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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Lizzy Ansingh

The Source of Life, 1916, Maria Elisabeth Georgina ('Lizzy') Ansingh
Occasionally, as I go in search of an artist to write about, I stumble upon another, more important, more talented, and more prolific. Usually that means I choose the more accomplished of the two to pursue. That happened today, except in this case, I decided to stick with my original choice even though the second artist, her aunt and tutor, was somewhat more famous. The difference this time is that the Dutch painter, Maria Elisabeth Georgina Ansingh ("Lizzy"), was the more interesting of the two. Her Aunt, (her mother's sister) Thérèse Schwartze, was a well-known, successful, Amsterdam portrait artist born in 1851, a rather late addition to the long line of outstanding Dutch portrait artist going back even before Rembrandt. Therein was the was the problem. Though she was good at what she did, as Dutch painters go, she was in no way outstanding. Her niece, Lizzy Ansingh, on the other hand, who died in 1959, left behind a modest body of work consisting almost totally of paintings of her extensive doll collection. Moreover, taking her cue from her aunt, her paintings tended not to be still-lifes but portraits of her dolls. Many, many artists have painted portraits. A few have painted dolls. However, none but Lizzy, so far as I know, have painted doll portraits.

Self-portraits during her student years in Amsterdam.
Born in 1875, Lizzy Ansingh came by her talent and interest in painting as the daughter of a painter, Clara Theresia Schwartze (her father was a pharmacist). Moreover, she was also the granddaughter of a painter, Johann Georg Schwartze. However it was her aunt, Thérèse Schwartze, who began teaching her to paint at an early age. Lizzy later lived for some sixteen years with her aunt, who encouraged her to develop an artistic career. She introduced Lizzy to numerous other painters, among them several French impressionists and the famous Dutch painters, George Hendrik Breitner and Piet Mondriaan. Starting in 1894, Lizzy studied at the Amsterdam Royal Academy of Visual Arts. There she studied with the professors August Allebé, Nicolaas van der Waay and Carel Dake. While At the Academy a lasting friendship was formed among a group of female painters, later called the Amsterdamse Joffers: Lizzy Ansingh, Marie van Regteren Altena, Suze Bisschop-Robertson, Coba Ritsema, Ans van den Berg, Jacoba Surie, Nelly Bodenheim, Betsy Westendorp-Osieck and Jo Bauer-Stumpff (below). The importance of the Amsterdamse Joffers lies not so much in their reputations as Dutch painters, but primarily in their being role models for younger women painters in the Netherlands, during and after the 1970s.

Kunstenaars or Amsterdamse Joffers:
Ritsema, Surie, Osieck, Ansingh, Van den Berg,
Van Regteren-Altena en Bodenheim
Thérèse Schwartze,
Self Portrait, 1888
Although Lizzy Ansingh, like her aunt, painted portraits, she gained most of her reputation as a painter of dolls. Once more, her aunt encouraged her. During her teenaged years, Lizzy often modeled for her aunt as seen in the portraits below. Lizzy purchased a dollhouse from 1740-1750, in which she arranged her dolls for inspiration, as well as furnishing it with numerous other articles she collected. However Lizzy's Amsterdam studio, along with the doll-house, was severely damaged on the night of April 17, 1943, when a British bomber was shot down, destroying the Carlton Hotel and much of the Reg-uliersdwarsstraat along side her studio. The fire which followed was the most devastating in Amsterdam since 1659. The dollhouse has since been restored and can be seen at the Museum Arnhem.

Just a few of the many portraits of Lizzy by her aunt.
Still-Life, Lizzy Ansingh
The rooms and the inhabitants of Lizzy's dollhouse, took a prominent place in her studio. They were an unmistakable inspiration for her. She chose not to depict these dolls as if they were objects. Lizzy Ansingh brought her dolls to life and showcased them in her painted plays. These paintings are, in fact, a unique genre within the history of Dutch art. The paintings of Lizzy Ansingh are often considered to be 'alien' in that the dolls she portrayed are puppets with a soul and not merely lifeless toys. Ansingh often painted scenes from ballets with the audience throwing flower wreaths, as the dancers and musicians are giving one last bow. Curious birds glance at the stage. Her paintings have a somewhat fore-boding undertone, however, the subject of music and dance is quite contradictory, being full of life and gaiety. She also painted the occasional still-life (above, right). Apparently she painted very few of them though, or she would have had to come up with a less generic title.

Lizzy Ansingh was especially fond of oriental dolls.

Lizzy Ansingh died in 1959 at the age of eighty-four.
The Child on the Back of a Carp, Lizzy Ansingh.
Who knew? Dolls like to take joyrides.


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