Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Winter Silence

Exactly one hundred years ago the Dutch biscuit company Verkade released with their products a series of collectors' cards. The cards were from paintings commissioned from the artists Jan van Oort and Jan Voerman, and it became an engaging passtime for many households at that time to paste the cards into the albums, descriptively written in period Dutch by Jac P. Thijsse, which Verkade issued for the purpose.

Many of the albums were themed around the nature and wildlife of The Netherlands, and the paintings, and the albums with their cards, passed into Dutch folk art and became collectors' items - so much so that various facsimile editions were subsequently issued. The most recent reissue depicting the four seasons (which are the four albums which I have) even included a set of cards to cut out and paste á la the style of the originals.

Well, I have to admit that, several years later, I still haven't gotten around to pasting in the cards (give me a break; there are one hundred and forty four in each complete set). Maybe it's something to do with the times. Not that I'm impatient, because I can cheerfully muster the wherewithall to labor for hours customising HTML codes. But there might be another reason.

Because truth to tell, it is not so much the more well-known paintings on the cards that have my attention, as it is the pen drawings which decorate the albums. So I guess that (perhaps rather ungraciously in the eyes of Dutch folk culture!) the cards are for me rather redundant, as I apparently find that the albums with their black-and-white illustrations are already satisfying-enough in themselves. A modest credit on the albums' title pages mentions that these are by 'L.W.R. Wenckebach'.

Wenckebach's illustrations hold up throughout the series, but it is those which appear in the Winter album that truly shine (the six images shown here). With remarkable economy of line, snow-covered fields, canals and Dutch farm houses are conjoured from Wenckebach's pen lines, their darkness made more stark by the areas of paper which have simply been left blank to convey the covering blanket of whiteness.

Pollarded willows so typical of the Dutch landscape bend over a frozen canal. A woman carrying pails (presumably of animal feed) makes her way over the snow to a farm house door. Boats frozen fast into the ice lie immobile by a snowy bank. On the edge of a village a bridge spans the snow-covered ice of a river. The atmosphere of crisp winter silence is tangible.

As it happens, outside my window the snow does indeed lie thick on the ground at the moment, and despite a couple of attempts at a thaw, remains much as it fell several days ago. A perfect opportunity for contemplating these superb line drawings by L.W.R. Wenckebach, and for bringing them to an audience as international as they deserve.

Artist: Ludwig Willem Reymert Wenckebach
Works: Illustrations for the album 'Winter', 1909
Medium: Pen and ink
Location: Untraced

'Winter', by Jac P. Thijsse, published originally by Bakkerij 'De Ruijter', Firma Verkade & Co., 1909. Facsimile edition issued in 1997.


  1. I love it! Especially the willows. Thank you so much.

  2. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

  3. Your comment is appreciated, Alisha. I hope that you will continue to enjoy what I write about.


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