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Robert Graafland

Portrait of Robert Graafland by Herman Gouwe, early 1900
Portrait of Robert Graafland by Herman Gouwe, early 1900
In 1898, immediately after the Stadsteekeninstituut was founded, Robert Graafland was recruited as one of its drawing instructors. This Maastricht-born painter was to become a major figure on the art scene in Maastricht and Limburg. In Amsterdam, he attended the Rijksnormaalschool voor Teekenonderwijzers (national school for teachers of drawing) and the Quellinusschool, the latter founded by architect Pierre Cuypers with a view to the construction of the Rijksmuseum, and the predecessor of the present-day Rietveld Academie. From 1895, he studied painting at the Rijksacademie (national academy) under August Allebé and Carel Dake. His application in Maastricht was supported by a letter of recommendation from the sculptor Willem Molkenboer, director of the Rijksnormaalschool.

Among his colleagues were the sculptor Frans van de Laar and the architect Willem Sprenger. Sprenger built a number of villas in the new Villapark Sint-Pieter, on land previously occupied by the fortifications that had been dismantled from 1867 onwards. Starting out in the workshops of Pierre Cuypers and the restoration of medieval towers in Maastricht, he had collaborated with Victor de Stuers. At the time, Maastricht was almost entirely bereft of a cultural scene. As well as painting, Rob Graafland also taught music and literature, which were gaps in the education of many students. He was inspired to do this by De Stuers’ belief in the edifying power of art and culture. This introduced brothers Mathias and Pierre Kemp, who were students of Graafland, to the ‘little poems’ of Guido Gezelle , which would greatly influence their literary development.

In 1901, with the blessing of the Board of the Stadsteekeninstituut, Graafland founded the Zondagsschool voor Decoratieve Kunsten (Sunday school for decorative arts), also known as the Zondagsschilderschool (Sunday painting school) Graafland had begun working on this project in November 1899, but it was not until the meeting of the Stadsteekeninstituut on 26 November 1901 that it became a reality. This painting course - the Zondagsschool voor Decoratieve Kunsten (Zondagsschilderschool) - ran on Sundays for the students whom Graafland considered to be the most talented. As well as the Kemp brothers, among them were Edmond Bellefroid, Jean Grégoire, Jos Narinx, Charles Hollman, Han Jelinger, Henri Jonas and Joep Nicolas. During winter, Graafland and his students also painted in the ‘Awwestiene’ (Augustinian Church); in summer, they painted in nature ‘en plein air.’ From 1911, they painted in the Italian garden of Graafland's home at Sint-Pieter near Maastricht. This group was also known as ‘The Graafland class.’

In 1910, together with colleagues and students Graafland founded the Limburgsche Kunstkring (Limburg Art Circle), a group dedicated to mutual collaboration and emancipation from the Church and industry (mainly mining) and their increasing sway over Limburg society. Outside the province, these artists as a group went by the name Limburg (or Maastricht) School, its leading lights including Henri Jonas, Charles Eyck and Joep Nicolas, all of whom completed their studies in Amsterdam (with, respectively, Antoon Derkinderen and Richard Roland Holst). Isolated by his deaf-mutism, Eyck did not study at the Stadsteekeninstituut, instead receiving private lessons as a ceramic artist at Maastricht pottery factory Société Céramique before attending the Rijksacademie. They gave artistic expression to the Catholic emancipation in the Netherlands.

Maastricht Institute of Arts