Wilhelmus Hendrikus Petrus Johannes 'Willem' de Zwart, who is counted among the youngest generation of painters of the Hague School, is sometimes referred to as the 'Breitner in The Hague'. In his choice of subjects he belonged to the Hague School, in his style and use of color to the Amsterdam Impressionists. His landscapes, cityscapes, figure pieces, portraits and still lifes show a smooth, daring brushstroke. De Zwart applied the paint thickly, sometimes directly from a tube, with bright touches of color in bold reds, yellows and blues, which give his paintings a special vibrancy. The time between 1880 and 1895 is considered to be his most fertile period, during which he made his strongest works.
Born and died in The Hague (1862-1931), De Zwart received his first painting lessons at the Hague Academy of Visual Arts. George Hendrik Breitner, Suze Robertson, Isaac Israels and Floris Verster were his fellow students. In the evening he was apprenticed to Jacob Maris, one of the Hague School painters from the very beginning. Maris's influence has long been visible in the landscapes and forest views that De Zwart painted up to 1885. In 1885 he became a member of Pulchri studio and the Dutch Etching Club. In the same year he went with his friend Breitner to Drenthe, where they mainly painted in nature. In 1889 De Zwart moved to Loosduinen and married Maria Reevers there in 1892. At the time, De Zwart often painted cityscapes with stationary carriages, but also still lifes and landscapes in the Loosduinen area. He became increasingly daring and his test broadened. After moving with his family to Het Gooi in 1894, he lived in Soest and Hilversum, he took his inspiration from the Laren School, recording the doings of the farmers in that area.
In 1900 De Zwart moved to Amsterdam, where he spent a lot of time with Breitner and Willem Witsen. At that time he made cityscapes - often with tram horses and figure pieces and girls with a kimono - showing the influence of his friends. But De Zwart was almost never satisfied with his work, unsure as he was. He once wrote to a colleague: 'I went to see the painting this afternoon, your comments are correct as always. I do not entirely agree with you that it is so special (…) circumstances already seem to have a great deal of influence that what I envision to make does not fully achieve what I imagined, which is also the case with this painting. '
After living in Bloemendaal for a year in 1905, De Zwart had still not found peace, on the contrary: 'living in such a row of houses was torment for the nervous, suspicious man' and he soon moved to Scheveningen. ' Once settled there, he apparently found peace in painting beach scenes with fishermen and the bomb barges that were brought in. However, his unrest continued and he increasingly suffered from breakdowns and depression. However, interest in his work, especially his early paintings, increased. From 1892 De Zwart had a 'contract' with Kunsthandel E.J. van Wisselingh & Co in Amsterdam, where many exhibitions were organized and his work was in great demand. In those years De Zwart was awarded several times nationally and internationally, including at the world exhibitions in Chicago in 1892 and in Antwerp in 1894. When the contract with Van Wisselingh was broken after 1910, the insecure and serious De Zwart failed to hold his own and fell prey to money worries and heavy depression. Moreover, his wife decided to divorce him; she could no longer cope with the tensions that caused his depression. In 1907 he was admitted to Oud Rosenburg in Loosduinen for persecution madness. After his treatment, De Zwart moved to Veur (Leidschendam), where he painted many meadow landscapes with milking farmers.
From 1910 until his death in 1931 it remained quiet around De Zwart. Few exhibitions, no public tribute. In 1917 he returned to The Hague for good, where he lived and worked in the lee, tormented by 'ghosts' who had a negative impact on his work. Out of dissatisfaction, he even decided to destroy part of his work. After a few restless last years, during which he moved numerous times within The Hague, De Zwart died of a stroke in 1931.
De Zwart's work is counted as part of the second bloom of the Hague School; a group of artists who took their own direction in the Hague environment. They all had a bond with the old Hague Scholers, often with one in particular, as De Zwart had with Jacob Maris. The Dutch naturalism of the Hague School was continued in the same vein, but with its own interpretation, akin to the Amsterdam Impressionists of the time.