CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Geeft Acht! Het militaire genre in de 19e eeuw: van heroïek naar alledaagse werkelijkheid

Atten-SHUN! The military genre in the 19th century Exhibition: 23 December 2006 - 9 April 2007

Bart van der Leck, Huzaren, 1911. Otterloo, Kröller-Müller Museum

Bart van der Leck
Hussars, 1911
Otterloo, Kröller-Müller Museum


Henny Goedegebuure

From the museum website

Patriotism and heroism were prominent in Dutch military paintings until late in the 19th century. The exhibition Atten-SHUN! shows how the genre changed radically around 1880 under the influence of the artists George Hendrik Breitner and Isaac Israëls and (around 1912) Bart van der Leck. Instead of glorifying military life, they focused on the everyday reality of a soldier’s existence. And artists like Charles Rochussen and Jan Hoynck van Papendrecht also changed public perceptions of the army, working together with officers to produce illustrations for popular periodicals like Elsevier.

At the start of the 19th century, the Low Countries were under French rule, but in 1815 the Kingdom of the Netherlands was established, and the country got its own army. A lengthy interval of peace, the introduction of military service and the appearance of garrisons in many large towns meant that soldiers were a common sight in Dutch streets. People began to regard them in a different light.

In the early 1800s, the military genre could still be described as classic and heroic. But Charles Rochussen introduced a change around 1865, as the first artist to portray the day-to-day life of soldiers. Not much later, Isaac Israëls painted the impressive Military funeral (1881-1882), which shows the human side of soldiering. The lieutenant portrayed in this work was a member of the elite corps of Grenadiers and Hunters, which had close ties with the royal house and was stationed in The Hague. Israëls knew him. Besides being a soldier, he was an artist who regularly exhibited at the Dutch artists’ association Pulchri Studio. Breitner, Israëls and a number of officers gave a new, independent slant to the military theme, detaching it from the classic, historical genre.

The officers Willem Staring and Nicolaas van Es were professional soldiers who worked together with artists to produce illustrations for periodicals like Eigen Haard and Elseviers Illustrated Monthly. This gave the genre a wide audience, and it became hugely popular.

Around 1912, Bart van der Leck brought his own unique interpretation to the theme. His paintings portray soldiers who look very much alike, resembling stylised, marching dolls. Van der Leck’s visual imagery is sober and extremely simple yet highly impressive – very different to the style of Rochussen, Breitner and Israëls.

The exhibition includes a display of splendid of splendid uniforms of the period. It will be accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue with a preface by Jos Hilkhuijsen, curator of pictures at Delft Army Museum, and Henny Goedegebuure, guest curator.