Jan Sluijters, together with Leo Gestel and Piet Mondriaan, is one of the first Dutch 'moderns'. At the beginning of the 20th century, Sluijters sought to join the European avant-garde in Paris. There, at the Salon des Independants, he became acquainted with neo-impressionism, fauvism, luminism, cubism and expressionism, new art movements with which he experimented almost all over the next 15 years. As an ambitious and virtuoso painter, Sluijters is looking for new forms of expression and introduces light and color into Dutch painting.
After moving from his hometown Den Bosch to Amsterdam, Sluijters attended the Rijksnormaalschool voor Teekenonderwijs in the capital. Then the painting class of Prof. Nicolaas van der Waay at the National Academy of Visual Arts and the evening course of Prof. August Allebé. Sluijters started early as an independent draftsman, illustrating children's books and making book covers. In 1904 he won the prestigious Prix de Rome and a four-year scholarship with a large academic painting. Sluijters, just married, travels through Italy and Spain with his wife Bertha Langerhorst and then, together with painter friend Leo Gestel, settle down in Paris for a year. There he immersed himself in the avant-garde and was fascinated by the work of the Neo-Impressionists, especially the Luminists and Fauvists. His academic, somewhat dark work gives way to light, colorful and cheerful canvases in an expressive touch, which show the influence of Toulouse-Lautrec, Signac, Seurat and especially his fellow countryman Kees van Dongen. The subject will be impressions from daily life and nightlife. With loose brushstrokes and bright colors, Sluijters dynamically captures Parisian street and café life in works such as Femmes qui s'embrassent and Bal Tabarin. Sluijters admired the free use of color and the light effects of the Impressionist painters and he himself wanted nothing more than to 'paint light'. However, his Parisian work is not well received by the Prix de Rome jury and it costs him his scholarship because of the 'vulgarity' of the subjects. In the meantime, all this had earned him a lot of publicity and when he returned to Amsterdam at the end of 1906, he had already made a name for himself as a pioneer of Dutch modernism. Sluijters takes no notice of the fierce reactions of the critics - his paintings are often refused for exhibitions - and continues in search of new modernist forms of expression that he processes into his own, recognizable style. He goes outside and starts painting in the Amsterdam area, where many luminist landscapes and cityscapes were created in 1907-1908, which with their broad dots of bright, unmixed colors testify to the sensation of the light that Sluijters wanted to emphasize. This luminist work culminates in the paintings he makes in 1909-1910 in Heeze and Het Gooi, where he lives for longer periods with his new lover Greet van Cooten, after a divorce from Bertha, until the spring of 1911. Piet Mondrian is also experimenting with landscapes that are very similar to the landscapes of Sluijters in those years. Sluijters and Mondriaan spend a lot of time together and at the 1908 St. Luca exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum, the works of Sluijters hang fraternally next to those of Mondrian in one of the rear corner rooms.
After a visit to Paris in 1911, Sluijters briefly experiments with Cubism and his work shows the influence of Georges Braque and Vasily Kandinsky. Sluijters, however, decides not to follow the road to abstraction, but to devote himself entirely to the representation of visible reality. Together with Piet Mondriaan, Leo Gestel and Conrad Kickert, Cees Spoor and Jan Toorop, he founded the Modern Art Circle in 1910. This circle showed work by the foreign avant-garde in the Netherlands and thus responded to the traditionally set Arti et Amicitae.
Inspired by Vincent van Gogh's late work, Sluijters started painting his most abstract paintings in 1913-1914, the famous October suns and moon nights. Individual brushstrokes are replaced by larger, interlocking areas of color in blue, orange and soft violet and smooth contours. These works, which, with their non-naturalistic use of color and abstraction of forms, show great expressiveness, are considered to be Sluijters' most modern work. In these years, Sluijters also actively participates in club life in Amsterdam. He exhibits at the Moderne Kunstkring st. Lucas, where he is a jury member, and he clashes several times with the conservative society Arti et Amicitiae. In 1912 and 1913, retrospective exhibitions of his work are held in Rotterdam and The Hague and the public is slowly getting used to his work. In the summer of 1915 Sluijters stayed in Staphorst for a month. There he captures the farming village and its population without any sentiment. The portraits and landscapes he makes there, in dark, earthy colors and simplified forms, form a closed entity within his oeuvre.
In his free work, Sluijters mainly makes portraits of women, often naked. 'I also think it almost goes without saying that you paint more women than men. They are so much nicer to watch, 'said Sluijters. Appreciation for his work is growing steadily. He is now an established artist, with regular retrospective exhibitions at the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum and he is invited to numerous juries and committees. In 1933 he was appointed Officer in the Order of Oranje Nassau and won the Grand Prix at the World Exhibition in Paris. To celebrate its sixtieth birthday, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam is holding a retrospective.
The second part of Sluijter's painter's life, after 1920, was characterized by a moderately impressionist, figurative style. It was the time when he was considered to be the portrait painter of the Netherlands and he painted numerous prominent fellow countrymen from academic circles, the music and theater world and the business community on commission. Piet Boendermaker and Willem Mengelberg let themselves be immortalized by him, among others. In addition, he often found his subjects in his immediate environment. In addition to portraits and nudes, he increasingly records the lives of his wife and children in his own living room. Sluijters liked a strict daily schedule: 'I work all day and in the afternoon I go to Arti to play billiards. I am a real grocer among my colleagues, not at all artistic '(De Groene Amsterdammer, 5/26/1928). Every now and then he made a trip abroad and his immediate surroundings in Amsterdam also yielded enough painting material:
'the whole world for my inspiration lies around this in a circle of five and twenty meters. I'm not traveling. Here I find everything I paint, my wife, my children, this furniture, a few vases and mugs - the flowers, yes, these cactus plants, and now and then a model '(Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant, 24- 12-1927).
After a period of depression and illness during the Second World War, Sluijters barely got around to painting. But after the war he soon regains his cheerful élan and with it his use of color. He paints portraits of grandchildren and cheerful interiors, including the famous La joie de peindre from 1946. He fell ill in 1956 and died in the spring of 1957. Sluijters was buried from the Stedelijk Museum with great interest.
Sluijters, trained at the Rijksnormaalschool voor Teekenonderwijs, has drawn throughout his life, but especially up to 1920. His caricatures were especially popular. He also made political prints during the First World War for the Nieuwe Amsterdammer. To him, it was not about the political commitment, but about the narrative element that reflected the dramatic topicality of the war. Sluijters has not undergone a consistent development towards its own style, which also immediately indicates why Mondriaan has become world famous and Sluijters has not. Sluijters' merit is that he brought modernism and color and light to the Netherlands. As A. Loosjes-Terpstra said in her 1959 book 'Modern Art in the Netherlands, 1900-1914': 'Sluijters should not be seen as a follower, but as the one who was one of the first to open new sources for Dutch art!'