Henri Verstijnen

geese, Henri verstijnen in his studio
Henri Verstijnen in his studio

H.C.G.M. Verstijnen’s was born in Sukabumi in the Dutch East Indies on July 9, 1882. In 1892 he came to the Netherlands with his parents where he received drawing lessons in the city of Arnhem. After this he would improve his auto didactic skills. Because of his Asian roots, he remained very drawn to Asian art. He loved to visit Zoos and draw there. He would devote the biggest part of his career representing the animal kingdom through his art. He was making money as a designer of vases for the Gouda ceramic factory. He traveled through Austria and Germany, desperately looking for a steady job that would enable him to marry his girlfriend Celine Kock.

Eventually he was hired as a decor designer and model builder for the “Ernst Wahliss in Turn Teplitz” factory. The company made luxurious Jugendstil ceramics and glass items. The young couple moved to Maastricht, the Netherlands once they where married.  He worked as a designer for the “Societe Ceramique” until 1931. Next to this, he illustrated columns written by Charivarius, a famous writer and critic in the Dutch newspaper “de Groene Amsterdammer”.

Like many other artists of his time, he was drawn to a spiritual life vision that was based on eastern religious notions. He became a member of the Theosophical movement in 1910. One can find the traces of this influence in his works and paintings of lotus flowers, Buddha’s, white peacocks and so on. Also in his many writings and letters it is obvious he had a very special view on the world. In 1918 he moved to The Hague with his family where he became a member of the Art Circle and painters society Pulchri Studio. He held expositions of his oil paintings, his pastels and his graphic works. As subjects he chose flowers, birds and many other animals in their natural habitats. mainly monkeys, tigers, herons, owls but also flowering cacti are returning subjects of interest in his works of art.

His style in this period represent the last days of the “fin the siècle”, with  japonese, Art nouveau, and Symbolism as main art influences. Also the works of his fellow colleagues Theo van Hoytema, J Jesserun de Mesquita, G.W. Dijsselhof en Jan Toorop where of a great influence in his work. Verstijnen experimented with an unknown scratching technique and eventually developed his own secret method he called “grafico”.  To gain a steady income, he still worked for the “Societe Ceramique”. Next to that he took on many illustration jobs for books, calendars, and so forth.

Verstijnen was a very socially engaged man, he worked for animal protection service, designing for their brochures,  a movement against animal testing and the Bellamy movement. In his letters from the  1930’s, he vents his concerns about the upcoming national socialism, which he sees as an evil influence on the people around him. He can’t consolidate the national socialism with his own natural and morally pure theosophical ideas. On January 15, 1940, Verstijnen dies in his home from angina pectoris, and so was spared the upcoming  second world war he feared.

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