Artistic jack-of-all-trades

Wijnand Otto Jan Nieuwenkamp (1874-1950), who came from an Amsterdam family of ship owners, was artistically extremely versatile. Most admirers know him as a graphic artist and painter, but he was also an architect, boat builder, writer, explorer, art collector and ethnographer. He was very productive and left many works.

He grew up in Amsterdam, spent his adolescence in Haarlem, and as an artist first found himself a home in Edam, then Rome and finally Florence. His many long journeys to the Netherlands East Indies had a formative effect on him both as an artist and as a man.

Biography Wijnand Otto Jan Nieuwenkamp

Wijnand Otto Jan Nieuwenkamp was born in Amsterdam on 27 July 1874. He died on 23 April 1950 in San Domenico di Fiesole in Italy, where he had lived from 1926.

Education and training
Nieuwenkamp’s father (Willem Gerrit) was the president of a company created by his father (Wijnand Otto Jan) and his brother: WOJ Nieuwenkamp’s Handelmaatschappij. Originally, his father wanted Nieuwenkamp to do a theology degree and sent him off to grammar school in Haarlem. But it wasn’t long before Nieuwenkamp failed and decided to continue his education in Amsterdam. Nieuwenkamp started drawing when he was a child and decided that he wanted to be an artist. After he graduated in 1892, urged by his father, he started working in his office in Amsterdam. But this was not a big success..(‘It’s just not me, swivelling around on an office stool, day in, day out.’) In 1894 Nieuwenkamp enrolled at the National School of Crafts in Amsterdam but it wasn’t long before he left and decided to learn about theprofession of art on his own.
All of this caused his father to stop financially supporting his son.

Nieuwenkamp goes his own way
From that time onwards Nieuwenkamp became self-sufficient, creating illustrations for various magazines, including the well known One’s own home [Eigen Haard]
He established his own studio in the red-light district in Haarlem where artists, who were soon to become his friends, were living: J.M. Graadt van Roggen (1867-1959), J.G. Veldheer (1866-1954) and Willem Vaarzon Morel (1868-1955). He learned a lot from all three: Graadt van Rays taught him how to make etchings, and commissioned by various magazines, he travelled around, accompanied by his two other fellow artists. He became a member of the artists society Art is our Aim [Kunst zij ons Doel] which met on a weekly basis and talked about all the new ideas that presented themselves in those days.

Between 1885 and 1915 Dutch art work was held in high regard internationally. The works of W.O.J. Nieuwenkamp clearly belong to this period. The Art around 1900, as we now call it, was rooted in the years before: Art Nouveau, the work of William Morris in England and its very traditional working methods and typography. All of this spoke strongly to Nieuwenkamp’s imagination. His works show influences of Jugendstil, Art Nouveau and Art Deco, but he also followed his own path and had a totally unique and easily identifiable style.
In 1924, artist and art critic R.P.W. de Vries (1874-1952) wrote:
‘… His talents persuaded Nieuwenkamp to follow his own path and to pursue it, thereby creating a very special place for himself between contemporary graphic artists (…). So we shouldn’t try to compare his work with that of other artists who have worked in the East. Nieuwenkamp is simply Nieuwenkamp, and no other. Voila tout!

Journeys to the Netherlands East Indies
From 1898 onwards, numerous journeys took him to the islands of the East Indian archipelago, and especially to Bali. Cycling around and using his drawing tools to quickly capture all his impressions (no-one had seen a white artist cycling around before), he collected works of art, often commissioned.

It was these journeys to the Netherlands East Indies that had a particularly strong influence on his development as an artist and as a human being. (His Balinese period, link).

In 1900 Nieuwenkamp married Anna Wilbrink from Lunteren, a distant cousin. For the first few years they lived on the De Zwerver, a beautiful houseboat which had its own studio; a houseboat that he had designed and helped build. The young family sailed around the waters of the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany until 1910. During these years their four children were born.
In 1910 the family settled down in Edam, again in a home and studio that Nieuwenkamp designed and built himself. By the end of the 1920s he left the Netherlands, taking his wife and their two youngest children. In the winter of 1920-1921 they first lived in Sicily, then moved to Rome and, in 1926, they settled in San Domenico di Fiesole, near Florence. From there, they moved to the beautiful villa Riposo dei Vescovi (Bishop’s Rest) which Nieuwenkamp continued to decorate throughout his life. They lived here until he died in 1950.

Financially supported by his wife
His wife Anna came from a wealthy family; her father, Wilbrink, was a notary in Lunteren who possessed vast estates and her mother was a Van der Ham, another well-to-do family. Anna’s parents died in approx. 1910 and the inheritance enabled Anna to support her husband financially. For although people were very eager to buy his authentic artisan creations, and he usually had no problems selling his prints, he could never have afforded all the travelling and different homes.

A versatile artist
Nieuwenkamp developed into a very versatile artist: graphic designer, artist, architect, writer, ethnographer, explorer, captain, boat builder, painter and art connoisseur and collector of East Asian art. He brought back important objects: works of arts and crafts. He assembled his own collection, and acquired pieces, commissioned by ethnographic museums in the Netherlands and Germany.
He was a passionate worker. People who have seen a lot of his work will easily see how very disciplined he was, involving himself in every aspects of the art business.

In 1947 Nieuwenkamp created the Nieuwenkamp Museum Foundation to preserve his legacy and raise awareness of it. In 1949 the Nieuwenkamp Museum in Edam was officially opened on the occasion of his 75th birthday. Here a number of his artworks and his Indian collection were exhibited. In 1975, because of lack of money, the museum was forced to close its doors. The Foundation, however, still exists.

Fellow artists
Among the important contemporaries with whom he had close contact, were:

  • Jan Toorop (1858-1928), who drew Nieuwenkamp’s portrait on the occasion of his 50th birthday.
  • J.G. Veldheer(1866-1954), who before 1900 had travelled with Nieuwenkamp round the Netherlands, visiting towns and villages they had wanted to draw.
  • J.M. Graadt of Rays (1867-1959), who taught Nieuwenkamp how to make etchings
  • Willem Vaarzon Morel (1868-1955), who travelled with Nieuwenkamp to Belgium, Paris and other places (before 1900).
  • Marius Bauer (1867-1932), painter, graphic artist and, like Nieuwenkamp himself, an Orientalist.
  • Simon Moulijn(1866-1948), a lithographer, who lived on the De Zwerver for some time.
  • Pieter Dupont (1870-1911), an etcher he met in Paris.
  • R.W.P. de Vries, Jr. (1874-1952) who also wrote reviews, and who, as an editor with Elsevier’s Illustrated Monthly, had often worked with Nieuwenkamp
  • S.H. de Roos(1877-1962), also a letter designer for the Tetterode foundry, and a book designer.
  • The painter R. Bonnet (1895-1978), who, urged by Nieuwenkamp, travelled to the island of Bali.