Exhibition Considerable portraits. Adolf Pirsch (1858–1929) in the Netherlands at Museum Van Loon in Amsterdam and book presentation Aanzienlijke portretten; Adolf Pirsch (1858–1929) in Nederland by Rudi Ekkart and Claire van den Donk[i
The portrait painters Adolf Pirsch (1858 – 1929), Sir Philip Alexius de László (1869 – 1937) and Jean Baptiste Discart (1855 – 1940) compared.[i]
The exhibition Considerable portraits. Adolf Pirsch (1858–1929) in the Netherlands opened on the evening of Thursday, 7 April 2022, at Museum Van Loon in Amsterdam and is open to the public from Friday, 8 April 2022, to Sunday, 12 June 2022. The exhibition was opened by Christiaan count van Rechteren Limpurg, who discussed the portraits made by Pirsch that belong to his family’s collection in Almelo and Rechteren, the Netherlands. A number of paintings from this collection is part of the exhibition at Museum van Loon. A book with the same name by portrait experts Prof. Rudi Ekkart and Mrs Claire van den Donk was published by WBOOKS, Zwolle, in collaboration with Museum Van Loon, for the occasion as well.
The exhibition about the painter Adolf Pirsch and the book Aanzienlijke portretten, Adolf Pirsch (1858–1929) in Nederland (Considerable portraits. Adolf Pirsch (1858–1929) in the Netherlands) belong to a longer tradition of exhibitions and books at and of Museum Van Loon that focus on portraits and their backgrounds, including the work of Thérèse van Duyl-Schwartze (1851 – 1918) and Sir Philip de László (1869 – 1937), the pastels by Heinrich Siebert and pastel portraits in general.
The leading Dutch portraitists of the late nineteenth century were Jozef Israëls (1824 – 1911), Thérèse Schwartze, Pieter Josselin de Jong (1861 – 1906), Hendrik Jan Haverman (1857 – 1928) and Jan Pieter Veth (1864 – 1925). The latter also worked in Germany, England and the United States.[ii] Other names could be mentioned as well here. During this period, the Dutch, when staying abroad, often had themselves portrayed by prominent foreign artists.[iii] Even though there were enough skilled and successful Dutch portraitists at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, the Netherlands also attracted a number of foreign artists. This probably had to do with the growing importance of the Netherlands in international politics, finances and economy.
From ca 1900 onwards, there were three foreign painters who produced large numbers of portraits of Dutch people in the Netherlands. All three were born in the Habsburg Empire of Austria-Hungary, which was formed in 1867. In 2006, Museum Van Loon devoted an exhibition and a book to portraitist Sir Philip Alexius de László (Budapest, 1869 – Hampstead, London, 1937). Before and after the First World War, he would portray a large number of around 100 prominent Dutch people in Holland. He mainly worked in the United Kingdom as a society portraitist.
The second portraitist was Jean Baptiste Discart (Modena, 1855 – Paris, 1940), who studied at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. He became best known for his orientalist paintings made in Tangier, Morocco, which he sometimes finished in his studio in Paris, and the approximately seventy Dutch portraits he painted between the end of the nineteenth century and 1930. For the latter, Discart settled in The Hague for longer periods of time. The third of these three foreign painters who were active in the Netherlands was Adolf Pirsch.
Adolf Raimund Julius Pirsch was born on 4 July 1858 in Gradaz, Slovenia, and died in 1929 in Graz, Austria. He was educated at the Landeszeichnungsakademie (Provincial Drawing Academy) in Graz and was taught by director Heinrich Schwach, whom Pirsch would portray ca 1895.[iv] His activities as painter and portraitist can be divided into three periods: 1. the period up to 1908 in which he, ca. 1900, painted Pope Leo XIII (1810 – 1903, pope since 1878) and Emperor Franz Joseph (1830 – 1916, emperor since 1848) and made a group portrait of the children of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (Graz, 1863 – Sarajevo, 1914). From 1900, he focused on portrait commissions from countries in Central and Western Europe; 2. In 1909 and 1912, he stayed in the Netherlands to paint and finish a large number of portraits; 3. Because of the First World War, he lost his Austrian assets. After this, he settled in Haarlem, the Netherlands, where he would continue to live until 1928.
Adolf Pirsch painted portraits on commission but also made other works as well as free work. While the portraits usually had a formal character, his own work often was of a looser, sketchier and also sweeter nature. An entertaining part of the book are the descriptions of the artist’s attempts to obtain commissions and the occasional endeavour to generate positive publicity through articles, where he did not shy away from hyperbole.[v] The handful of Dutch critics who responded to the few exhibitions of his work were not entirely sure what to make of Pirsch. Eventually, albeit somewhat reluctantly, the value of his portraits was recognised.
The authors of the book are of the opinion that Pirsch’s best portraits were made in the period before 1914, although he did paint some beautiful portraits in a similar style after 1918. From 1920 onwards, various portraits by him are known that approach the Art Deco style. With the exhibition and book, the visitor and reader can judge for themselves. In the opinion of this author, the book’s authors are right to argue that the portraits from the pre-First World War period are amongst the best in his oeuvre.
The clientele of the painters Discart, De László and Pirsch mostly overlapped, although there were some differences. Adolf Pirsch portrayed people from noble and patrician circles, public administration and the arts and sciences.
The exhibition raises the question who of the three artists—Jean Baptiste Discart, Philip de László or Adolf Pirsch—was the best. That question does not come with an easy or straightforward answer. Discart distinguished himself through his orientalist paintings, in which he captured the beautiful faces of people focused on their profession and crafts. In his best Dutch portraits, the faces of those he portrayed also come out beautifully. De László left behind a large and elegant oeuvre that became more sober towards the end of his life. His portraits are, almost without exception, of a high standard. Pirsch’s work after 1918 is somewhat different in nature and of a more variable quality.
In his works before 1914, he concentrated on the faces but also the clothing of the people he portrayed. He made his subjects stand out in their own environments. The portraits from before 1914 show the painter at his peak. In their depictions, the people portrayed demonstrate a self-evident sense of their social position that was no longer evident after the First World War. Here, the authors indicate that the painter needed his patrons as an equipoise to remain balanced. [vi] Painter and sitter inspired each other. The portraits were offered a suitable place in the homes of their owners.
After his death in 1929, the painter Pirsch gradually became lost to obscurity. It is partly thanks to this exhibition and the book of the same name that Pirsch’s contribution to this period in Dutch history and art history now takes up a permanent place.
The exhibition of Pirsch’s work is special because the vast majority belongs to private collections. Although some of his work can be found in municipal, provincial and university collections, a great number is not accessible. This is the main reason Pirsch and his work have largely fallen into oblivion. The exhibition shows three beautiful paintings made in 1909 that belong to the permanent collection of Museum Van Loon. Other works on display include portraits by Pirsch from 1909–1912 and work from the period after 1918.
One of the highlights of Pirsch’s work is a portrait of Lady Maria Repelaer (1863 – 1939) from 1909, which was completed in 1912. She was married to Maarten Imam knight Pauw van Wieldrecht and Darthuizen, Doctor of Laws (1860 – 1913). Lady Maria Repelaer and her husband bought the Broekhuizen estate and stately home in Leersum, the Netherlands, from the Van Nellesteijn family in 1897. In 1905, Discart painted their son Reinier Pauw van Wieldrecht at Broekhuizen.
The exhibition about the painter Pirsch consists of three paintings that are on permanent display at Museum Van Loon. In addition, a considerable number of paintings that are on loan for this exhibition can be seen at the coach house. After Pirsch’s death, a large number of his drawings and preliminary studies have been preserved. These are also showcased at the coach house and demonstrate the painter’s methods.
Very little was known about Pirsch, apart from a single article from 1926, the odd newspaper article, and mentions of his name at a few exhibitions and following his death. The beautifully done eighty-page book is the first to provide an overview of his life and his portraits, hereby making an important contribution to the description of portraiture in the Netherlands during the first half of the twentieth century. The images of the portraits that belong to private collections, which are largely shown to the world for the first time, add significant value to this publication. The authors have indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic inevitably limited their research of archives and collections. Nevertheless, they found more than initially expected.[vii] There are still works by Pirsch, belonging to various private collections, that remain hidden. This applies both to works in Austria, Germany, England and other countries, including the Netherlands. We can only hope that this study of and publication about Pirsch’s oeuvre will lead to further research and new publications about his work and time.
The exhibition Considerable portraits. Adolf Pirsch (1858–1929) in the Netherlands at Museum Van Loon, Keizersgracht 672, 1017 ET Amsterdam, is open to the public from Friday, 8 April 2022, to Sunday, 12 June 2022.
In 2019 and 2020, Theo P.G. Kralt published the books Jean Baptiste Discart, Oriëntalistische schilderijen en Nederlandse portretten, Uitgeverij van Gruting, Utrecht, 2019, and Jean Baptiste Discart, Orientalist paintings and Dutch portraits, Van Gruting Publishers, Utrecht, 2020.
[i] Ekkart, R.E.O. and C. van den Donk, Aanzienlijke portretten, Adolf Pirsch (1858–1929) in Nederland (Considerable portraits. Adolf Pirsch (1858–1929) in the Netherlands), WBOOKS, Zwolle, in collaboration with Museum Van Loon, with a foreword by Gijs Schunselaar, director of Museum Van Loon. This article appeared in the Dutch in AIN (Aristocracy in the Netherlands) on 13 April 2022.
- [i] This article appeared in Dutch in magazine AIN (Aristocracy in the Netherlands) on 13 April 2022.
- [ii] Ibid., p 13.
- [iii] Ibid., Lady Louise van Loon-Borski by Alexandre Cabanel, Museum Van Loon, Amsterdam, p 12.
- [iv] Ibid., p 17.
- [v] Ibid., p 9.
- [vi] Ibid., p 65.
- [vii] Ibid., p 71.
Opening exhibition on 7 April 2022
Adolf Pirsch (1858 – 1929):
- Thora Nanna van Loon-Egidius (1865 – 1945), 1909, Museum Van Loon, Amsterdam
- Hendrik Willem van Loon, (1855 – 1935), 1909, Museum Van Loon, Amsterdam
- Thora Nanna van Loon-Egidius (1865 – 1945) in profile, 1909, Museum Van Loon, Amsterdam
- Adolph Zeijger van Rechteren Limpurg (1863 – 1918), 1909, with Rechteren Castle in the background on the left, Collection Foundation Castle Rechteren, Dalfsen
- Maria Pauw van Wieldrecht – Repelaer, Broekhuizen, Leersum, 1909/1912. Private collection
Philip Alexius de László (1869 – 1937):
- Johanna Ida van Limburg Stirum-Randebrock (1864 – 1924), 1910, Collection L. van Limburg Stirum, Offem, Noordwijk
Jean Baptiste Discart (1855 – 1940):
- Carel Marie Brantsen (1834 – 1909), Rhederoord, De Steeg, 1903
- Jacqueline Sophie Brantsen – van Limburg Stirum, Rhederoord, 1903
- Lady Amelia (Amée) Jacqueline Julie Brantsen (1875 – 1951), 1903, Rhederoord, De Steeg. Collection Brantsen-Van Limburg Stirum Foundation, Wielbergen, Angerlo
- Matilda Augusta Elisabeth Randebrock-Schöverling (1864 – 1924, The Hague, 1913, Collection L. van Limburg Stirum, Offem, Noordwijk
- Eliza Dorothea van Vredenburch – van Tuyll van Serooskerken (1906 – 1976), 1914, private collection