Evert Jan Ligtelijn (1893-1975) was a highly respected Dutch painter whose skillful versatility across a broad spectrum of subjects and styles, as well as his renowned depictions of the historically significant River Vecht, have secured him an enduring spot in the rich artistic pantheon of his native country.
Born and raised in the capital city of Amsterdam, Ligtelijn was a self-taught artist steeped in the knowledge of, and profoundly influenced by, the centuries-old artistic traditions of the Netherlands. Drawing on this heritage, he applied his considerable innate talent to a variety of genres and settings; his body of work included landscapes, figure paintings, still-lifes, and portraits. Moreover, as an extensively well-traveled artist, his painting sojourns took him to nearly all the regions of his native land (in particular the historic towns of Naarden, Gorssel, and Kortenhoef), as well as Europe, the Americas (North, South, and Central), the Caribbean (Aruba and Curacao), and the Canary Islands. His early cityscapes of Amsterdam and scenes of the surrounding countryside established his use of the naturalistic, “en plein air” painting technique handed down by his mid-19th century Hague School predecessors, and employed the low-keyed, muted colors preferred by Dutch painters dating back to the 17th century. From the outset of Ligtelijn’s long career (he began exhibiting at age 17), his aptitude with a brush was in evidence: what has often been described as his “strikingly smooth brush strokes” led to a capacity for representing the stillness of water in a manner strongly suggestive of a reflecting pool, replete with mirror-images on the water’s surface; applying this ability to his views of the River Vecht, he produced a series of paintings featuring the river and the historic structures built upon its embankment that remain enduringly popular. His fame arising from these efforts gave rise to the nickname “De Vechtschilder” (The Vecht Painter), a designation still in evidence today. A notable example of this major thematic current running through Ligtelijn’s work is View of the River Vecht with the Manor House Rumplemonde. Painted in 1921, it was reviewed in a January 11, 2011, entry of Lot-Art, a platform for serious collectors of art. Following an historical overview of the manor house, the website offered this analysis: “The house is one of the finest examples of retreats built along the River Vecht, which was also noted by various artists. For example, Jan Hillebrand Wijsmuller (1855-1925) and Nicolaas Bastert (1859-1934) painted the river and this gem of a building, but none as artfully as Evert Jan Ligtelijn was able to.” (italics added) As Ligtelijn matured, his palette began to brighten and his works took on a newfound immediacy — a move in the direction of impressionism — to best reflect his expanding subject-matter, which came to include the sunny, vibrant settings of the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands, the Caribbean, and South America. In July 2016, the Dutch art and design website Kunstveiling called Ligtelijn’s Cityscape La Guernica Venezuela “a particularly beautiful oil painting” and explained that he “started to paint more colorfully at a later age.” Additionally, the size of his canvasses grew; Cityscape La Guernica Venezuela measures 40 x 50 inches, and was the result of a commission the artist received while “under contract to a famous gallery in The Hague.” Ligtelijn was known to accept such traveling commissions from various sources, and often used pseudonyms such as “Pe Lucia” or “Luciente” while painting in Central and South America under these circumstances. Critical attention has also been focused on Ligtelijn’s landscapes produced in the Caribbean: The September 27, 2013, entry of De Maarchalk (The Marshal) — a Dutch-based website providing commentary on Netherlands’ art — adjudged that Ligtelijn composed “several beautiful canvasses of the bays of Curacao.” Moreover, during his time on Curacao, Ligtelijn executed a large diorama for public display. His stylistic evolution also extended to his cityscapes of Amsterdam, interpreted by many art historians as a transition to a “moody, atmospheric impressionism," which conceivably was impacted by his time spent in the town of Bergen in the company of Dutch scholar and impressionist painter Harry Kuyten. Several of Ligtelijn's cityscapes of this nature were selected for a highly publicized and well-received April 2017 exhibition titled Holland’s Impressionism: Work by Well-Known Dutch Impressionists, which took place at Kortenhoef’s “De Olde School,” a famous exhibition space operated by a private foundation that holds nationally renowned exhibitions of Dutch art. Ligtelijn’s work was held in high enough esteem to be displayed alongside that of other noted Dutch impressionists such as Hendrik Jan Wolter, Cornelis Vreedenburgh, Willem Alexander Knip, Arie Johannes Zwart, and Ben Viegers. Of the group, only Ligtelijn was singled out for special mention, earning a citation in the promotional materials as “the painter of the Vecht.”
Another significant portion of Ligtelijn’s oeuvre consisted of figure paintings; though his work in this area was spread across a variety of media and settings — from richly colored canvasses of women in tropical villages deftly balancing items atop their heads to intricate drawings of silhouetted individuals walking along Europe’s cobblestone streets — arguably his best-known figural compositions were oil paintings whose settings were generally the tight, dimly lit interior spaces of modest Dutch residences, perhaps examples of what art historian J.J.M. Timmers called “an interpretation of the domestic interior with its special quality of light” (sought after by Dutch artists since the Golden Age of the 17th century). Ligtelijn fashioned these scenes using an interplay of diffused light and shadow, with the threadbare rooms’ only source of illumination provided by the natural light seeping through an often unseen solitary window. In most of these works Ligtelijn imparted his own uniquely personal, expressively rendered interpretations of the interactions between a mother and her small children, or a female figure seated at a table and intently staring into an open book, the latter motif frequently reproduced on the Women Reading and Reading and Art websites. Ligtelijn also added floral still lifes to the background of many of these figure paintings, his technique perhaps augmented by his lifelong friendship with the painter Nico Bruynestein, who, along with his artist wife Fia van Driel (who generally used the pseudonym Tilly Moes when signing her work), achieved notoriety as a result of their collaboratively produced still-lifes, primarily featuring sunflowers and poppies. Furthermore, owing to his respected status in Dutch art circles, Ligtelijn’s commissions often involved the production of portraits of notable Dutch citizens, as well as portraits of high-ranking officers staffing the ships of the major Dutch shipping concern, KNSM (the Royal Dutch Steamboat Company), for whom he also painted seascapes while on board their freighters. One of his paintings done for KNSM — a group portrait of a captain and two other officers on the deck of a ship, with a blue expanse of ocean in the background — is on public display as part of the permanent collection of the Maritime Museum of Rotterdam. According to the museum’s website, the painting also graced the cover of a privately published book of maritime art that the company placed in the passenger cabins of their ships. As his career progressed, the ever-evolving and inquisitive Ligtelijn began to experiment with elements of post-impressionism, using highly expressive colors and forms. These paintings benefited from Ligtelijn’s well-known expertise with the “painter’s knife,” whose use is strikingly evidenced in many of his landscapes, particularly those produced in the Mediterranean region, wherein the viewer’s sightline is focused through an archway toward the primary subject matter of the painting, an early, foresightful application of the “view through the window” framing device.
Evert Jan Ligtelijn died in 1975 in the Northern Holland town of Laren. Much of his work produced abroad has remained in private hands, with collectors noticeably reluctant to part with it. Publicly, selections from his oeuvre can be viewed at the aforementioned Maritime Museum of Rotterdam, as well as the National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam and the Streekhistorisch Museum Tweestromenland (the Regional History Museum of Treestromenland), the latter venue having been made the beneficiary of Ligtelijn’s classic but long unseen work from 1942, Kasteel Hernen en de Sneeuw (Castle Hernen in the Snow). The transfer of the painting from the Historical Society of Tweestromenland to the Regional History Museum was chronicled in an article appearing in the September 23, 2013, issue of the Dutch periodical West Maas en Wall 4All, which referenced the painting having undergone a major restoration prior to its conveyance, with the substantial cost borne by the Historical Society as a “25th Anniversary” gift to the museum. Additionally, the article assessed the painting as still exuding a “considerable, magical charm” more than 70 years after its completion, and further noted that the museum was expecting an increase in attendance attributed exclusively to the arrival of Castle Hernen in the Snow. “We feel extremely fortunate to be the recipients of this magnificent painting,” said Frits Gremmen, the chairman of the museum. “It will be placed in a very prominent location, deservedly so.”
Written March 2018 by Brian Flon, author of "Hell's Kitchen Requiem" (2014)