Willem Bastiaan Tholen is seen as a versatile and talented artist, who was already very popular in his time. As an excellent networker, he has already sold his works far beyond the border. His fresh use of color and original compositions make it difficult to categorize him. He started from his own ideas and strength and was not necessarily looking for connections with like-minded people. His work is more colorful and diverse in subject than that of the Hague School painters and he works a bit more modestly than the painters of the Amsterdam School, yet his paintings and watercolors connect with both movements. He is also a gifted etcher and draftsman.
Tholen - born in Amsterdam in 1931 - studied there for one year at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten (where he was in the same class as Piet Meiners and Jan Voerman sr.) And then obtained his M.O. in two years. Sign deeds and draw straight lines at the Polytechnic School in Delft. At the age of 18 he is an art teacher in Kampen, where his parents have now moved. His father also followed a painting and drawing training and from him Tholen especially got the love for the outdoors and sailing. Tholen was only trained in the painting profession in 1878, when he spent three months in the studio of Paul Joseph Constantin Gabriel in Brussels. Tholen knew Gabriel through his maternal aunt, the painter Arondine Arendsen, who had followed painting lessons with Gabriel with Cornelis. Lieste. Gabriel would become Tholen's friend and counselor and they later regularly made painting trips together, especially in the area around Giethoorn and Kampen. It was mainly Tholen who made Giethoorn known to the general public. In 1880, at the age of 20, he came to this remote and unknown village of peat cutters - to fish - and found it so worthy of painting that he returned several times to record his impressions. He wrote to the art critic Albert Plasschaert from Giethoorn “it is desperately beautiful here” and to Willem Witsen, with whom he had become friends at the Rijksacademie: “You shouldn't tell painters that it's so beautiful here. is much more beautiful than Laren ”. In all his versatility, he ultimately created a beautiful image of the village: painted, but above all sketched.
Tholen already painted a lot, but he needed to be a teacher in the first years to make ends meet. In his spare time he made feverish drawings and sketches outside to further elaborate in his studio. His many sketchbooks left behind show works of high quality. This was not only due to his drawing training and talent, also his interest in understanding everything (technically) before it was sketched. Whether it concerned mills, machines, trees, plants, slaughterhouses or boats: he first studied to perfection how something worked, functioned or grew.
Teaching became increasingly difficult for him. He wrote to Witsen in 1885: “If a painter has to work for his life, it is an unhappy life. You can do whatever you want, I only half.” Witsen lived at that time on Ewijkshoeve, his family's estate in the woods near Soest. His father, both sisters and Coba Mulder - the best friend of his sister Cobi, who would later marry Tholen - lived there and later Bram Arntzenius, a widower with 6 young children, moved in with them. The estate was a sweet foray for artistic and intellectual friends who wanted to stop by for a short or long stay. It was a lively, artistic place of painting, writing and music. Tholen was first invited by Witsen in 1885. Together with Jan Veth and Antoon Derkinderen he had founded the Dutch Etsclub and they wanted to ask Tholen to become a member. Every year this club published a portfolio of about twelve etchings made by its members. Tholen was an excellent etcher and indeed became a member. He has submitted an etching for three years in a row. After that he said he did not have time for it anymore, but from the first encounter with Ewijkshoeve he became a child at home and later even had a studio there.
He has developed further in this place. New subjects presented themselves, in particular the vegetable vegetable in all its aspects and the six children of Arntzenius inspired him. He develops an eye for unexpected, playful situations (a view from an open window or door, a different - more surprising - point of view, genre scenes) and increasingly pays attention to compositions and cut-offs, just as the first photographers did in his time. When he paints the glass greenhouse in the garden, he emphasizes the reflection of the clouds in the glass and his cut-offs make landscapes and garden views more exciting. He rarely painted still lifes. Everyday objects such as a bouquet or a watering can often form part of a larger painter's story on his canvas or panel; because Tholen was a very good painter, but he also wanted to tell a story and let you enjoy all the beauty that he observed. He wanted to pass on everyday, temporary moments that touched or amazed him through his paintings. Due to the high quality of the paint he used, his works still look fresh in our time. He often only used a little paint, which benefits the condition of his paintings. 'Rusticus' (pseudonym of the critic H. de Boer) once described his application of paint as follows: 'Sometimes it seems to be nothing more than a film breathed over the canvas: the painter seeks the soul of things'.
In 1886 Tholen married the 17 years older Coba Mulder and they settled in The Hague, where Cobi Witsen and Bram Arntzenius - who married a year earlier - also live with his children. In 1990 Tholen buys De Kanaalvilla on Haagse Haringkade and has it renovated so that both families can live together again, as at Ewijkshoeve. In The Hague Tholen has many contacts with Hague School painters such as the brothers Maris, Jozef Israëls, Mesdag, Bosboom, and with Mauve, whom he already knows from Ewijkshoeve. He becomes a member of Pulchri and of the Hollandsche Teekenmaatschappij, an international association that wanted to promote the exhibition of watercolors. Tholen paints a lot in the area and his own house and garden are also a source of inspiration. Paul Arntzenius, one of Bram's children, can often be found in Tholen's studio and will also develop into a painter. He also sometimes goes on a sailing and painting trip on the Eudia. With this ship - which Tholen had built in Enkhuizen in 1901 - he mainly explored the Zuiderzee area and the Waddenzee, but also the Kagerplassen and the Zeeland waters. The atmosphere on the water, around the harbors and in the harbor towns, led to many new subjects for his paintings and watercolors.
Enkhuizen enjoyed his preference over all other Zuiderzee towns. Tholen has often and happily painted and lived here (he even had a house there for a while) and he enjoyed the tranquil atmosphere in the village. Here he painted a number of evening scenes with a setting sun. To get the intimate atmosphere he was looking for, he liked to use the light of street lamps at night. As a temporary resident, he has often devoted himself to preserving the authentic features of the village of Enkhuizen and the residents were very grateful to him for this.
Coba fell ill in 1916 and died two years later in a sanatorium in Heelsum. Tholen continued to live in the Kanaalvilla, but the Arntzenius family moved elsewhere. He remarried in 1919 to lady Lita de Ranitz and they stayed together until he died on December 5, 1931. At his death the flag was at half mast on the Dromedary in Enkhuizen.