Catalogue entry

T04171 Volendam, Holland, from the Zuideinde ?1895

Oil on wood panel 268 × 174 (10 9/16 × 6 7/8)
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1986
Prov: Estate of Stanhope Forbes, the artist's husband (d.1947); his second wife, the artist Maude Clayton Palmer (d.1948) and thence by descent until c.1981 when with Newlyn Orion Galleries, Penzance; ...; by c.1984–5 with Belgrave Gallery, from whom bt by Tate Gallery
Exh: Stanhope Alexander Forbes and Elizabeth Stanhope Forbes, Newlyn Art Gallery, June–July 1981 (36, as ‘Dutch Landscape 1’); British Post-Impressionists and Moderns, Belgrave Gallery, Feb–March 1986 (8, as ‘Canal and Town Scene’, repr. in col.)

Volendam is a small fishing village on the Zuyder Zee fourteen miles north-east of Amsterdam. It was virtually unknown to travellers in Holland until 1874, when Henry Harvard's La Holland pittoresque, voyage aux villes mortes du Zuiderzee (Paris 1874; an English translation was published in London in 1875) particularly recommended that artists should visit it because of its picturesque architecture and the colourful traditional costumes worn by its inhabitants.

The first British painter to have recognised the richness of the subject matter to be found in Volendam and other nearby ‘lost villages’ seems to have been George Clausen, who exhibited views of the village and its life at the Royal Academy in 1874 and 1876 (Kenneth McConkey, Sir George Clausen, R.A. 1852–1944, exh. cat., Cartwright Hall, Bradford 1980, p.18, no.2, repr., p.19, no.5, repr.). In 1880 the two American artists G.H. Boughton (1833–1905) and E.A. Abbey (1852–1911) made a trip to Volendam and the surrounding area: ‘we found quantities of stuff, just lying about loose’ were the words used by Abbey to sum up his excitement on encountering such novel sights (Abbey to Charles Parsons, 20 Oct. 1880; E.V.Lucas, The Life and Work of Edwin Austin Abbey, R.A., 1921, I, p.107). Boughton's account of this visit, Sketching Rambles in Holland, with Illustrations by the Author and Edwin A. Abbey (New York 1885), undoubtedly played a significant part in the way the Zuyder Zee villages gradually became more widely known to the travelling public. Before this, however, the most significant event in the ‘discovery’ of Volendam and its subsequent development as a artists' colony was the opening in 1881 of the first hotel, the ‘Spaander’. Under its sympathetic art-loving proprietor, Leendert Spaander (1855–1955), the hotel eventually amassed a large collection of oil paintings, watercolours and drawings, left as gifts by grateful artists (Gusta Reichwein, Vreemde gasten: kunstschilders in Volendam 1880–1914, exh. cat., Rijksmuseum Zuiderzeemuseum, Enkhuizen 1986, pp.13–15).

The sense of a newly discovered primitiveness which artists experienced in Volendam echoed the reaction of an earlier generation of artists who had settled in Brittany during the 1860s, particularly in Pont Aven. Both groups shared the desire to paint en plein air and to depict ordinary people going about their daily business. In Britain, from the early 1880s the growing popularity among artists of the fishing village of Newlyn in Cornwall almost exactly paralleled the rise of Volendam as an artists' sketching ground.

It was quite natural that Elizabeth Armstrong, as she was before she married Stanhope Forbes in 1889, should be eventually drawn to all three places during the course of her career. Born in Canada, she studied at the Art Student's League in New York where she was taught by European-trained painters who had looked closely at the realism and the technique of Millet and Bastien-Lep-age. After a brief period of study in Munich, she moved to Brittany in 1882, staying a few months in Pont Aven, before travelling to London in 1883. Her first recorded trip to Holland was in the summer of 1884 when she stayed in Zandvoort, a small town on the North Sea coast near Haarlem, where there was a thriving artistic community. A distinguished group of drypoint prints showing domestic interiors with peasant figures, taken from drawings made on the spot, was the main product of this trip (Arthur K. Sabin, ‘The Dry-Points of Elizabeth Adela Forbes, formerly E.A. Armstrong’, Print Collector's Quarterly, vol.9, no.1, Feb. 1992, pp.75–100) but while there Elizabeth Armstrong also painted the oil ‘A Zandvoort Fisher Girl’ (673 × 533, 26 1/2 × 21, Newlyn Orion Galleries; Caroline Fox and Francis Greenacre, Painting in Newlyn, 1880–1930, exh. cat., Barbican Art Gallery 1985, no.49, repr. in col.). Because this is securely identified as a Zandvoort subject, it has been hitherto assumed that T04171 and another Dutch landscape subject, ‘Dutch Scene’ (oil on canvas, 565 × 413, 22 1/4 × 16 1/4; Caroline Fox and Francis Greenacre, Artists of the Newlyn School 1880–1900, exh. cat., Newlyn Art Gallery 1979, no.73; there is a photograph in the Witt Library), were products of the same visit. However, there is now no doubt that T04171 is a view of Volendam, as is the ‘Dutch Scene’, which shows the village in the far distance with two Volendam girls in characteristic costume in the foreground. Apart from Elizabeth Forbes's own mention of her 1884 visit to Zaandvort, the Forbes's first biographer records only one other visit by the two artists to Holland, in 1894 (Mrs Lionel Birch, Stanhope A. Forbes, A.R.A., and Elizabeth Stanhope Forbes, A.R.W.S., 1906, p.101). However, unpublished research by Gusta Reichwein in the registers and inventories of the Hotel Spaander, which record dated works by Stanhope and Elizabeth Forbes formerly in the hotel's collection, indicates that in fact their only visit to Volendam took place in 1895. It was presumably from this visit that Stanhope Forbes's ‘A Red Room in Holland’, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1897, dates (identified by Ben Mol and Dick Brinkkemper in correspondence with the compiler as showing a room in the Hotel Spaander; repr. Studio: Art at the Royal Academy 1897, p.50). T04171 has accordingly been dated to 1895.

T04171 shows the view looking north-east toward Volendam from the southern end (or Zuidende) of the Huidige Dijk which runs between the village and land formerly covered by the Zuiderzee. In the distance is the seventeenth-century Hervormde church and, beyond, the masts of ships moored in de Voorije. Conservation work on the painting has revealed that its ground layer is applied over an earlier design and ground. Some areas of impasto appear to relate to this earlier design but it is not immediately obvious what form this took. (The compiler is indebted to Emmy van Vrijberghe de Coningh, Ben Mol and Dick Brinkkemper for identifying the subject and supplying detailed information about Volendam as an artists' colony in the nineteenth century.)

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996