Virtually no subject is as much in visual art, and depicted in as many different forms as women. We see her depicted as Mary, Venus and muse, as ruler, as mother, “belle”, woman of the world, femme fatale and temptress. For the symbolist artists, who at the end of the 19th century were inspired by myths, literature, dreams and emotions, woman faces man as a different creature: as a personification of the highest virtue, but also as a witch, sphinx and unscrupulous creature, such as biblical Delilah and Salome. In short, they see her as a saint or sinner.
Around 1830-1840 there is an emerging middle class in Western Europe (civil servants, industrialists, traders). People lead a relatively simple life, in which virtues such as maternal love, domesticity, loyalty and self-control are highly regarded. In painting this translates into domestic paintings of mothers with their children, which they teach, for example, while reading. The decor is usually simple yet tasteful, with a single precious rug or a brocade tablecloth in reference to a certain wealth.
In the second half of the 19th century, the growth of trade, industry, science and technology caused social changes. People are becoming more well-off and more opportunities are emerging for women. Fashion changes and sophisticated ladies take to the streets and visit the theater, terraces, cafes and shops. Rural girls move to the city to work in factories or find employment as maidservants or shop assistants. Painters such as Isaac Israels and George Hendrik Breitner portray them cheerfully and confidently. In 1904, after his studies at the Academy, modernist Jan Sluijters taught himself a fast, free way of working and painted the vibrant nightlife on Montmartre. He does not idealize and paints the raw, colourful Parisian city life with its beauty and fleeting passions. After criticism from the Rijksacademie and withdrawing his travel allowance, he returns to the Netherlands in 1907, but women remain a popular subject. His second wife Greet is his muse and appears in many of his works. Anyone who surveys his oeuvre now and then detects a slightly decadent undertone in his portraits, dancers and nudes of later years, reminiscent of his Parisian flail years.
In 1903 Maurits Niekerk exchanges the silence of the Flemish countryside for the hustle and bustle of Brussels, where he will live for a few years to paint the city and nightlife, before traveling to Paris.
The Fleming George Minne, who is considered the most important symbolist sculptor in his country, does not care about all social changes and moves in 1898 at the age of 32 with his family to the tranquility of the artists’ village of Sint-Martens-Latem. With the exception of the war years 1914-1918 he will remain faithful to this village all his life. This is where his first works emerge on the recurring theme “Mother and Child”: beautiful, religiously inspired charcoal drawings with swirling movements and sculptures in an angular, strict style. From the second half of the twenties he developed a more realistic form language. During the war years he moved to Wales with his family, where he was too restless to sculpt but where he continued his series of charcoal drawings of “Mother and Child”. The theme is now partly motivated by the fear and despair of him and his wife about the fate of their three oldest sons who have remained in Belgium to fight at the front.
Today, female artists are mainly concerned with painting and watercolors of traditional women’s subjects, such as (flower) still lifes and animal paintings. In the world of art, women also had to fight for their independence in the 19th century. No matter how virtuous and useful the practice of painting for women of the higher class is considered, making a profession of art is seen as the opposite of their nature and nature. Only in 1861 did women gain access to art education at academies and drawing schools, which gradually changed this view. As a result, we see a number of particularly innovative female artists emerging in the early 20th century. They venture into unknown territory, both socially and artistically, experiment with form and color and turn away from the traditional female themes.
Charlotte van Pallandt (1898-1997) is one of them. After her divorce in 1923, she wrestled from her predestined life by nobility and opted for a career as an artist at the age of 25. Back in the Netherlands, after a drawing course in Paris, she opted for sculpture. She is best known for her portraits and female nudes in a robust style in which strength and quirkiness resound. With the exception of a cubist period in the 1920s and an abstract period in the 1960s, she mainly works in a realistic way, sometimes modeling roughly, then refining.
A woman with apple is probably part of the series of small Truus figurines from 1952, so named after the much sought-after model Truus Trompert, who regularly poses for Van Pallandt from 1943 onwards. Because of her professional dedication, she was already working full-time as a model for several sculptors. Charlotte van Pallandt particularly likes to work with her because the model feels exactly what is expected of her and has said about Truus: “Each of her attitudes was an image.” Van Pallandt is not only one of the first independent female artists in the Netherlands, but is considered one of the most important Dutch sculptors of the 20th century.