High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands


High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands

Jan Hendrik Scheltema, a Dutch Impressionist in Australia
Early Morning Start, ca. 1895 © Gippsland Art Gallery
Early Morning Start, ca. 1895 © Gippsland Art Gallery Early Morning Start, ca. 1895 © Gippsland Art Gallery

Jan Hendrik Scheltema, a Dutch Impressionist in Australia

An art venue near Melbourne has recently been donated works of painter Jan Hendrik Scheltema (1861-1941). During his life, the Dutch-Australian impressionist gained a reputation as a masterly painter of pastoral scenes. An exhibition showcases a wide variety of his livestock landscapes, together with portraits and interior scenes.

Until recently little was remembered about Jan Hendrik Scheltema whose paintings are still found in galleries and private collections all over the world. Scheltema was born in 1861 in The Hague. From 1880 to 1884, he was granted a scholarship from King William III. It enabled him to study at the Art Academies in The Hague and Antwerp after which he mainly painted figures and portraits.

Painting livestock

In 1888, Scheltema moved to Australia, where he realised that portrait painting could not provide him with a living. He turned to rural landscapes and began painting cows, horses and sheep in a landscape – the “livestock in the foreground” genre for which he became known. Almost a thousand paintings in this genre are known of him.

Scheltema sent home sketches and paintings to his family illustrating his life and the Australian landscape which were so very different from The Netherlands.

Australian citizen

Scheltema travelled and painted in Europe again, in 1898-1899 and in 1909-1911. On return paintings from these trips were exhibited successfully. On the 1911 exhibition, 72 of his 88 paintings were sold.

Scheltema remained in Melbourne where he also taught painting and drawing. He became an Australian citizen in 1935 and died in Brisbane in 1941.

In Australian art history, Scheltema is considered an important artist. He gained a reputation as a masterly painter of pastoral scenes, particularly as a specialist of foreground livestock in the landscape. His landscape paintings are held in collections such as the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Art Gallery of South Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne and the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

In the Netherlands, you will find portraits of Scheltema at the Amsterdam Museum and the Museum Het Valkhof in Nijmegen. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam holds an etching by him.

Recent discoveries

In early 2019, over eight hundred pages of handwritten letters Scheltema wrote from Australia back home to his family came to light in The Netherlands. These letters are now in the State Library of Victoria.

Also discovered in 2019 were several of his paintings kept by his Dutch family and their descendants. These were recently gifted to the Gippsland Art Gallery in Sale, Victoria.

The Gippsland Art Gallery decided to organise an exhibition of these works. Due to the Covid-19 crisis, the exhibition ‘The Lost Impressionist’ was only available online with a virtual 360 tour. Since 1 June you can admire Scheltema’s paintings live again.

Jan Hendrik Scheltema, The Lost Impressionist, until 9 August 2020 at Gippsland Art Gallery.

Peter Reynders

Update: The number of letters referred to above (800) was an estimate. I have now counted them precisely and the number is 724, including postcards and letters ABOUT Scheltema and some between his family members, of course not including letters that are known to have existed, but were lost during WW1, because British or Australian censors thought his Dutch was German, or because the mail carrying ship was torpedoed. The annotated translation of them to English has now also been deposited in the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne with the originals and their typescript. The above depicted painting ( Oil on canvas 16x 32 cm showing the big tree trunk(s) that survived the clearing to create grazing land and the cow(s) to show how big and old ("from before white settlement") it was, JHS painted near Alphington, then rural Victoria, now suburban Melbourne. It is referred to in JHS' letter dated 18 April 1890, which has his hand-drawn map attached, showing where precisely he sat painting it, shortly before he wrote that letter. He also referred in it to the European weeds painted at the foreground that tended to turn up where original forest was cleared.
P. Reynders

Peter Reynders

Excellent story. Around the turn of the century, the late Dr C.A.W. Jeekel, the artist's great-nephew, transcribed the hundreds of letters of this Dutch Australian and Belgian educated artist and tried to interest many Dutch organizations in publishing them. No success. J.H.Scheltema is well known in Australian Art history, but hardly in The Netherlands. So when his branch of the family died out, it was decided that both the family collection of JHS' painting as well the many letters JHS wrote home over more than half a century, should be sent to and reside in Australia. The paintings are now in the Town of Sale in Gippsland, the letters in the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne: manuscripts,transcripts and soon also their annotated translation to English.
P. Reynders, Canberra

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