t be more contrasting considering that their lives overlapped by a decade. Today and tomorrow I celebrate the life and work of Herman Frederik Carel ten Kate (1822–1891), who was born two centuries ago, and painted scenes from the history of the Netherlands in traditional style. On Friday, I start the first of two days commemorating the centenary of the death of Karl Isakson, one of the fathers of Modernism in the early years of the twentieth century.
Ten Kate was born in The Hague, in the Netherlands, on 16 February 1822, and trained under the traditional artist Cornelis Kruseman (1797-1857). Kruseman had been travelling extensively in Europe, and Ten Kate joined him between 1841-42. When they were in Paris, he apparently met Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier, another painter in classical if not antique style. On his return, Ten Kate continued studies, completing them in the Royal Academy of Art in the Hague.
The earliest example of Ten Kate’s paintings that I have is this Mountainous Landscape with a Ruin which he painted together with Louwrens Hanedoes (1822–1905) in 1849. They were students together, and Hanedoes went on to specialise in landscapes, initially in this Romantic style, but he became increasingly realist.
Throughout his career, Ten Kate painted in watercolours as well as oils. This watercolour of a Visit to the Painting Workshop from 1850 harks back to a time long before, judging by the clothes and weaponry. While Ten Kate’s oil paintings are generally precise and academic in style, he made good use of specialist watercolour techniques and his brushwork remained looser.
Painted in 1853, this watercolour of a Fair in Leeuwarden, Oldehove in the Distance was made in the far north of the country in what is now a city, and the provincial capital of Friesland. The Oldehove shown behind is the unfinished church tower in the mediaeval centre of the city, which leans even more than the famous Tower of Pisa, and is a popular tourist attraction.
During the 1850s, Ten Kate specialised in historical and genre paintings, his favourite periods being the Eighty Years’ War, or Dutch War of Independence, which lasted from 1568-1648, and the early nineteenth century.
Ten Kate painted this scene At the Pawnbroker in oils in 1857, in antique style. Once again, it refers back to a time in the past, and its figures are popular stereotypes. A shadowy figure is watching the proceedings from the balcony above the pawnbroker’s shop.
The Chaperone (1858) is another scene from history, with a suitor clutching his tricorn hat and walking stick chatting up a young woman with her companion and moral guard. Behind her chair is a dressing table. Ten Kate’s rendering of fabrics is quite painterly here.
Many of Ten Kate’s best watercolours, like Selling the Loot from 1859, show the seamier side of human nature, in arguments and here a bunch of thieves trying to turn their ill-gotten goods into money by selling them to ‘fences’. Quite why one figure at the back is stood wearing full armour is a mystery.
Ten Kate painted 1809: Lodewijk Napoleon defends Holland’s independence against Napoleon over fifty years after the event, in 1863. Lodewijk Napoleon is better known as Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, a younger brother of the Emperor Napoleon, who was made king of Holland in 1806. The emperor had expected his brother to be no more than a prefect, but Louis quickly showed he had a mind of his own and worked in favour of the Dutch people. He refused the emperor’s demand for troops to swell his army to invade Russia, so almost all French troops stationed there were removed, leaving the Netherlands vulnerable to an English invasion. Eventually Louis was forced to abdicate and flee to Austria in 1810.
Ten Kate’s oil painting of Soldiers in a Guardroom from 1865-67 shows a group from the Eighty Years’ War, in full period dress. At the left are parts of armour and a military drum. On the wall to the right is a map, reminiscent of paintings of the Dutch Golden Age.
Pillage (1869), which Ten Kate drew in black chalk with pen and grey wash, shows soldiers ransacking and pillaging a family home in the past.