Monday, 14 June 2010

Dutch Venus: La Toilette by Theo Molkenboer

La Toilette (1903)

Some artists are famous for their nudes others are known for, perhaps, just one fine example. In this category comes La Toilette (1903) by Dutch artist Theo Molkenboer. Last summer it was voted the second most popular nude painted by a Dutch painter, which given the competition, is pretty impressive.

Given the stark, linear graphic work of his book jackets and other illustrations this painting is something of a surprise. The woman gazes intently at her reflection as she adjusts her hair, reflected in both her hand mirror and the mirror behind her. The effect, with a figure in a highly detailed domestic interior, is similar to of one of the Dutch 17th century masters such as Vermeer. The body is lit from behind by a lamp but also from the side by an unseen but warm source. There is none of the cold daylight of Vermeer's interiors but, rather, it is similar to the chiaroscuro of other Dutch atists, who specialised in paintings where the lighting source in the pictures was provided by candles, such as Gerrit van Honthorst.

Theodorus Henricus Antonius Adolf Molkenboer, to give him his full and rather impressive name, was born in Leeuwarden on February 23, 1871. He came from an artistic family and initially studied architecture before switching to painting and studying at the Rijksacademie voor Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. He was an architectural draftsman, sculptor, painter, costume historian and designer. He was probably best known for his graphic design and bookjackets.

Book jacket design by Molkenboer

In 1909 he visited the United States and painted a portrait of former President Taft, not returning to the Netherlands until 1913. Interestingly, one of Agent Triple P's favourites, Anders Zorn, also painted a picture of Taft which helped make his reputation in America. Later in life Molkenboer became ill with tuberculosis and died at the early age of 49 in a sanatorium in Lugano on December 1, 1920.

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