"After all, romance is an essential part of life"

Rob Graafland in a letter to his friend and colleague Charles Hollman, 1 October 1938

Early Years 1875 - 1900

On Friday 26 November 1875, Robert Archibald Antonius Jean Graafland was born in Maastricht, the capital of the southern Limburg province of the Netherlands, as second son of Johan Magdalenus Leo and Francisca Suzanne Geertruide Mols. The Graafland family were originally from Amsterdam where they, since 1600, had been members of an oligarchy, called Regenten (Regents), which were families governing towns and provinces in the Dutch Republic. His father, Johan Graafland, was a banker, but above all a heraldist who published two large illustrated books on heraldry: 'Limburgsche Wapens' ('Coats of Arms of Families in Limburg'), in cooperation with J.M. v.d. Venne, and 'Encyclopédie Héraldique' / 'Heraldische Encyclopedie' ('Encyclopedia of Heraldry'), the latter both in French (main language) and Dutch. Johan also created heraldic wooden boards by burning and colouring coats of arms. A fine example is the large Graafland coat of arms board to celebrate the wedding of Rob Graafland and Maria Duquesne.

On 4 November 1890, after the bank was dissolved, the Graafland family - three girls and five boys - moved to Nieuwer - Amstel, close to Amsterdam, and later on to Amsterdam where Rob Graafland attended two schools at the same time: the Rijksnormaalschool voor Teekenonderwijzers (school for training future teachers in the art of drawing), and the Quellinusschool, many years later renamed the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. The purpose of the latter, founded by the architect P. J. H. Cuypers in 1879, was to educate young people to become artisans in order to build the Rijksmuseum, which was designed by Cuypers. Rob Graafland's parents wanted him to be trained as an architect but Graafland himself had set his heart on becoming a painter, and after taking a course in architecture at Cuyper's studio and, at his parents' request, taking his diploma in drawing in 1895, he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Art in Amsterdam. His teachers were Professor Augustus Allebé and Professor Carel L. Dake. In the evening during the next few years, Graafland taught at an art school in Amsterdam founded by a college friend of his, Gerrit Willem Knap, whose classes were very popular.

On 26 September 1898, Rob Graafland applied for a position at the Stadsteekeninstituut in Maastricht which had been founded a few months before and which provided a training course for young artisans. Graafland was accepted on 7 November and he settled down in Maastricht. His two colleagues at the institute were Frans van der Laar, a sculptor from Sittard, and Willem Sprenger. The school started on 1 December 1898 in the former Augustijnenkerk (Church) with 159 pupils who were at least twelve years old. Graafland introduced something new in his teachings: not only the usefulness was important but also the beauty. The director of the Stadsteekeninstituut was Jacobus van Gils who was succeeded by A. van de Sandt in 1902. Around that time, Maastricht was a small village with a population of about 28,000 and cultural life was limited to just a handful of artists.

Graafland set up his first painting studio in 1900. As a result of his academic training he predominantly painted in Rembrandt - brown colours the next few years. Yet, among his early works are some paintings that show his future direction, like 'Morenfiguur' (1902), 'Picnic and Red Car' (1902) and 'Maastricht' (1906), all colourful pictures. Graafland disliked still lifes, flower arrangements and religious subjects. Still lifes he has never painted, flower arrangements very occasionally like a blue vase with poppy flowers, and religious paintings almost never, despite illustrating religious school books all his life for Brother Cyprianus from a monastery.

Graafland's art was not influenced by political and social developments, he did not express his opinions in his paintings. But he did draw a then famous coloured postcard with the caption "Support The Government Before It Is Too Late" which was sold by bookshops all over the Netherlands, when the politician Troelstra called the revolution in November 1918 and Belgium laid claim to Dutch - Limburg (southern Dutch province). Several other political illustrations survived.

Jean van der Voort wrote about Graafland in Kunst in Limburg (1919 / 1920) (Art in Limburg): "Beside a strong personal style, you can see in all of his paintings, in a brilliance that cannot be ignored, the beautiful reflection of an intimate, poetical emotion, which turns every painting into a colourful poem." Graafland chose indeed sometimes the theme of a poem to express it on canvas. Van der Voort: "'Jonge liefde' (1918) ('Young Love'), is the poetical expression of the poem by Gottfried Mann":

"The sun was high in the sky, spring echoed in the leaves,
The whole world was singing for them,
He bent over, whisp'ring, towards her,
Next to the little head beside him, red of a rosy glow..."

Poetry and music had a great influence on Graafland's life. His favourite subject 'Levensgang' ('Going Through Life Together') was derived from the oratorio the 'Schöpfung' by Joseph Haydn. It was thanks to listening to the 'Schöpfung' that Graafland started painting again after a long illness. Van der Voort: "Each time when Graafland paints the noblest in the world, the human being, he manages to avoid, what many people are sometimes shocked by in modern art, and the rough brush strokes of colour create, refined, the ethereal face."

Sunday Painting School

Graafland turned out to be an inspired teacher. One of his pupils, the writer Mathias Kemp, wrote in the local newspaper Limburgs Dagblad on 2 November 1956: "His great ability and pedagogic skills earned him quickly high esteem." Graafland's teaching was not limited to drawing and painting, he also educated his pupils about music and literature. It was thanks to these lessons that Pierre and Mathias Kemp got acquainted with the work of the Belgian poet Guido Gezelle which would stimulate their literary career a great deal. Pierre Kemp remembers in his 'Proza' (1945) ('Prose') Graafland's "brilliant and inspiring leadership". Pierre Kemp signed his early poems (1909 - 1913) with the pseudonym of Rob. Ree, a nom de plume composed of Graafland's first name, Rob, and the second note of the scale. A. Gorissen wrote in Mathias Kemp, een leven voor Limburg (1991) (Mathias Kemp, A Life for Limburg) about the Stadsteekeninstituut: "Graafland was very good at schooling his pupils morally and intellectually. During his lessons he did not only spend time on drawing and painting art but also on music and literature. And he was a freethinker who did not refrain from explaining his modern ideas to some of his pupils." Graafland was raised in the Christian faith, but as an adult he turned to some extent away from Christianity, his anti - clerical attitude could not really be denied. According to Mathias Kemp he was an agnostic.

In 1901, Rob Graafland founded the Zondagsschilderschool voor Decoratieve Kunsten (Sunday Painting School for Decorative Art) in cooperation with the Stadsteekeninstituut. Graafland had made a start with this in 1899 on his own, and fifteen pupils had signed up who were willing to pay f 0.25 per lesson. In November 1899, therefore, Graafland proposed the foundation of this Sunday Painting School for talented pupils of the Stadsteekeninstituut. His proposals were discussed by the Committee on 30 November 1899, but they decided not to support him. The reason being that if only twelve of the fifteen pupils were paying for this course, the proceeds would not cover all the expenses (which apparently was not a problem for Graafland). The Committee disapproved of a course which would be a risk to the teacher without an existing official relationship with the Committee. The Stadsteekeninstituut itself was not yet ready to organise a Sunday Painting School, since high ranking officials had decided that such a course was not desirable for the time being. But in 1901 Graafland's proposals became reality. At the meeting of 26 November 1901, the Committee decided to start a painting course that would commence in January 1902 on Sunday morning from 9am to 12 noon. Graafland was appointed teacher, teaching drawing and painting skills, and the venue would be in the ... of Graafland (unreadable in the minutes). The official name would be the Zondagsschilderschool voor Decoratieve Kunsten (Sunday Painting School for Decorative Art).

Thanks to Graafland's intuition, his experiences as a teacher at the evening classes in Amsterdam and his lessons at the Stadsteekeninstituut he was able to choose the most talented pupils for the Sunday Painting School. To name but a few: Edmond Bellefroid, G. Boosten, Hermann Bopp, Jules Brouwers, P. Coenen, Guillaume Eberhard, Jean Grégoire, Charles Hollman, Hull, Han Jelinger, Henri Jonas, Mathias and Pierre Kemp, Victor Marres, Joep Narinx, Nicolaas, Jan and Jos Postmes, Vic Reynders, Harry Schoonbrood, Willy Schoonhoven van Beurden, Selinger and Charles Vos. They were also known as 'Graafland's Class'. Apart from the aforementioned unknown venue, the Class also painted in the Augustijnenkerk (Church) in Maastricht and in summer in the countryside 'en plein air', like John Constable. As from 1911, the lessons were to take place in the Italian garden of Graafland's house at Sint Pieter nearby Maastricht.

Dr. Monique Dickhaut called Graafland in 'Onmoeting met Rob Graafland' (2010) ('Meeting Rob Graafland') an enthusiastic teacher at the Sunday Painting School, who did not only taught the technical and artistic features of drawing and painting art but also got his pupils acquainted with art and culture in every sense of the word, which, as she added, must have been a revelation to these young people since most of them were from working - class families.

A. Gorissen wrote in 'Mathias Kemp, een leven voor Limburg' (1991) ('Mathias Kemp, A Life for Limburg') that Graafland was an inspiration to his pupils, that he made them feel confident and that he encouraged them to achieve as much as their talent allowed them to.

Mathias Kemp's memories of his experiences with 'Graafland's Class' are similar as outlined by dr. Monique Dickhaut and A. Gorissen. About Graafland, Mathias Kemp wrote that he was a talented man who made his pupils aware of their talents, charming, with sophisticated beliefs and views, a moderate freethinker, who embraced other art forms, like literature, and who started a School in Maastricht. It was apparently not easy for Mathias Kemp to deal with Graafland, because in 1956 he remembered Graafland as (A. Gorissen) "A fascinating, sometimes charming personality who attracted more admiration than affinity ... Although sometimes he could behave very differently indeed ... But this did not mean that his great talents as a teacher were not fully displayed ... He knew how to inspire his pupils ... After all, he himself was a brilliant painter ... When he examined our work, he always found something to improve with a brush stroke or a powerful touch."


On 19 August 1902, Rob Graafland married Maria Duquesne, daughter of Tilman en Maria Diederiks. Maria grew up at her parent's estate in Heer (nearby Maastricht), but when she was seven years old her parents died in a tragic accident. Charles Graafland described his mother as a sweet, sensible and handsome lady who courageously managed to cope with her husband's depressions later in life; it was a happy marriage. A number of portraits, painted in warm and tender colours, confirms his words. Maria was a hospitable lady, for when pupils and friends were visiting she always served coffee, cake and drink. The couple temporarily moved to Amby, on the outskirts of Maastricht. Their honeymoon took them to Italy where they travelled for quite some time. Italian's art, architecture and climate overwhelmed Graafland and especially Venice made a huge impresion on him; they would be the inspiration for his colourful paintings between 1909 and 1919. When in 1911 the family settled down in Sint Pieter, a hamlet nearby Maastricht, Graafland created a terraced Italian garden. After their arrival in Maastricht, he had a large expensive detached villa built designed by himself, Villa Aldegonda. In this beautiful home he devoted himself to his art, spending most of his time in the studio trying to develop his own style. On 29 December 1903, their first child was born, Suzanne.

Visit to America

Graafland travelled to the USA in 1905. How long we do not know, but it must have been a few months.Three postcards to Wilhemina Jelinger in Maastricht, sister of the painter Han Jelinger, are respectively dated New York 4 June 1905, New York 19 June 1905 and New York 6 July 1905. Why did Graafland visit America? Nobody knows. Graafland himself never explained his reasons. Mrs Yvonne Graafland - Marres, Rob Graafland's daughter-in-law, said about his visit in an article written by Ieneke Suidman in the art magazine 'Kunstwerk' ('Work of Art'): "His motivation was a mystery to all of us", meaning that they did not understand why Graafland was visiting America instead of, for example, Paris or another European city. Graafland's reasons must have been fuelled by a sense of adventure focussed on America, combined with a strong artistic curiosity to meet American painters and to find out about their artistic development. This was really unusual, since other Dutch painters like the Haagsche School (School of The Hague) chose Paris for their artistic focal point.

Little is known of Graafland's travels across the USA. All we know is that he painted with American fellow painters 'en plein air' on Staten Island (New York), that he painted a cityscape of New York, and that he paid a visit to the art painter Hubert Vos on Long Island who lived in the USA and was a nephew of his pupil Charles Vos. This must have been in April or May 1905, perhaps even earlier, for on 5 June 1905 Hubert Vos arrived at the palace in Beijing to paint two portraits of the Chinese empress dowager Cixi, and he did not return to New York before 1906. Graafland managed to get many commissions during his travels. He also visited a tribe of native Americans who, upon arrival, threatened to kill him. Only by making a quick pencil drawing on paper of the proud and magnificently dressed up chief in front of the whole tribe, did they leave him in peace and even treated him kindly. When Graafland safely returned to Maastricht, he wrote to the famous art critic Plasschaert that he was extremely glad to be home again.

Graafland as Illustrator

After his return, Charles was born in Villa Aldegonda on 27 January 1906. Due to financial problems Graafland was forced to sell his house and the family moved to Belgium late 1907 and settled down in Wandre, a hamlet between Liège and Maastricht. Here, during the next few years, Graafland focussed mainly on commissions, especially on the American commissions which were shipped from Belgium to America. And every day he travelled to Maastricht by carriage to carry on teaching at the Stadsteekeninstituut. He also continued his lessons at the Sunday Painting School which were getting more and more popular. A few people asked him for private tuition, like the Brothers of the monastery de Beyard in Maastricht, where he met Brother Cyprianus who dedicated himself to education and whose educational and religious books for schoolchildren were read by schoolchildren all over the Netherlands. Graafland was asked to illustrate these books and he did so all his life, even when he was seriously ill. His illustrations were very popular, they ignited children's inspiration and curiosity and they set an example for their behaviour and attitude. Mathias Kemp, a writer and a pupil of 'Graafland's Class', called Graafland the first among the best illustrators of Catholic youth literature. In addition, Graafland also illustrated kindergarten books, reading books for schools, novels for youngsters, and weekly and monthly magazins. His wife Maria, his two children Suzanne en Charles, Suzanne's friend Adriënne van den Boorn, and Marieke and Frans Ceulen who lived next door were often models for these illustrations. Sadly enough, a large number of these illustrations along with paintings were destroyed during a bombardment on 's Hertogenbosch in the Second World War.

One of the novels of Albertine Steenhoff - Smulders illustrated by Graafland was titled 'Een Kind van 1813' ('Child of 1813' - 1813 being the year of the arrival of the Prince of Orange in Holland). The photo below the front cover of 'Child of 1813' shows Rob Graafland, three friends and his two children posing for the backdrop of the illustration on this front cover. The other three photos show friends and his children posing as characters for 'Child of 1813'. Fancy dress parties for Graafland's illustrations were common as they enabled him to make sketches on paper. Graafland was extremely successful with his illustrations and he was so much in demand that he asked Edmond Bellefroid, a pupil of 'Graafland's Class', to assist him.

Graafland's Italian Garden

On 21 March 1911, the Graafland family moved from Wandre to a large rented house in Sint Pieter, a hamlet, nearby Maastricht. The next eight years would be the happiest of Graafland's life and his creativity would reach its peak. He abandoned the Rembrandt - brown colours in which he had predominantly been painting - many paintings of the past years he destroyed - and he developed a style of his own, a romantic impressionism: sparkling, colourful, romantic compositions expressing the beauty of life, this special side of life which makes people happy and which they instinctively long for. Graafland's art embraces sun and light, joy of life and happiness. He was a true romantic - he expressed his feelings in his work - a devoted impressionist, a colorist whose compositions are dreamy and idyllic and a pleasure to look at. His choice of colours is rich and brilliant, they reveal his passion for luminous colours, and some of his paintings resemble Italian impressionists, quite the opposite of his Dutch fellow painters. Hans Redeker wrote in the newspaper NRC Handelsblad of 19 September 1975 after visiting an exhibition of Rob Graafland's work in Museum Cultureel Centrum Venlo in Venlo: "This exhibition makes it abundantly clear that, from Graafland's work in those years, one could select a small number of masterpieces which are absolutely unique in Dutch art at the time, or even in European art."

In those days, Sint Pieter was surrounded by lonely fields stretching as far as the gentle slopes of the Sint Pietersberg (Sint Pieters Mountain). At the back of his beautiful house Graafland had, according to his own design, an extensive Italian garden built with terraces on different levels. Two life - size squatting white stone lions on columns, sculptured by his friend the sculptor Frans van der Laar, gave access to the garden. A path meandered between trees, colourful flowerbeds, Greek vases, sculptures and elegantly wrought iron benches. There were also a few fountains, the largest fountain with sculptures created by Frans van der Laar. In the center of the terrace at the lowest level, a large pond was guarded by four life - size squatting white stone lions on columns. Graafland used to throw many a party in this garden, like the gondola parties when guests, laughing and singing, were floating on the water in gondolas of Venetian design. This Italian garden is a recurrent subject in many of Graafland's paintings between 1911 and 1919. As from 1911, the lessons of the Zondagsschilderschool (Sunday Painting School) were taking place in this garden. Graafland himself was painting day and night. His son Charles revealed in his notes how Graafland completed an unfinished painting. He often finished a painting in one day, but it could also take months or even years. His favourite way for finishing off a painting was to get up at three o'clock in the morning, put the painting on the easel and work very hard; at sunrise the painting was finished.

Frits Goovaerts, son of the painter Henri Goovaerts who lived nearby in Maastricht, wrote to Suzanne, Graafland's daughter, about the Italian garden on 22 November 1962: "I often see the valley of the [river] Maas in front of me and the fields of the farmers at Sint Pieter, the way it used to be. I told Charles [Graafland's son] how I cherish the memory of your garden. The dreamlike peace of a late summer day, when apples floated in the fountain, while the white lions gazed serenely into the distance, meditatingly, and the drone of a harvest cart returning from the fields could be heard across the mayor's shed. It was so delightfully quiet without the noise of planes and mopeds. And how could we know how unsavoury the world can be? It only lasted for a short time, but it was a very beautiful time."

Bennie Ceulen, grandson of Léon Ceulen, last mayor of Sint Pieter and Rob Graafland's next door neighbour, wrote the writer of this short biography about the Italian garden: "... and [I] have been a great admirer of your grandfather Robert Graafland ever since I was small. This has to do with the enthusiastic stories of my father Frans Ceulen who told me about the painter Robert Graafland and his beautiful Italian garden. When my father and his sister Marieke were children, they often were models for your grandfather's illustrations for educational books. That's why. Not only did he tell me about your grandmother, but also about your father Charles and your aunt Suze whom he knew very well, both of them used to walk in and out of my grandfather's farm as often as they liked ... Your grandfather spent his most productive years as a painter in this magnificent house."

Charles Graafland referred to the Italian garden in a speech at a dinner for his sister on 28 December 1963: "In the middle of a round pond were sculptures, and four enormous sculptured stone lions, life - size, surrounded the pond, proud and forbidding like merciless guards. The water bounced off sunrays and it seemed to turn into millions of sparkling jewels ... In the distance I could hear the bass voice of Joseph Joosten singing, accompanied by piano and guitar ... the pupils of the Academy walked through the iron gate into the garden to paint you under a tree ... I walked out of the house and just a few yards away I stopped in my tracks, stunned. In front of me Napoleon sat on a colossal horse, his hand in his waistcoat as he used to do, and next to him stood a little girl wearing a long yellow dress with a lot of lace and a large hat on her head; golden curly hair covered her shoulders. She looked sweet but scared. Then I recognised you, Suze. I turned my head the opposite way and saw why you were scared; a group of farmers carrying lances, pitchforks and scythes were running towards us shouting 'Revolution!'. 'Suze', I said, 'what's the meaning of all this?' 'Quiet', you said, 'we are playing Child of 1813. Daddy is drawing on the balcony.' I looked up and you were right, daddy was making sketches on several sheets of paper to capture the scenes as fast as possible."

Other artists joined Graafland, like the painters Henri Goovaerts, Herman Gouwe, Chris Hammes and Willem van Konijnenburg; the conductor of the Maastrichter Stedelijk Orkest (Maastricht City Orchestra), Henri Hermans; and the opera singer Joseph Joosten, baritone, singer of the operas in Lyon, Dijon, Antwerp and Liège. Graafland's house at Sint Pieter became a meeting place for artists and pupils. On weekday evenings and Sunday afternoons and evenings they passionately discussed any topic that interested them and they also organised music evenings. The harmonium was placed under the apple tree, and in front of enthusiastic friends and pupils Joseph Joosten sang an aria from Faust with Henri Hermans on harmonium; Charles Hollman played his cello, and Graafland often performed songs from the 'Schöpfung' by Haydn, he had a pleasant tenor voice, and recited poems by Schubert. Graafland loved music. A pianola always played when he was painting and new rolls of classical componists were delivered every week; Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and especially Haydn were his favourites. Apart from meeting at Graafland's house there were two other popular meeting places: at Henri Jonas's studio also on Sunday evenings, and at Café Suisse on the Vrijthof [Square] in Maastricht where they were given the nickname 'The Gang of Suisse'.

Herman Gouwe, from Alkmaar, remembered in his unpublished autobiography visiting Limburg for the first time when working as a student in Gulpen during his holiday at the Academy in Amsterdam. Several years later he returned to Gulpen and met Graafland in Maastricht, a contemporary and fellow student at the Academy, who introduced him to his friends in Café Suisse. In spring 1911, Gouwe stayed with the Graafland family as arranged in advance, and as from then on he often spent the summer months with the Graafland family; the house became his pied-à-terre. Charles Graafland told in his notes that Gouwe used to post his 'luggage' in advance, a tiny parcel containing a matchbox with comb, toothbrush and toothpaste. At the outbreak of the First World War, 28 July 1914, Gouwe lived in Eben-Emael, Belgium, and when the borders were closed he was invited by Rob and Maria Graafland to stay at their place for a few days so that he could look for a house. These 'few days' turned into one and a halve years; he enjoyed Graafland's hospitality until February or March 1916. Then, in March 1916, he travelled by steamship Tubantia via London to Portugal where he never arrived, for on the night of 15 March 1916 the ship was torpedoed in the English Channel. The survivors were picked up by boats in the early morning and brought home. Many years later, Charles recounted how during the First World War he, his father and Gouwe, the three of them, were watching the bombardments in Belgium from a hill nearby Maastricht. Gouwe wrote about Rob Graafland in his unpublished autobiography: "He lived in a big and beautiful house at Sint Pieter near Maastricht. He was very popular and his character was light - heartedly philosophical en his paintings were full of joy." Gouwe settled down in Tahiti in 1927, and when he visited the Netherlands in 1959 for the first and last time he wrote in his unpublished autobiography about his meeting with Mrs Suzanne Twaalfhoven - Graafland: "I had known Mrs Twaalfhoven as a child, she was the daughter of my friend and colleague Graafland in Maastricht where I used to have my pied-à-terre when I was visiting Limburg in summer." And: "There was a large painting on the wall, 'Ploughing Horses' [in Twaalfhoven - Graafland's house], which I had made for my friend Graafland a long time ago." This painting was a 'thank-you' for Graafland's one and a halve years of hospitality. Suzanne Graafland and Herman Gouwe exchanged letters until his death in 1965, and Gouwe regularly sent her crates of paintings from Tahiti with which she organised exhibitions on his behalf.

A very happy time

Rob and Maria had a happy marriage and both looked well after their children, they did a lot for them, although spending power had to be controlled. Suzanne and Charles remembered their childhood as an idyllic time: the terraced-garden with stone lions, sculptures, fountains and a large round pond with gondolas could have dropped out of a fairy tale. Rob was a kind and cheerful father. He had a small wooden house built in his Italian garden where the children could play with their pals and where they had "great fun", as Charles wrote in his notes, and especially when it was raining. Their next door neighbour, Léon Ceulen, last mayor of Sint Pieter, lived with his family on the farm De Winhof where Suzanne and Charles were having a great time with Marieke en Frans who were the same age. When Graafland was illustrating children books, he often organised fancy dress parties so that he could make sketches on paper while his models were acting out a scene, and Suzanne and Charles loved acting and dressing up. In the weeks leading up to Sinterklaas - 5 December (Santa Claus's progenitor) - Rob and Maria surprised them with plenty of amusing events. Graafland exchanged paintings for boxes of wine and also for rifles, and Charles, as young as he was, owned a large collection of rifles, among which an elephant rifle (all of them confiscated by the Germans in 1940); he and his pals were allowed to shoot in a corner of the Italian garden at targets placed in front of a fence. Suzanne posed on and off with or without a girlfriend for the Sunday Painting School and was occasionally presented with a box of chocolates by the students. Charles too posed now and then and for each time he received one cent (for three cents he could buy a small bar of chocolate). Snip, the dog, accompanied Suzanne and Charles every day to Maastricht, dropped them off at school, picked up the newspaper at a shop and trotted cheerfully home with the newspaper clenched between his teeth. And on 18 September 1919, Suzanne and Charles were allowed to fly with the French pilot Duchereux on his plane, the double wings of which were attached by metal rods to each other. The children had to climb a tall ladder, and after squeezing themselves into the cramped open cockpit Duchereux treated them to a fifteen-minute flight over Maastricht and surroundings to the utter delight and excitement of Suzanne and Charles. Forty years later Charles still enjoyed his memories when, with a big smile, he told his children about this adventure. In short, during this period the Graafland family enjoyed a very happy time and they lived life to the fullest.


Rob Graafland's first exhibition took place in the Larensche Art Gallery in Amsterdam on 29 October 1908. He chose Amsterdam as he no longer wanted to confine himself to Maastricht. In 1911 he wrote to the famous art critic Albert Plasschaert that he had been isolated in the south for ten years and: "I destroyed all my paintings until I had to take part in exhibitions, which is about two years ago." But he did sell paintings at his studios. The painting 'Le cygne méchant', exhibited in the Larensche Art Gallery in 1908, made such a favourable impression on the committee of Sint - Lucas in Amsterdam (Sint - Lucas Art Society) in 1909 that Graafland was invited to become a member.

Between April 1909 and January 1916, Graafland took part in seven exhibitions with Sint - Lucas in the Stedelijk Museum (City Museum) in Amsterdam. Among the many co-exhibitors were Herman Gouwe, Ferdinand Hart Nibbrig, Piet Mondriaan, Martin Monnickendam and Jan Sluyters. At the exhibition of 30 April - 11 June 1911 the reviews of Graafland's work were full of praise, especially for the small painting 'Red Car' ('Rode auto'). The dazzling colours reminded an unknown newspaper and the newspaper De Telegraaf of Monticelli. It was remarkable in itself that the subject matter was a car. During these seven years Graafland introduced a few of his pupils to Sint - Lucas. One of them, Henri Jonas, arguably Graafland's most talented pupil, attracted much attention with his huge painting 'Trajectum ad Mosam' at the exhibition of December 1915 - Januari 1916. After the exhibition, Jonas gave this work as a present to his teacher to thank him for everything Graafland had done for him, and without whose teaching he would not have existed as a painter.

In those days, sending paintings to the north was a serious problem as there was no fast and safe connection between Maastricht and Amsterdam. One of Graafland's solutions was to pack his paintings in large crates and dispatch them by Janssens boats.

Mathias Kemp, a pupil of 'Graafland's Class', wrote in the catalogue for the Rob Graafland retrospective in the Bonnedantenmuseum in Maastricht in 1956: "He is one of the first artists of Limburg the spoiled north gets acquainted with and he is welcomed as 'painter of sunlight'."

Art Society of Limburg Province

Sint - Lucas inspired Graafland to found the Limburgsche Kunstkring (Art Society of Limburg Province), a social center for artists to inspire each other, represent Limburg in the north and teach talented youngsters; in other words, to solidify the budding artistry in Maastricht. It was established in 1910 by Jan Bakhoven, Guillaume Eberhard, Rob Graafland, Henri Jonas, Johannes van der Kooij, Jos Narinx and Vic Reinders. Herman Gouwe joined in 1911, according to his unpublished autobiography. The first exhibition took place on 20 February 1910 in Maastricht. Approximately two hundred paintings and sculptures by nine members of the Art Society were exhibited. Graafland brought about fifty paintings as well as pen drawings and one watercolour. His brilliant colours and romantic subjects, like 'Picnic' and 'Japanese Parasol', caught everyone's attention.

Two Awards

In 1912, from 13 April to July, Graafland was invited to take part in the Exposition Internationale Musée Municipale in the Stedelijk Museum (City Museum) in Amsterdam, and his painting 'Lezend meisje'" ('Girl Reading') won the Bronze Medal of the City of Amsterdam. Soon afterwards postcards of this painting were being sold by bookshops all over the Netherlands. The Exposition Internationale Musée MunicipaleIt was a very large exhibition with oil paintings from the Netherlands and 16 other countries. Among the Dutch artists of oil paintings were professor C. L. Dake (Graafland's teacher at the Royal Academy of Art in Amsterdam), Ferdinand Hart Nibbrig, Isaac Israels, J. H. Jurres, H. W. Mesdag, Martin Monnickendam and Jan Sluyters. Intrigued by Graafland's work, professor C. L. Dake and two lecturers at the Royal Academy, P. H. van Moerkerken and J. H. Jurrus, travelled to Maastricht to get acquainted with the development of the visual arts in the south. A warm welcome awaited them at Graafland's house.

Graafland received his second award in September 1916. Invited to take part in the exhibition of the 's-Hertogenbosche Kunstkring (Art Society of 's-Hertogenbosch), he won the Gold Medal for his paintings 'Levensvreugde' ('Joy of Life') and 'Meisjes in de zon'" ('Girls in the Sun'). 'Joy of Life' was given a place of honour at the exhibition because of the attractive originality and charming richness of colours. On 1 September, the secretary of the 's Hertogenbosche Kunstkring telegraphed Graafland to congratulate him with the award. The news spread like wildfire in Maastricht, and the same evening a large crowd of admirers gathered around Graafland's house and the local brass band serenaded him in his garden. Many years later Charles, Graafland's son, remembered fondly how admirers and brass band were invited for a few drinks to celebrate this memorable occasion and how he, Charles, eleven years old, was allowed the following morning to collect all the empty bottles in house and garden, hand them in at the shops and keep the deposit money.

Setbacks and Depression

Robert Graafland had reached the pinnacle of his career. As a teacher, he had educated talented pupils and introduced some of them at Sint - Lucas in Amsterdam where they had taken part in exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum (City Museum). As an artist, he was acknowledged and admired and his paintings had made him famous both in Limburg and Holland. In addition, his was a happy marriage and he enjoyed being a father. All his life he had dedicated himself to his art and his pupils and his enthusiasm and energy seemed boundless. But then, suddenly and unexpectedly, this happy time came to an end.

Graafland faced a financial crisis. Before 1914, he had bought a valuable life insurance policy in the German Empire, as one used to do in the Netherlands in those days. Germany's collapse at the end of the First World War made this investment worthless. Another investment in Maastricht also failed. And at the same time Graafland started suffering from ill health. The first symptoms of a depression took hold of him and undermined his creativity. These depressions occurred more and more often and there were days that he was too ill to work, and those days turned into weeks, months, years. Slowly but inescapably, as the years went by, Graafland's ill health was getting worse and worse. At the same time important cultural changes took place in Maastricht. 'Graafland's Class' had grown up and his pupils were going their own way, which Graafland had always encouraged; some of his pupils and some of his friends of the Limburgsche Kunstkring (Art Society of Limburg Province) left Maastricht for other places. The Stadsteekeninstituut had fallen into disarray during 1914 - 1918 as German and Belgian soldiers were being nursed in the Augustijnenkerk (church) so that there was no room for teaching. Another art school for children of working - class families in Maastricht had gained more popularity. On 4 September 1918 Graafland applied for sick leave which was granted by the Council on 17 September. A year later, on 22 September 1919, after an examination by the Pension Committee, he was given honourable dismissal and a pension. At the age of forty - four Graafland retired from the Stadsteekeninstituut. The Zondagsschilderschool (Sunday Painting School) in his Italian garden came to an end.

Around 1921 Graafland faced another serious problem. He had been renting his house since 1911 from Guillaume Ceulen, Léon Ceulen's brother, Graafland's next door neighbour. When Guillaume's wife died at a young age, he sold his farm in Belgium and wanted to move into Graaflands house at Sint Pieter. The latter, therefore, was forced to look for another place to live. On 29 August 1922, the Graafland family moved from Sint Pieter to Maastricht next to the concert hall. This time Graafland did not set up a painting studio; his palette, easel and art supplies were not touched. From his study he had a view of a square and a church. There was no garden. The rooms were full of paintings by himself and his pupils, silent witnesses of his creative period. Unfortunately, his condition could not be solved by medical science in those days. Although he consulted several doctors, none of them could help him. And as the years went by, the depression intensified. Graafland would not be able to paint again until 1934.

Other Activities

Graafland refused to accept the status quo and forced himself to get another teaching position. He became a drawing teacher at a school for domestic science in Maastricht where he spent much time on decorative drawing and on drawings to make it easier for children to learn French. In addition, he created art for advertising purposes and patterns for, among others, hand knotted rugs, cushions and tapestries as well as designs for applied arts like coats of arms and windows.

His production of illustrations for schildren's books and weekly and monthly magazins increased significantly, more than ever before.

And despite no longer being able to paint Graafland took part in a few exhibitions:

In 1920, he was invited by Nederland in den Vreemde (Netherlands Abroad) for an exhibition in Brighton, Blackpool, Bradford, Sunderland and London. Graafland did not travel to England but submitted 'Young Love' and 'Joy of Life'.

From 27 December 1920 to 7 January 1921 he took part in an exhibition of the Limburgsche Kunstkring (Art Society of Limburg Province) in Maastricht.

And in December 1922 he was invited by the 's Hertogenbosche Kunstkring (Art Society of 's-Hertogenbosch) for a large exhibition; 160 works of art represented the visual arts development in Brabant and Limburg provinces. This was Graafland's last exhibition until July 1935.

In 1920 he became a member and chairman of the Schoonheidscommissie of Maastricht, Houthem and Valkenburg (Heritage Maastricht, Houthem and Valkenburg), and in that capacity he, among others, prevented the demolition of historic sites; he often published his opinions in newspapers.


By the end of September 1933 Graafland's depression worsened so much that he shot himself in the head. His injury was first treated in the hospital in Apeldoorn, and on 30 September he was admitted to the Psychiatric Hospital Voorburg in Vught for further assessment. He survived but lost his right eye. The Graafland family moved from Maastricht to Vught. A short time later, to everyone's astonishment, Graafland had made a full recovery; after an illness of fourteen years he could paint again. He actually recovered so fast that he published an article in the local paper on 18 December 1933 regarding expansion plans of Maastricht Council, and a follow-up on 4 January 1934. However, he was no longer the man he used to be, as he wrote to the famous art critic Plasschaert on 7 September 1935. Outwardly, he was in good shape, but inwardly his illness had devastated him. And due to the loss of his right eye he had lost depth perception. As of now Graafland focussed his attention on painting portraits, and he was in great demand, but there were also many other subjects he was interested in, like brides, dancing-girls, children, mother and child, nudes and horse riders. Around this time he painted a portrait of Her Majesty Queen Wilhelmina (she did not pose for the painting), commissioned by Mr van Beuningen who gifted it to the town hall in Vught.

Graafland was now almost sixty years old.

In July 1935, for the first time since 1922, he took part in an exhibition, a large exhibition to celebrate the foundation of the city of 's Hertogenbosch 750 years ago. His painting 'Levensbron' ('Source of Life') won first prize.

In February 1936, Graafland held an exhibition in The Hague of forty-six works of his own: drawings, etchings, watercolours and oil paintings. The art critic J. R., reviewing the exhibition for an unknown newspaper, wrote on 8 February that he admired the fiery red hunting outfit of a member of a hunting association, and "... the paintings are nothing but praise for life, witnesses of the beauty of the world ..."

A few months later, Graafland took part in an exhibition of the Summer Olympics (Olympiad) in Berlin, and his portrait of the Dutch horse rider Charles Pahud de Mortanges on his horse Mädel Wie Du won the Bronze medal.

In January 1937, he held a second exhibition of works of his own in 's Hertogenbosch.

And in 1938 he took part in an exhibition in Maastricht in honour of the 40th anniversary of Her Majesty Queen Wilhelmina's reign.

In the same year, 1938, the Graafland family moved from Vught to The Hague, Graafland wanted to be part of life again. One of the paintings he created was 'Dying Swan', a triptych, inspired by Tchaikovsky's ballet 'Swan Lake'. Sadly enough, a large number of the paintings created in The Hague were destroyed during the allied bombardment of The Hague on 3 March 1945.

In September 1938, Graafland took part in the exhibition Veertig Jaar Limburgsche Kunst in Maastricht (Forty Years of Art in Limburg). The reviews of his work, five paintings, were full of praise.

The following year, 1939, Graafland returned to his former house in Vught, escaping the hustle and bustle of The Hague. One of the works he painted in Vught was a portrait of his friend Hubert Cuypers, composer, conductor and organist.

Also in 1939, Graafland accepted an invitation to take part in an exhibition of the Bredasche Kunstkring (Art Society of Breda), which would be his final exhibition.

In Memoriam Robert Graafland

In 1940, Graafland started suffering from a destructive illness and the diagnosis was cancer. Rapidly he grew weaker and weaker. Before long, he lost most of his physical strength and could no longer stretch the canvasses for his paintings, yet he did not give up painting. Hendrik de Laat from 's Hertogenbosch, friend and assistant, stretched the canvasses for him during the last weeks of his life. Graafland's final painting was 'Standing Bride', a young woman with a bouquet of flowers in her folded hands; he could not finish it. Since he was in a critical condition, he was taken to the St Joseph Hospital in Heerlen where a friend operated on him, the surgeon E. Husting from Heerlen. Despite his efforts, Graafland died on the operation table in the morning of Sunday 28 April 1940. The funeral took place on 1 May, attended by a small circle of family, friends, acquaintances and fellow artists. Mr Ernest van Aelst, chairman of the Art Society of Limburg Province, paid his last respects on behalf of the Society and spoke of Graaflands dedication to the art of Limburg. The composer Hubert Cuypers honoured the memory of his life-long friend with well-chosen words whom he had known since their student years in Amsterdam. Charles Graafland, the son, thanked the attendees for their presence and condolences. Maastricht honoured Graafland by naming a street after him, the Robert Graaflandlaan.

Mathias Kemp, a pupil of 'Graafland's Class', published in the local newspaper of 4 May 1940 his article "In Memoriam Robert Graafland", in which he pointed out Graafland's many talents:
- As painter
- As teacher and educationalist
- As artist who exemplifies ornamental design
- As illustrator for Catholic children's books
- As organiser of the art in Limburg. "... Graafland can be considered the founder of the Limburgsche Kunstkring (Art Society of Limburg Province). For a long time he was the inspiring leader and the dominating figure at the Art Society's exhibitions. His influence was great, not only with his pupils."

Graafland's Motivation for his Art

Robert Graafland explained his motivation for his art at two exhibitions.

At the exhibition of works of his own in 's-Hertogenbosch in January 1937 he thanked the mayor of 's-Hertogenbosch, baron F. van Lanschot, for his opening speech and added:
"If my work has contributed to people's happiness and if I - in case an artist's vocation is like that of the Apostles', however small mine may be - have succeeded in showing the beauty and purity of God's Creation, then my work has not been in vain."

At the exhibition in Maastricht in 1938 in honour of the 40th anniversary of Her Majesty Queen Wilhelmina's reign Graafland expressed his motivation slightly differently:
"My effort will be rewarded if my work contributes to and increases people's happiness."

And on 1 October 1938, Rob Graafland wrote to his friend and colleague Charles Hollman: "... Fortunately your romantic nature is still present in your work; for, of course, in these rational, businesslike times we really need a bit of romance. It is obvious that whatever happens in the world influences artists, but it is a fact that, the more businesslike and rational life becomes, people's desire for romance will grow. After all, romance is an essential part of life."

Copyright © Fr Graafland 2023