Joseph/Samuel/Ephraim/Nathan/Jabez/William Dickinson/Peter William Radcliffe/Alan Ramsay/Wilhelmina Douglas Hawley

Wilhelmina Douglas Hawley-Self Portrait

Wilhelmina Douglas Hawley
Nr 13: Self Portrait
Watercolor 25x30cm
Signed W. D. Hawley
Dated 1897 (Paris)
Private Collection
Photographic Reproduction by Floor van Dongen

The American painter and water colorist Wilhelmina Douglas Hawley was born on the 13th of July 1860 in Perth Amboy, a small coastal town near New York. Her parents, the Canadian-born dancer Isabella Merritt (1838-1904) and the coast guard officer Peter Radcliffe Hawley (1829-1884) took up residence in the New York suburb of St. Albans, in the eastern part of Queens with their four children in 1867. As a girl of twelve, Wilhelmina spent a year traveling Europe with her grandparents. Around that time she started writing her journal.

Two young aunts of Wilhelmina Georgina Agnes Merritt (1843 1918) and Florence Merritt (1847 1913) encouraged Wilhelmina to paint and start her artistic career. At the age of nineteen Wilhelmina enrolled in the Cooper Union Womens Art School, one of the New York art academies that is open to women. One year later she continued her training at the Art Students League where she she developed her work and eventually became the first woman vice-president of this progressive institution. Her teachers included William Merritt Chase, Julian Alden Weir, Charles Yardley Turner and Kenyon Cox. Wilhelmina also met many European artists while she studied in New York. In 1883 she met the Irish author Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) in New York. Wilhelminas journal tells us that she had several long talks about books, art, etc. with Wilde, while he was in the States during his American lecture-tour. Never be discouraged were the reassuring words of the Russian painter Vasily Vassilievich Vereschagin (1842-1904) as his reply to Wilhelmina when they met in 1888, and when she asked him what the first prerequisite of an artist should be.

After spending the winter of 1892/1893 in Bermuda and breaking off her engagement with a mysterious Englishman, Wilhelmina decided to leave for Paris on 18 June 1892. At the age of 32 she crossed the Atlantic once more, but now for two years, or perhaps for ever, as she wrote in her diary. After arriving in Paris Wilhelmina registered at the Academie Julian, one of the two art academies in the city to which women and foreign students were admitted. She remained in the city for only a few days, since, on account of the summer holidays, the academies were still closed. Until the following October she traveled in Belgium and the Netherlands. On 4 July 1892 she paid her first visit to the Dutch village and artists colony Rijsoord (near Dordrecht) where various foreign artists and art students were active during the summer.

In Paris Wilhelminas teachers included the French artists Paul-Joseph Blanc (1846-1904), Pierre Fritel (1853-1942), Benjamin Constant (1845-1902), Louis-Auguste Giradot (1856-1933) and Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921). In her first year Wilhelmina won the competition for best composition, in which every male and female Julian student took part. In 1891 the Canadian artist Laura Muntz (1860-1930) also traveled to Paris to study at the Academie Colarossi, where she met Wilhelmina in 1893. They would end up sharing the studio on Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs 111. According to Wilhelminas journal, in 1893 her work was first selected for the Paris Salon. In 1893 Holland Peasant Girl, which Wilhelmina had painted in Rijsoord, was shown at the National Academy of Design in New York. That same year in Paris she met the American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), who proved to be her neighbor. From 1892 Whistler had lived in one of the other studios on Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, at number 86. According to family tradition, Wilhelmina and James became friends and regularly visited one anothers studios.

During the summer months, she regularly made the journey from the French capital to the countryside, as well as the artists colony of Rijsoord in the southern Netherlands, where she captured the villagers in oils and watercolors. She continued her teaching at the Parisian Academie Colarossi in Rijsoord, where her students were American and European artists who spent their summers in the village. Rijsoord was well situated for passing travelers and became even more easily accessible after the so-called Koninklijke Straatweg der 1e klasse no. 7 (First-class royal highway no. 7) was opened in 1821. This Rijksstraatweg (State Highway) became an important European road that connected Paris to The Hague. An inn was constructed on the spot near the river Waal where the eighteenth-century tollhouse had stood. The building is still standing and for several years now has housed the restaurant Hermitage. When Wilhelmina first visited Rijsoord, the inn was called Hotel Warendorp.

By the time Wilhelmina was introduced to Rijsoord small groups of American artists and students from Paris had already started visiting the village in the summer to paint. One of them was the artist John H. Vanderpoel (1857-1911), who was born Johannes van der Poel in the Dutch town of Haarlemmermeer. Before he and his family emigrated to America in 1869, his parents Jan van der Poel and Maria van Nes lived for some time in the Burghoeve on the Pruimendijk in Rijsoord. In 1889, at Waalweg 3. A cousin of John Vanderpoel, Volksje Noorlander and her husband built a new shelter for passing travelers and artists, called Pension Noorlander, which was located directly behind Hotel Warendorp. Hotel Warendorp functioned as the headquarters of the summer academy. The ground floor of the building comprised a livingroom, diningroom and a room for drinking coffee. Most of the guestrooms were also on the ground floor. On the floor above it, the large space under the roof was used as an artists studio, where the artists would hang their most recent paintings and watercolors for discussion. On rainy days, when it was impossible to work en plein air, the artists would actually work in the studio. In 1899 Wilhelmina first met the eight-year-younger Bastiaan de Koning (1868-1954), son of an old peasant family. She is thought to have met him during a boat trip on the river Waal. A number of villagers regularly rowed the artists who were staying in Hotel Warendorp and Pension Noorlander to the location of the day, along with their paraphernalia. The next summer, Wilhelmina went on to Rijsoord again, where she was engaged to Bastiaan de Koning shortly thereafter. They married in 1901. Three years later, in 1904, by which time Wilhelmina was 44 years old, their daughter Georgina Florence was born, and named after both of Wilhelminas favorite aunts. By that time she had been active in art for twenty-five years. Family life did not prevent her from staying abreast of exhibitions in Paris or visiting New York. Meanwhile, in 1915, the family engaged a young housekeeper, Geertruida van Nielen (ill. p. ..), who became the help and stay of the family. Trui (or Troy, as Wilhelmina called her) kept the household on course and looked after Georgy whenever the childs mother was away.In 1930 Wilhelminas daughter Georgy marries Hans van Dongen. With her son-in-law she traveled one last time to New York City, to take care of some family business. She takes this opportunity to visit her favorite museums, and to meet her brother, balloonist and early aviator Alan Hawley.

Back in Rijsoord, Wilhelmina enjoyes the company of her six grandchildren, who often spend their summer holidays with her at the house. She continued recording her memories in her journal for many years, and her notes contains much else of interest, about the period of the Second World War for one thing. Wilhelmina supports the local community in any way she can. Shortly after the war, she donates some water colors to members of the community while thanking them for their help and food during the difficult years during the war. In 1958 she passes away at the amazing age of 97.

A considerable number of paintings, water colors and drawings of her Paris and Rijsoord period have remained in the family. Her journal and works have inspired us to organize an retrospective exhibition and produce a book about Wilhelmina’s artistic career. The book is entitled Dromen van Rijsoord/Dreaming of Rijsoord. Wilhelmina Douglas Hawley 1860-1958 which was published in December 2005 in cooperation with the Bussum publisher Uitgeverij Thoth.

Source: www.wdhawley.org by permission of Alexandra van Dongen.