Hilda van Stockum writes about her life as an art student in Amsterdam, in the late 1920s, early 1930s. She gives herself the name “Jo de Vries”. (When/If we publish this we will probably change the name back to her real name.)
Hilda van Stockum was born in Holland and studied at the Rijksacademie, the Amsterdam Academy of Art. She also went to art school in Dublin before and after the Rijksacademie. She married Spike Marlin on her second stint in art school in Dublin and moved to America where they had six Marlin children who are the owners of Boissevain Books.
She was a well-known artist and Honorary Member of the Royal Hibernian Academy as well as a writer of 25 children's books, one of which received a Newbery Honor Award in America.
There is a chapter out of order here. We will re-post this when this problem is straightened out. There is a file incompatibility problem (Mac vs. PC etc.).
If you think an agent or a commercial publisher might be interested in this, please send the name of the editor and publishing house to jtmarlin at post.harvard.edu.
The letters that Hilda wrote to her mother from art school (the Rijksacademie van Beeldende Kunsten) in Amsterdam include mention of the following people:
Hilda van Stockum, author of the letters
Olga van Stockum, Hilda's mother
Bram van Stockum, Hilda's father
Emily MacDonnell Boissevain, Hilda's grandmother (widow of Charles Boissevain)
Cornelis, Emily's chauffeur
Willem and Jan van Stockum, Hilda's brothers
Mary ("Mies") Boissevain, Hilda's Aunt (widow of Alfred Boissevain)
Han and Hilda Boissevain de Booy, Hilda's Uncle and Aunt
Herman, Robert and Ralph Boissevain, children of Mary (Mies) Boissevain
Engelien de Booy, Hilda's Cousin
Harriet ("Harrie") Crichton Kirkwood and Violet Crichton, related through Emily MacDonnell Boissevain, and Mies and Jan Canada Boissevain.
Tilly den Tex
Charles, Ella and Hansje van Hall, all cousins of André van Hall,
son of Hilda Boissevain de Booy.
Nella Boissevain Hissink, living in Leeuwarden.
Nella was one of the two younger sisters of Olga Boissevain vS.
Polly Barker, nursemaid/governess for all the 11 Boissevain children, and then for some grandchildren.
Trot, Hilda's aunt on the van Stockum side
Art Professors and Staff
Prof. Roland Holst.
Prof. Bronner, taught modeling with clay
Mrs. Der Kinderen, widow of the former Academy director Prof. V. d. Pluym
Fellow Art Students
Nini De Boer, who unfairly had a bad reputation
Maria/Mariette, engaged to cousin of Nini, had to be spoken to by Prof. Holst
Victor de Winter, first de Winter, a persuasive young male art student, then Victor, then Vic, Hilda's boy friend and then briefly her fiancé
Edelman had an "ugly leer"
Alma de Ridder says she was proposed to by someone she met the same evening
Nicky Liebman, male
INDEX OF PLACES
Locations from Which Letters Were Sent
Amsterdam: Balthasar Florin St.–Hilda's residence as an art student.
Amsterdam: Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten–The State Academy for Fine Arts, Amsterdam
Hattem: "Astra"–"Astra" and "Kleine Astra" were the residences of the van Halls. Hattem is near Zwolle, which is in northeast Holland.
Blaricum, Houtem Huis Blaricum is near Bussum, where Drafna is located, a suburb east of Amsterdam.
Sligo, Crichton Home–Vacation home on the west coast of Ireland.
Other Locations Mentioned in Letters
Leeuwarden–Home of Nella Boissevain Hissink.
Zandvoort–Seaside resort west of Amsterdam.
This true story of HvS at Art School in Holland took place in the late 1920s in Amsterdam.
HvS was at art school in Dublin 3 years, then studied in Amsterdam, then went back to Dublin.
Director Rick van Heemskerk.....Roland Holst [HvS kept two obituaries of him in her WWII clippings album]
Piet Huygens, his assistant
Prof de Winter........ P. Walter
Students (...real name or character)
Jan Everts.......married and depressed
Fik Fernhout.....handsome flirt
Sam Silbersteyn..Arthur Goldstein
Lambert Moenk... Bleeker
Wim Brauer.......goes to party
Kloris Holberg...tries to save Greta
Jo de Vries.......Hilda van Stockum [we are considering using her real name and maybe some others]
Dora van Sprenkel “Peaches”.....Agnes de Sitter
Greta Stom.......Dumb cow
Judy Beerman.....Independent- earned the money to attend
Nina Blankert....a relative (attended HvS's funeral in 2006)
Wanda Vreede.....angry red-head
Hanny ...........went to party
Johnny...........Hilda's brother Jan
Jo de Vries was walking home from the Dublin Art School in high glee, fingering the crisp bank notes of her first earned money, and wondering how she would break the good news to her mother. Would she burst into the room with a shout? Or would it be more effective to come in solemnly in leave her in suspense for a bit?
Jo knew that she herself was really too impulsive to act on any prearranged plan, but it was fun to imagine the various shades of emotion playing on her Mother’s familiar face. If Jo were slow about her news, her mother’s thin features might be twisted with irritation, and her grey eyes snap impatiently. Or, if Jo shouted the good news straight away, she might get one of her Mother’s golden smiles.
Jo was quite lost in her reflections and bumped into Miss Murphy before she knew she was there. She had just come out of Mooney’s Bakery with the family loaf, or maybe it was cake for tea. They both apologized politely, and Miss Murphy began to inquire after Jo’s mother, but Jo cut the conversation short. She was in no mood right now for garrulous maiden ladies, although usually Jo pitied Miss Murphy, knowing she had a lonely existence.
As she neared her home she saw a car standing in front of the door. Jo didn’t pay much attention to cars, and didn’t give this one any particular notice. It did not necessarily mean that her mother had a visitor, because the de Vries family only had the upstairs flat in the house, and the car was probably for ‘Downstairs”. But when Jo had mounted the stairs to the flat she heard the murmur of a man’s voice and her Mother’s tinkling laugh together with her younger brother’s prattle. There seemed to be excitement in the air.
Jo opened the door of the living-room and immediately became conscious of her appearance. It was not as it should be. She suddenly remembered that she had a smudge of oil paint on her face, which she’d forgotten to wash off... That her hair was rough and tangled, that the heels of her shoes needed mending and that her habit of walking with her hands in the pockets of her coat had made ugly bulges at the sides. She realized it all in a flash because the gentleman she saw talking to her mother was so very elegant.
He was of the long build which is considered intellectual and Celtic. His trim VanDyke beard made his face even longer than it was. He wore a flowing red tie, a black velvet jacket with grey striped trousers, and a broad-brimmed hat was placed on one of the chairs.
Jo realized that she must look idiotic, gaping in the doorway at the visitor, for her mother tactfully intervened, shoving Jo forward with a bright smile, surreptitiously pulling at at her coat. Jo thought that if she had been a little younger, her mother would have licked her handkerchief and wiped her face.
“This is Jo, Edmund,” she said. “Jo, this is your cousin Edmund.”
Jo had heard about this cousin before. He was a celebrated Dutch art critic. Her family used to be given his books, which were bound in black with golden letters and printed on lovely paper with large margins. They were filled with complicated and involved writing, and were very heavy. Jo used them to pick up learned ideas about art, with which she impressed the other students at art school. She had been taught from early childhood to admire this celebrated relation and so was interested to meet him now. He repeated for Jo’s benefit what he had been saying to her mother, that he had come to Dublin to discuss the loan of one of the paintings in the National Gallery to an Exhibition which would be held in Rotterdam, and while he was here he thought it would be nice to look them up.
While he was talking, Jo studied his face. She could see that he was not as young as he looked at first, but he had a gallant way of moving his small head on its long neck. He had a long patrician nose and rather penetrating and humorous dark eyes. Jo liked him at once and in a strange way she felt that he also liked her. Her Mother was fussing around, getting tea cups ready in the kitchenette and dropping spoons, mislaying tea towels and finally noticing she was holding them in her hand.
Jo’s younger brother Johnny hung around Edmund’s chair, breathing down his neck. He seemed to have conceived a hero-worship for his cousin and Jo was embarrassed for him. But Johnny was 14, no longer a baby, so Jo couldn’t tell him to leave their guest alone. She tried frowning at him and nodding significantly, but Johnny just looked at her vaguely and said, "What?”... so Jo gave it up.
Anyway, Edmund didn’t seem to mind, and he seemed to know how to talk to a young boy. He asked all the right questions, about rugby football, and school and debating societies. Of course after a while Johnny did all the talking so Jo went to help in the kitchen. She still had her coat on and when she went to hang it up she remembered that she had not even told her mother about the money she had earned. But it was no use telling her now, as she was all in a dither about the potato cakes she had decided to make and was frowning deeply over the cookbook. Most likely if Jo mentioned it now she would just mutter absent-mindedly, “Eh, what?” and not hear anything Jo said.
So Jo went to lay the table for tea, and she put the money under her mother’s plate. Johnny and Edmund were still talking, or rather, Johnny was giving a glowing description of the last football match he had seen, and Jo wondered if Edmund was getting a little sorry he had encouraged the boy, for his answers were getting vague as if he wasn’t listening. He was looking around the room with a lot of interest, and of course Jo immediately felt self-conscious, for the walls were covered with her drawings, which were not her best ones; they were untidy and the perspective was wrong. But her mother had got fond of them and wanted them to stay there, though it made Jo wince every time they had a new visitor.
Now she was afraid Edmund was going to say, “What charming paintings, are they yours?” and then look out of the window, as most visitors did. But he didn’t. Jo felt that perhaps he had seen her watching him out of the corner of her eye, because as soon as Johnny paused to take a much needed breath, Edmund asked Jo: “Are you the artist of the family?” in quite a pleasant tone, without any jocularity.
Jo’s mother was just coming in with the tea and potato cakes and she heard Edmund’s question. “Oh, don’t call Jo an artist please!” she said abruptly. Jo’s heart sank. Her mother had a habit of immediately acquainting visitors with the most intimate characteristics of her children for the sake of conversation and general bonhomie. “You must not call her an artist” she continued, “She hates that. We are always careful to call her a student.”
As though this remark wasn’t worse that anything anyone could call her! Jo's thought passed. With a sigh, she decided to forgive her mother, for it was just her way of going on. Also, she had noticed that Edmund looked impressed, so perhaps it would be all right. Perhaps he even thought it was modest of her not to want to be called an artist.
Of course, Jo herself knew it was really a sort of false pride because she felt so young and silly and she didn’t want people to think she had ‘notions’ about herself. Suddenly there was a cry from Mother, she had found the money. Jo forgot all about Edmund and looked eagerly at her. She then saw that her mother was quite puzzled and was looking uncertainly at Edmund, as if she thought it might be a present from him, and she didn’t quite like that.
So Jo said hastily; “It’s from me!” Then her mother looked even more baffled as if she was afraid Jo had stolen it. Jo said, “I sold my first picture today!” She felt the pride of her family shining round her and reflected in her mother’s face. Johnny was tremendously impressed and Edmund was interested so Jo had to tell them all about it.
“You know about the exhibition of students’ work we had at school,” she said, “Of course most of the works that were hung were by older students and my drawings were tucked into a corner where they should be - I never expected to hear anything about them.
"But this morning when I was washing my brushes in the passage, Malloy, the porter, came to me mysteriously, his red nose shining with excitement. 'Come along, Miss,' he whispered - he is always very confidential with me. 'The Head’s wanting ye, there’s a gentleman wanting to buy a picture from ye.' I was so surprised I could hardly move, but he took hold of my smock and tugged me along. 'Now mind ye ask a good price,' he said. 'Don’t let em diddle ye.'
"When I saw Mr. Harris, the Director, talking to a stranger, and both of them standing in front of my picture, I realized it was true, and my heart started to hammer like anything. I thought there was a sneer on Mr. Harris’s face as he told me that this gentleman wanted to buy the picture. I don’t think he likes me. Anyway I had to say the price, and looking at the prospective buyer’s ruddy face, I wanted to say two pounds, but when I looked back at Mr. Harris’s countenance I could only mutter one pound so I stared at my boots and could not say anything more than: 'One or two pounds.'
“Well, the gentleman naturally wanted to know which, and Mr. Harris grew quite impatient and my heart went up and down and Malloy the porter, tried to encourage me to say the higher figure, but when he saw it was no use he advised me to split the difference, and that’s how I got thirty shillings!”
“What was the picture you sold?” asked Edward.
“Oh, a water-color of a family being evicted by a cruel landlord and carrying all their possessions - an old grannie and her children, that sort of thing.”
“May I see some more of your work?” Edmund asked and Jo’s mother’s eyes were immediately proud and pleased. She always expected people to rave about Jo’s talent, but generally people were barely polite and changed the subject to other things as soon as they decently could. Jo herself felt that she had not much to show. If only the beautiful paintings that she saw in her mind could be magically transferred to canvas. But she had to be content with her very feeble and laborious drawings of statues and some nervous attempts at still lifes in oil.
Jo brought these out and Edmund looked at them in silence. Jo was glad that at least he didn’t say, "Charming” or “Pretty!”, but she began to feel quite warm and saw that her mother looked as though she were going to cry. Johnny tried to fill up the awkward pauses by exclaiming “That’s a good one, Sis! I always liked that bottle you did, it looks so real!” or “That’s a clever one, I think!” But when Edmund still didn’t say a word Johnny gave it up and put some more coal on the fire instead.
By now Jo thought she would have been glad if Edmund did say, “Charming”, just to give the family a chance to be normal again. In desperation, Jo handed him a little book she had made for Johnny when he was recovering from appendicitis. It was just a collection of caricatures she had made of him and his friends with verses underneath.
But suddenly Edmund seemed to wake up and become quite enthusiastic. He made Jo fetch all her old sketchbooks, and he looked at the silly little scribbles that she’d even forgotten she’d ever done, and he began to rave about their directness and expressive lines, and the originality of her observation and vivacity of her expression and movement until Jo began to feel that he couldn’t mean it and she wished he would stop. But her mother drank it all in like a sponge sopping up water and hung on his every word.
Johnny looked at Jo with awe. Jo felt proud and humble at the same time and ready to cry. It was so strange to be all worked up to hear someone say you are no good, and then to find that they admire you! So Jo just sat quietly, listening to Edmund and her Mother discussing her future. Edmund was saying;
“There is only one place where you must send her! It is the best Art school you will find at the moment; the Rijksakademie - the National Academy in Amsterdam.”
Chapter 1. The Opening
Not far from the Rijksmuseum, at the Stadhouder's Kade (the Governor's Quay), stands the building that houses the budding artists of Amsterdam. Its full name is the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, or the National Academy of Fine Arts. The name is written artistically on the Academy's large bronze doors, through which have gone generations of painters on their way through the teething and diaper stages of their artistic development.
The building conveys the impression of a grave nursemaid, one who knows what feelings lurk in the hearts of men of any age and who is hard to surprise.
One October day in the early 1930s, the Academy was getting ready to open its doors for another year after the summer's relaxation. Students were already assembling in front of it with their portfolios under their arms.
From all over Holland they came. The tall village boy with the thick boots and the broad accent, several lean young geniuses with long hair who were financially (but not otherwise) embarrassed, the wealthy and rather frivolous young daughter of parents-who-saw-something-in-her, the pale only son who had "always been drawing," the girl who fought with her whole family and earned her own money to come, and the boy, now laughing and careless, who was destined during the Second World War to play an important part in the Dutch Resistance and died a national hero.
Tall and short, fat and thin, pretty and plain, they converged here to work together under the patient roof of the academy for another year. And, as if a great chemist were slyly playing with high explosives, the mixture was bound to affect more than mere art. Already the roving eyes of the young men had managed to pick up a glance here and there from the female arrivals.
The new Director, who had only a year ago reluctantly undertaken the task of running the academy, stood ready to receive the year's crop of pupils. This was to be a solemn opening, for part of the building had been remodeled during the vacation. He stood ready with his key in front of the bronze doors. He was wearing a festive green suede jacket which showed up his pink cheeks, blue eyes and white hair. He looked at his wristwatch and fitted the key into the keyhole. With a majestic swing, the doors opened and the assembled students surged through them, into the new white and grey hall, decorated with plants and Greek statues.
The Director led them through the auditorium, a large panelled room with a copy of Puvis de Chavanne's "Praying Geneviève" behind the speaker's desk, to show them the new exhibition hall, with its ceiling made of clouded glass, which could be artificially lit at night.
Behind it was a new room where animal models could be brought for drawing. It had a concrete floor on which even elephants' feet could not leave a dent. Everything looked very clean and modern. The pupils engaged in pleased whispers and exclamations of surprise. The Director felt satisfied, because the remodeling had been his idea.
"You will now all repair to the auditorium where coffee will be served," he announced. This was a not-unwelcome departure from the usual procedure. The Director looked at a paper. He had prepared a speech the evening before but now he could not decipher his own writing. When everyone was seated he mounted the desk and formally opened the rebuilt academy with the customary conventional phrases. He hurried over them as he was not a conventional man.
Peering once more at his illegible paper he crumpled it in his hands. He suddenly felt that he did not need any notes, he knew what to say. Leaning on his hands he bent slightly towards his audience and blazed his blue eyes at them. "This is an academy," he said. "At present the academic system is unpopular and has many enemies. Don't let that frighten you. Everything with character has enemies. Those who think they can use the academy as merely a place to get cheap models and materials don't understand what it has to offer. This is a community in itself, a community which is not hostile to your ambitions as is the world outside is. The academy is a school of love, where you will learn that all artists are brothers who must help one another against attacks from outside."
He continued in this vein and the hall was hushed. The students were all impressionable and the speech moved them. The Director himself was moved as he looked at them. All these young faces. What would grow out of them? Just so had he sat himself 40 years ago, surrounded by his friends. Some of them had become great in their chosen avenue of artistic speciality, but many more had had to accept the sad fact of their artistic mediocrity.
"Love and art are inseparable," he continued. "Don't ever fall into the mistake of thinking that the hit-or-miss dash is the thing to strive for. It is the loving attention you put into your work that counts."
The sea of faces before him responded. His heart warmed. He felt how truly he had spoken, how the shared creative work bound him to those young creatures. Would a similar collection of law students have responded with such warmth?
"Now I have an announcement to make," he concluded, again looking at his watch. "We will inaugurate our new exhibition hall with an exhibition of students' work at the end of this year. Five scholarships will be awarded to the winners of the best oil painting, the best sculpture, the best drawing, the best monumental work and the best graphic work."
He left the desk to get his coffee, amid thundering applause. There was a buzz of excitement among the students. Most of them were poor and a scholarship would lighten their difficulties considerably. They began to speculate on their chances of getting a prize.
"Of course, you can never trust a jury. There is always favoritism," grumbled a thin, red-haired girl, lighting a cigarette. "Girls won't have a chance. The teachers don't take us seriously. They think we'll marry and give it all up in a few years anyway."
"Kathe Kollwitz didn't," Victor Roland, one of the young geniuses, pointed out. "She waited until her sons were grown up and then she became famous for her graphic work."
“You don’t have to tell me!” the red-haired girl answered bitterly. “I’ve no intention of giving up, if I marry a hundred times! But I’ve no chance anyway”, she ended honestly. “My work is too muddy. YOU’ve got a good chance, Victor, everyone admires what you do.”
For a moment Victor was embarrassed. “Oh, cut it out, Wanda, you make me feel as if my work was slick. I hate cleverness. You do sensitive work sometimes. You have a chance.”
“Let’s not talk about it, it makes me nervous,” said another of the ‘geniuses’, combing his hair with long fingers. “Tell me, Victor, do you know of a way of earning some pennies before the scholarships start dropping into our laps?”
Victor shrugged. “Commercial work, Fik. It’s the only thing that pays. Unless you want to teach.” “Only girls want private lessons, and for some reason their Mothers don’t trust me,” said Fik with a smirk on his handsome face. Victor felt for a cigarette and then remembered that he had none left. He accepted a cup of coffee from a pretty girl who was handing them round. She was all curves and dimples.
“Have a biscuit”, she said laughing up at him. Victor reacted with his best smile and took several. He hadn’t had any breakfast. This girl wouldn’t know about that. She looked the sheltered type. He could imagine the conversation that had led to her coming to the Academy.
“What will you do when you leave school, Lily dear?” “I don’t know, Pa.” “What about a nice course on cooking?” “Oh bah, no, Pa, I hate washing dishes.” “Music?” “But the piano is out of tune.” “Well, drawing then. You must do SOMETHING. I hear this new Director... what’s his name... van Heemskerck has been remodeling the Academy and it’s quite good now." “All right, I’ll try it, Pa.”
“Why are you staring at me?” asked the girl who was still holding the plate of biscuits. She was blushing under his gaze and looked prettier than ever.
“What’s your name?” he asked. She must be a new girl, he hadn’t seen her before.
“Dora to my friends and Miss van Sprenkel to you,” she answered, skipping off with her tray. So she was called Dora. Victor smiled. He was attracted to her, but he knew by now that girls like that bored him very soon. It wasn’t worthwhile starting anything. He could foresee the whole business. It wouldn’t be hard to win her affections, but she was the type who would insist on bringing him home and exhibiting him to her doting family. He could imagine the prattle; “O Mr. Roland, we’ve heard so much about you, do come and sit down. Dora has been telling us how clever you are. But that naughty girl will never talk about herself. How do you think she’s doing? Dora, get those drawings you did that Mr. Veenstra admired the other day...” and very likely there would be a brat of a little brother who’d lisp during a lull in the conversation: “Are you going to marry my thithter?”
Victor yawned. He was well out of that. “Another cup of coffee?” said a voice. Two grey eyes looked up at him seriously while a tray was pushed under his nose. “I’m afraid all the biscuits are gone.”
“I’ve already had some,” he assured her. “Miss...?”
“De Vries. Jo de Vries,” she said, moving gravely on. Victor felt slightly piqued. She had talked to him as if he were an old man. She looked young and fresh and as though she were just out of school. Well, what did it matter? He straightened his shoulders, determined to put her out of his mind.
Chapter 2. Jo Settles In
Jo de Vries was up early the next morning. She woke with the thought: my first day at the Academy. So she jumped out of bed and dressed and washed quickly.
It was a dingy little room she had, in the apartment of her Godmother’s charwoman, Christien Smit. It consisted of a rattling iron bed, a washstand with the usual china bowl and pitcher, a cheap wooden wardrobe with selves on one side, a linoleum floor, a kitchen table and two chairs.
She was allowed to use the cooking facilities in the kitchen, but she didn’t bother this morning. Excitement had robbed her of appetite. She cut herself a slice of bread, poured water into the glass she used for her toothbrush and took an apple from the shelf.
Instead of being depressed by her surroundings, which included noise from the neighbour’s radios, she felt rather pleased. When you were a struggling young artist (how nice that sounded!) a certain poverty was appropriate, and she was determined to be as poor as her relatives (who were all well-to-do) would let her be.
As she chewed her apple she wondered at the fact that she was really here, in Amsterdam, a student at the National Academy of Fine Arts, the Rijksacademie.
She remembered how it had all started. She was living in Dublin with her Mother and two brothers, and attending the Art School there in Kildare Street. She was a popular student. They called her “Young Van Gogh,” and she was regarded as one of the more promising pupils. But then when her relative, the art critic Edmund de Vries visited the family, and said that Jo needed better teaching, he told her mother she must go to Amsterdam.
“The English and Irish never were good at painting,” he said. “They excelled in literature. For drawing and painting you must go to Holland. Jo should be at the National Academy in Amsterdam and benefit from her native tradition.”
Her mother had been upset. “She is too young, “ she protested. “And how can I afford it? I have the boys to educate!”
But when her relatives in Holland heard of the art critic’s verdict they were all for it and Jo’s Grandmother promised to pay the fees, her Godmother Aunt Josien said she would get her lodgings and Aunt Hilda said she would give her an allowance to live on. Jo passed the entrance exam to the Academy and here she was, all ready to start!
She put on her coat and, traversing Christien’s kitchen, went down the long staircase to the front door, which opened when you pulled a string. There she stood, on the bricks of the street outside, breathing the heavy Dutch air, surrounded by pink brick buildings, so different from the grey stone of Ireland.
Her Aunt had told her to take the tram, which would bring her within a block of the Academy - but she was too impatient to wait for it, and started to walk.
There was a lovely Autumn smell in the air, which mingled with the less pleasant odors of the numerous canals, lined with trees which already bore the quivering leaves of brilliant hue which were making themselves ready to let go and float away.
The bronze doors were open when she arrived at the Academy, and early pupils were already entering. Jo recognized the red-haired girl called Wanda. They said “Hello” and entered together.
“I see you’re early this morning!” said Wanda, approvingly. “The Director is a stickler for punctuality!”
“I wanted to come early today,” said Jo. “Isn’t it exciting to be here?”
Wanda smiled. "I take it you are new here. Shall I show you around? What’s your name?”
“Josien - Jo for short,” she answered. “Where do we go?”
“I’ll show you. The ladies first and second classes are together - it’s a nice, large room.” Wanda opened a door and Jo saw a large classroom with the North light coming from windows too high to look out of. The walls were bare except for some pupils’ pictures, hung on nails.
There was a stove behind a screen and a model sat on the usual revolving platform called a throne. This model was not undressed, she sat in a summer dress, one shoulder bare, holding a straw hat. She was very young, almost a child, Jo thought.
Wanda showed Jo where to hang her coat and where she could leave her possessions in a locker. “You’d better wear your key around your neck as I do”, Wanda warned. “If you lose it, there’s an awful hullaballoo! I see you brought paper. That's not necessary. They supply it here - of course, you have to pay for it. Have you got some money? It’s 15 cents a sheet. Get yourself a board. You have to stretch the paper - like this - wet it first and then smooth it on top of the board and stick it all round with gummed paper. I’ll help you. See - it takes away all the wrinkles and is nice to draw on.” Jo let herself be installed by Wanda, who seemed to enjoy her role as monitor.
“Now you have to get an easel”, she instructed, looking around. “Everyone has their own. You can write your name on it. It’s a good thing to be early. Then you can get a good place to paint from. Everyone wants the front, of course, but you can see someone’s already bagged the best spot."
Jo was unable to carry out all these instructions because Mr. Jansen had entered the class and gone straight to her, since she was the new pupil. “Are you wanting to draw the model?” he asked, “It’s not recommended for beginners. All the same - have a try - let’s see what you can do.”
When Jo had carried out all Wanda’s instructions and found herself an easel and place. She noticed that she was tense - very keen to start, but not at ease. She had to show what she could do. She wanted to excel here, as she had in Dublin, but a glance at the other students’ work made her realize the tough competition she was facing.
She also had a bad view of the model - more or less entirely behind her. Of course it did not matter - you could make a good drawing of a back - but it was odd, she didn’t seem to be able to draw. She kept erasing her lines, which made the charcoal fly, dirtying her hands and paper. It was hopeless.
When the teacher came again he said, “I knew this was too hard for you. Let me get you that lovely copy of the ‘David’ by Michelangelo. You won’t have to cope with it moving - and we’ll get you a quiet corner over here, so you won’t be cramped by too many easels together. There! Start again and let me see how this works. The first step is the hardest.”
With an encouraging slap on her shoulder the teacher left Jo. She was fighting her tears. All the girls had been looking on and seeing her humiliation. Then she decided just to accept what had happened. She started on the beautiful statue of David with new enthusiasm.
Then a funny thing happened - she felt liberated. She’d had the humiliation she had so dreaded, and now, with the worst over, she forgot about her status. No one here need know that she’d already had three years of art school behind her, so it didn’t matter how badly she did. Then suddenly, all her skill returned. She liked the statue - the tones of the plaster intrigued her and she began to work happily. From afar she vaguely heard the conversation of the other girls who had gathered around the model.
"Good thing we don't have Miss Dubois again, I'm sick of her."
"I am too - this one is nice, isn't she?"
"Well, there's a compliment for you," said Mieke addressing the model. "You 're young, aren't you?"
"Sixteen" said the model. "My Aunt Bet lets me pose if I don't take my clothes off."
"No need to take them off, they're very pretty - turn your head a little more this way."
"Yes, and you've changed your feet," another voice added. "What's your name?"
"Da," said the girl.
"No, I didn't ask for your father's name. We want to know what you're called."
"Da, it's short for Dinah."
"Well, Da, we like you - you're lovely, especially when you smile. Please turn your head this way a little."
Jo had got so interested in her drawing she didn't hear any more - only vague murmurs of voices. When the teacher came back and saw Jo's drawing, he beamed.
“Very good!” he said. “There you are - aren’t you pleased with yourself! Don’t try too much at once - that is always a beginner's fault. Go on, Miss de Vries, it’s a great improvement!” Jo let his words glide over her. It didn’t matter any more - what peace!
Towards twelve, a relaxation came over the class. “Time for lunch,” someone said. The model got up, put her wrap around her and disappeared behind the screen. Some of the girls went to talk to her. Others put their coats on to go home for lunch, and a few had sandwiches and began to eat them, sitting on the throne and dangling their legs.
Wanda had disappeared and Jo felt bewildered. Then she saw Dora, the girl who had handed around the chocolate biscuits at the opening on the day before,
“I didn’t know you had to bring lunch!” she stammered.
“Never mind, someone will share with you," Dora consoled her. “But I discovered something yesterday,” she went on. “There’s a little park, just outside the animal classroom, with benches to sit on. The students from the men’s classroom go there to eat their lunch. Let’s go there too.”
“But,” said Jo, “Isn’t it their place?”
“Why?” asked Dora. “We’re as good as they are. They can’t keep us out. Come along.” Dora led Jo through the empty evening sketching room, and the adjoining animal classroom which had French doors opening on to a charming little garden, surrounded by the brick walls of adjacent buildings. It was a triangular space with bushes edging a bit of lawn and some flowers wilting in a flower bed. Several iron benches stood around invitingly and they were already partly occupied by a group of boys, all munching sandwiches.
Victor was there, his strong white teeth biting big chunks out of his ham roll. Sam Silbersteyn recognised Jo and made a place for her on his bench. Jo was embarrassed. “I didn’t know I had to bring sandwiches,” she said.
“Here,” said Sam. “Have one of mine. My Mother made them, she is good at sandwiches but her cooking is awful. I have to do the evening meal at home.”
“Thank you,” Jo murmured. “I love egg sandwiches.” She was very hungry, having eaten little at breakfast. Dora had found a seat next Victor and was chatting him up, while eating her danish pastry with her little finger in the air.
“Who said you girls could come here?” A voice barked: “This is our place!” The owner of the voice was a lanky boy with pimples, who ate sloppily.
“Oh, shut up, Moenck,” Victor snapped at him. “Can’t you see that girls lend color to the environment?” And indeed, Jo observed that the girls clothes looked bright against the dull tweed suits of the boys.
“Yes, you are welcome!” said Sam, “Women are equal here - there’s no sex discrimination.”
“There should be,” grumbled Moenck. “Girls only make trouble.”
“No, we’re good as gold,” Dora answered with a coquettish smile at Victor, who ignored her remark and threw one of his sandwiches at Sam, who caught it deftly and crowed: “Salmon! Oh boy!”
Jo felt relieved. She was afraid she should not have accepted Sam’s sandwich. She'd noticed that he was poor. “Tomorrow I’ll bring something for all of us,” she promised.
Meanwhile Wanda and some of the other girls had entered the garden and were dealing out cakes.
Moenck accepted a large slice.
“You don’t seem to object to what the girls bring!” Victor jeered at him.
“Why should I?” answered Moenck. “You don’t refuse eggs from your neighbors’ hens!”
“Oh, stop bickering!” said Jo, finishing the last of Sam’s sandwich. “We came here for peace, didn’t we, Dora?”
“It was very peaceful here until you came,” Moenck said sourly.
“Well in that case I shall leave,” and Jo got up. Dora made no effort to accompany her, and Jo hurried back to her empty classroom and waiting David. She felt lucky not to be working from the model, who needed rests and was probably gone to her lunch. Jo wondered how much a model like that earned, and how she lived, but she was soon absorbed in the delicate tone values of her drawing, happy to be alone.
Chapter Three - The Men's Class
Moenck came back to class still grumbling. “Who told those skirts about our secret refuge?” he growled, looking at his fellow students who were resettling their easels, sharpening conte’ pencils or kneading putty rubber.
“You are so antisocial. I think we should call you the Monk instead of Moenck!” said Victor.
The others laughed. “The Monk! The Monk! Perfect name for him!”
“The model is late again!” Sam observed, ignoring them. He hated to see anyone being jeered at. “Someone ought to tell him we’re not here to waste time. Ah! Here he is!” A good-looking Indian entered the room with an apology. When he had undressed, Victor and Sam guided him back into the right pose. Sam was admiring Victor’s drawing.
“Very powerful!” he said. “You’ll sell that when you’ve finished it.”
“I hope so,” said Victor, “But I’m not sure the Director would approve. Who can lend me a fag?”
“You know smoking isn’t allowed in class,” came a chorus of voices.
Victor shrugged his shoulders - “As long as they don’t see us,” he murmured.
“Well it’s hard on us who don’t smoke,” said Eylard, a thin young man with a slight stoop remarked. “I’ve got asthma. It’s supposed to be bad for asthma,”
“I don’t believe it,” Victor sniffed. “They just say that because they’re against tobacco. I think it clears the lungs.”
“Let them complain,” said Arie Gomperts, and handing Victor a cigarette he lit one for himself with a mulish expression on his face.
The boy with asthma began to cough. Mr. Jansen entered the classroom and sniffed suspiciously. “Who is smoking here?” he barked. Gomperts had extinguished his cigarette and put it in his pocket. Victor had thrown his in the dustbin. No one answered.
“It’s strictly forbidden in the classrooms. With all the turpentine and oil-soaked rags around it could start a nasty fire. Don’t let me catch you at it again! Now, get on with your work. Besides the other reasons for forbidding it, smoking leads to idleness.”
Mr. Jansen looked around and reflected what a difference there was between the women's and the men's classes. There was something clear and pure about the air in the class he had just left. None of the girls smoked. The floor was clean, rubbish was put neatly into the containers provided, and if there were smells they were the aromas of oil and turpentine mingling with the perfumes on the hair and clothes of the female students.
Everything in the men's class already had a grubby look, and even when there was no smoke to breathe, there was the stench of chewing tobacco, which Jansen abhorred, let alone the smell of clothes which were too seldom cleaned.
All the same, Jansen disapproved of girls. They weren’t serious. He’d known so many who’d come and showed much talent, and then after leaving with honors, went and married and that was the end of their art. At least with men you had satisfaction from your teaching. Later you saw their names in the papers, which praised their skills and mentioned their teachers.
This fellow, for instance - Victor Roland. He really had a genius for drawing. But no one could tell how he would shape up in the painting class - that was another thing altogether. But that would be a problem for Mr. Winter, the painting teacher, next year. Mr. Jansen went to stand by Victor’s drawing and remarked; “Very good, but you rely too heavily on the line - as if there was no interest in the rest of the space. Remember, when you begin to paint, you will have to pay attention to the whole thing, not just the outline.”
“I thought I had done that!” Victor argued, “Look at those shadows I put in there!”
“Yes, they are very good, in a drawing. But you must not forget that you’ll be in the painting class next year - so have an eye for bulk as well as line.”
When the teacher had gone, Victor scowled and remarked to his neighbour, “These teachers. They’re only teaching drawing because they can’t make it in painting. I’m not going to pay any attention to what they say.”
“But I think he’s right.” said Sam, who had come to look at what the teacher had criticized. “I know what he means. You can simplify a drawing by leaving things out - but with a painting you have to observe everything. The drawing is only a skeleton.”
“Thank you for your opinion,” said Victor coldly, “But we’re not in the painting class yet. You told me you thought I had done a good drawing, and you were right.”
“Oh, no offense meant,” answered Sam, good-naturedly, going back to his easel.
“I think,” said the asthmatic boy, “that we’re here to learn - not to hug our own opinions.”
“It’s getting too hot in this class - I’m going outside to have a smoke - can anyone lend me a fag?”
“Here.” Sam found him one. “In return for your sandwich. It’s my last one, but what’s the difference, there are other things in life!”
Victor grabbed the cigarette and went to smoke in the little triangular garden, which was now deserted.
When the classes were over, Jo packed her things in the locker and scrubbed her face at the sink. She was going to dinner with her aunts. As she walked down the street in the gathering gloom she heard quickening steps behind her, and someone grabbed her arm. She looked up and saw Victor grinning down at her.
“Got you!” he said. “Why didn’t you wait for me?”
“Why should I ?” Jo asked. “I didn’t even know you were going my way.”
“I didn’t either, Victor grinned. “It was just an impulse.”
“Why?” asked Jo. And she really looked as if she wanted to know.
“Can’t you guess?” asked Victor.
Jo wrinkled her nose. “Maybe you wanted to talk to someone?”
“I wouldn’t want to talk to anyone” Victor remarked, “It would have to be someone I’m interested in.”
“Are you interested in me?” asked Jo. “You weren’t looking interested in the garden - you looked bored.”
Victor gazed down at her. “You’re a strange girl,” he said.
Suddenly there were rapid steps and Sam joined them.
“That’s not fair, you’re hogging Jo,” Sam said, pushing himself between Victor and Jo and taking Jo’s hand. “She’s MY friend.”
“You’re right,” said Jo to him, “But Victor seems to want to be my friend too. I don’t know why.”
“I wouldn’t trust him,” Sam warned her. “He knows too many girls.”
“Do the girls like him?” Jo asked.
“Oh yes,” said Sam, “He’s quite a Don Juan. Don’t you like him?”
“I don’t know him,” said Jo.
“Well!” Victor, who had listened to this exchange of words with a curious expression on his face, now intervened. “We can remedy that. Come to the little garden for lunch every day and we’ll soon get to know each other.”
“Oh, I will,” Jo said, “But I’ll bring my own lunch next time. Thank you, Sam, for feeding me today!” The three of them walked on, continuing their bantering talk. At the tram stop they separated, Jo boarding the tram and the others continuing on their way.
Jo sat down and looked out of the window. She saw the boys disappearing around a corner. “I do like Sam,” she said to herself, “but Victor is so handsome. It’s not fair."
Chapter Four Jo’s letters home
Dear Mother -
I am settling in nicely. Today we had lithography in a very nice room in the attic. I had to draw a still-life with charcoal. The class was small - there were only two other girls. I did the drawing very badly, I am out of training, and besides, my self-confidence was shocked the day before when a teacher said some very depressing things to me about my work.
In the end I was so nervous for fear that I would get another scolding that I accepted the help of another girl, who put the still-life on paper with a few quick strokes. But when I was washing my hands at the washbasin, I smiled because my old pride had been brought low indeed. I, Josien de Vries, letting another pupil work on my drawing!
I believe it is very good for me here, I can see from observation and listening to the remarks of pupils who have been here longer that it is serious here and that you have to exercise yourself to the utmost every day and not just one day - which I can do by myself.
The hours are 9 am-12 noon, then 1 pm-4 pm and finally 7 pm-9 pm. Besides that we get homework and there are lectures for which you get free tickets. On Saturdays we are free after 1 pm.
From 12 to 1 pm there is a library in which you can look at beautiful books.
When you are in a classroom you can’t just run out of it, and certainly you can’t barge into another room unless you have a message for the Professor. People only walk through the passages when it is necessary, and there is a reverent silence everywhere. Nothing is dirty or ugly, everything is simple but very good, and there is no talking about ART, the way the students did in Dublin. They work here, and don’t talk.
The teachers too, don’t hold long orations, but briefly point out your mistakes and walk away after having, for a moment, wiped out your drawing. They do not bother about the style of a drawing.
The first class only draws statues, the second gets living heads and nudes. The painting classes are of course much, much nicer.
But Mother, I thought I could draw, and now I notice it isn’t true! You don’t know what a funny sensation I have here - a sort of chicken that feels the wind outside its egg for the first time. I was so unhappy that first day and was complaining in class, but the other girls told me to stop that, because it was hard for them all, and complaining didn’t help. Now I see that this suffering is just what I need. I have a hair shirt which is unpleasant but salutary!
Oh, Mother, do you think I have absorbed the Irish prudishness about the W.C.? I was embarrassed to ask the girls where it was, and then I discovered upstairs a door with “Ladies” on it, beside one with “Teachers”. But our class is downstairs. The first time I ascended the stairs a girl called after me, “Where are you going? Aren’t you coming to class?” I muttered something and followed her.
The second time I tried I met the Director, van Heemskerck, who said “So, juffrow, are you wandering round a bit or are you looking for someone?” Again I muttered something and retreated.
The third time I got as far as the door. But it was locked. Just when I wondered whether to go back or wait, the door opened and a Professor came out! I blushed terribly but he looked at me calmly and said, “So.”
I looked again at the inscription on the door. It really said "Ladies". So I finally entered, with fear and trembling.
I told a girl about it afterwards, but she wasn’t upset about it. “Yes, that is the girls' place - he probably went in by mistake. Goodness, do you think it so awful?”
I am called the Irish girl here. I have to save my motley hat for skating on the ice, because if I wear it in the streets, the urchins call insults after me.
Love from your daughter,
Dear Mother -
I was doing a charcoal drawing and I thought for one moment that I was getting something very beautiful, and now it is hopelessly gone. I am homesick for the beautiful, but my head is atrocious. It isn’t even well-drawn, for I went feverishly for the beauty and paid no attention to the construction.
There are big auto carts here with a big kitchen in them where a big cook is frying waffles. You get a plate full of a big hot crisp waffle for 5 cents! And six of them for 25 cents.
The fruit is cheaper here than bread. For my bread I pay 20 cents and it lasts me four meals. And for 16 cents I get 4 large apples. So apples are really cheaper.
Tante Hilda came to visit my room and see how I was getting on. She said I lived like a Bohemian, but it’s very strange - I think she was a little envious! All that respectability can’t be much fun.
I am working hard. I am making extra money by drawing Tante Mies for Olga and Herman. They told me I have grown thinner, which does not surprise me. But I have a kind of fear inside me. I’ll be glad when that is over. It is nothing but fear of life, fear of death, pain etc.
Later I was walking to the Academy in a strong wind and there seemed to be no one around so out of sheer exuberance I aired my feelings by chanting a song about the wind singing in my ears - and then I heard someone laughing and it was Victor, the boy I walked home with. He walked up to me and carried my satchel all the way to the Academy. That put me in the right mood, for that morning I did a nearly good drawing. If only I had more time, I’d get it right yet.
Next week I am still on plaster casts in the drawing class, but in the evening class we are getting - what do you think? A horse! This is in the special animal room. It has a concrete floor so, as Prof. van Heemskerck says, not even elephants can do any damage.
The other animal class has a dog. He is kept quiet by his master, but sometimes we hear him bark and then we all laugh.
The modelling class is carving in wood at present. Sometimes they also make statues in marble. And they have to model from memory - all very jolly. A boy here has told me how to grind my own oil paints!
It is now ten past two in the morning, you must know.
1,000 kisses for your birthday! I have sent you a drawing of Granny because I think you’ll like it. Uncle Jan thinks it very good. We had a talk about art together.
He told me something about art I didn’t even know! We had to design an "ex libris" sticker from van Heemskerck, which had to be a figure in a circle, and I didn’t know how to begin.
“Oh,” said Uncle Jan. “But of course you have to use the circle, you must not just paste something inside. The circle movement is a spiral, so the drawing must form a spiral with the circle.” A light dawned for me!
Uncle Jan and Grandfather are the finest men I know. Grandfather’s brains are bigger perhaps, but Uncle Jan can admire so well. Grandfather can only appreciate. This may be a proof of Grandfather’s superiority, but perhaps it indicates the opposite.
Today the Director lectured us on design. He said that the mistake that most people make is that they think when they put a figure in a square it is sufficient. Like the ugly sister in the story of Cinderella’s shoe, they cut off a piece here and a piece there so that nothing protrudes. Then he explained the principle from which we work.
You have a piece of land. First you only know the circumference. What is the best way to explore the land itself? Well, of course by walking from one corner to the other. So when you want to fill a certain space you must know it first, and when you know it you must fix the points where the emphasis of your picture will fall, so that it is harmonious with the circumference. In other words, a picture must not be something accidental around which a circle is drawn, hit or miss. It must be logical and harmonious right through.
I understand it very well now, and laugh at the odd notion I used to have of "design", as if you are not much freer in a harmonious division than an inharmonious one.
But it is peculiar to be one day in a class with van Heemskerck, who wants you to start with the construction, and next day with Professor Pluym, who is completely on the side of the "free" painter - he says we should have our idea first and work spontaneously. They both share the ground principles of harmony, but approach them so differently. Pluym is a great fellow. “Ja,” he says, “I know nothing of these geometrical systems, but maybe it is all right. Artists can still work in spite of any systems!”
The classes are all very pleasant. Only the modeling class gives me shivers down my back. It is chock full of students. You have to make your own structure with wood and nails, without treading on anyone’s toes. To top it off, you hardly get any teaching from the professor. Instead the other students go and mess around in your work in turns. But I’ll soon make them stop that with me. I never loved modeling and now I certainly don’t!
Love from Jo
Chapter Five The Monumental Room
Victor greeted Sammy as they entered the Academy together. Sam’s thin humorous face was lit with a grin as he shook a heavy lock of hair out of his green eyes. Victor liked him. He was intelligent, which was more then you could say of most of the students. And he left you free. He didn’t try to dig into all your private thoughts.
The trouble with men friends was that they had a way of staying in your life, so you had to choose them more carefully than girl friends, who were only part of the passing moment.
Sam, meanwhile, had sensed Victor’s mood. He was very intuitive. He’d had to adjust himself to changing circumstances. His father was a German Jew who had fled the increasing menace of the political situation in Germany and had come to his wife's city, for his wife was Dutch. But the father, who was a shoemaker, wasn't doing too well and both parents were ailing.
Sam did what he could for them and felt guilty that he pursued art when he was so necessary in the shop. However, the parents realized he had talent and had insisted on it. Sam's whole happiness was in art, yet he was always conscious of his parents' sacrifice. He worked the harder for it. Nobody knew of this pressure behind him. He seldom talked about himself and was always ready for a lark. He now slapped Victor cheekily on the back.
"Did you see the upstairs yet? The new Monumental division?"
"No. Where is it?" Sam led the way. "Van Heemskerck is giving classes in mosaic and mural painting. He picks certain pupils from the drawing classes and he teaches them and gets them commissions to decorate government buildings. It's a very nice but not in my line. Sammy isn't monumental."
Victor had to laugh. Sam always reminded him of an amiable and intelligent monkey. They went up the beautiful marble staircase with its big window. "Later they'll put stained glass in it," Sam pointed out.
"A pity," thought Victor. "The white light suits the Greek statues." He was wondering where Sammy picked up all his information. The upstairs had certainly been improved. A new floor had been put into the hall, and the monumental classroom had actually a parquet floor. It was a beautiful room, oriental tapestries hung on the walls and there was an enormous bowl of goldfish in front of the windows. "What's that for?" asked Victor, intrigued.
"To develop our sense of beauty," whispered Sam reverently. Victor grinned. Sam took a biscuit from his pocket and dropped some crumbs into the bowl. The fishes surged towards them with a glimmer of gold.
"They're pretty," Victor admitted. He looked around. "Van Heemskerck is right, why not make a room pretty when you've got to work in it? Look at the other classrooms: grey walls, dusty floors, old paint stuck everywhere."
Victor himself loved to have beauty around him, to use beautiful things. He had no wish for austerity - ugly surroundings irked him. He hated to see a dirty collar or black fingernails and was meticulously groomed himself.
Sammy, on the other hand, had a cheerful disregard of dirt and ugliness. He had a little dog’s instinct for finding nourishment from garbage cans. The more ugly a thing was, the more it challenged him to find beauty in it. As for his surroundings, he would never waste a moment’s time to improve them, and he often wondered at Victor’s ambition to to collect objets d’art. He saw Victor’s secret admiration for the room and laughed. "You couldn't sharpen your pencil on the floor here," he pointed out with a grimace. "The Director has provided wastebaskets."
Victor saw the artistically painted square receptacles. "Well, well," he sighed. He knew he was supposed to sneer, but he hated dirty floors himself. "Old Allebe should have seen it," he said. Allebe was a famous former director of the academy. He was known to have stood no nonsense of any kind and made short shrift of frills. An example of his biting tongue was the celebrated occasion when he had told a boy who was showing him a labored piece of work: "You should take that home..." When the boy flushed with pride, he had added: "...and never let anyone see it again."
“Aren’t we having drawing this morning?” asked Sammy. He drifted away.
Fik Fernhout and other students were pushing into the room to admire it. "What do you think of the innovation Director van Heemskerck has made?" said Jan Everts. He had been in the drawing class last year, but had been picked by van Heemskerck for his Monumental class and was proud to be in the know. He was a good industrious student, never missing a day, but he had no originality and Victor had been surprised at the Director’s choice. Wasn’t it true that strong people always seemed to choose weak followers? Jan certainly was weak. Victor despised him for marrying early a girl who did not amount to much. Jan was now the father of two boys and had a defeated look.
"We’ve talked it to death" Victor snapped. But the Monk wanted to put his case "They’ve no right to let women into our class! They constitute a continual distraction. It has to be stopped!”
“Just you try! Of course it won’t affect the Monumental class, so few girls have talent for that,” said Everts. Victor showed his annoyance. He’d always kept work and play separate. He took his work seriously, but girls were his relaxation.
“What is the Director doing this for?” He asked Everts.
“He says the place is old fashioned. There is no other art school where they segregate women. He says it will benefit all the pupils because there will be a wider choice of models. We’ll all have the run of every class.”
"That’s true," admitted Victor. "But it was so peaceful, just men in the class, you could say and do what you liked. And no distractions."
“It doesn’t make that much difference,” Jan Everts commented. “Women don’t matter.” This bitter statement from gentle Jan startled Victor. “What a mistake it was for him to marry!” he thought as he left the room.
A group of girls who had come to see the Monumental division were discussing the new atmosphere in the classes now that they were co-educational.
Dora could see nothing wrong with the new situation. "I hate hen parties," she said, tossing her head so that her curls quivered.
"That has nothing to do with it," a serious girl with black frowning brows over dark grey eyes, told her. "It's the work that counts. Now you'll get flirtations in the class, and I do hate that. "Oh, Mr. Bemmers, you are so strong, will you please shift my easel," she mimicked. "That sort of thing. If any of us girls want a different pose than the men, do you think we'd get it? On whose side are the professors?"
"Oh Reina, don't be so pessimistic," said Judy Beerman. "There IS an advantage in having the choice of two classes, and it's really ridiculously Victorian to separate us."
“They’ll all want to smoke as well!”
“That’s against the rules.”
“Yes, but those men don’t obey the rules!”
"We're second class students anyway," grumbled Saskia. “We won’t get any attention from the teachers now!”
“We can always get their attention!” said Dora, tossing her curls again.
“Yes, it’s all right for you, you’re pretty, but what about me?” said the red-haired girl ruefully.
Dora looked at her. “You’re not bad-looking, Wanda, if you didn’t scowl so.” But Wanda shrugged her shoulders and slouched off.
In Piet Huygens room next to the monumental class, Rick van Heemskerck and Piet Huygens were discussing the desegregation.
"There seems to be an uproar over my having thrown the classes open to both sexes," Rick remarked. "You'd think the students at least would approve."
"Oh, they do, and if they don't yet, they will," said Piet with a sly smile. He was a small man and had a way of disappearing from sight, which was the reason he knew more about what was going on than the more flamboyant Rick. "Most of their objections are for the record."
"Well, I hope so," said Rick fervently. "I don't want a school full of prudes."
"I don't think you need be too worried," said Piet, smiling again. He had observed the flirtations in the garden. When van Heemskerck marched out, Piet gently parted the white curtains and gazed out. He needed a heroine for his story. He gazed out at the different girls as they sat demurely, gently flirting with the men. He couldn’t decide.
Suddenly out came a girl with short dark curls, marching like a boy with a bag of apples. She threw an apple to each student, and had them rolling around the benches trying to catch the fruit. The whole scene had changed.
Piet dropped the curtains and sat back with a pleased smile. He had found his heroine.
Jo and Mr. Jansen had become very friendly over the statue of David which Jo had finished successfully. Now she was allowed to do the model, a Miss Dubois, who was a favorite with Jansen, who earned a lot of money illustrating Bible stories. Miss Dubois was a splendid dark beauty, just right for a Judith or an Esther, or even, with some softening, for the Virgin Mary. Her raven hair, gloomy brown eyes and aristocratic nose were a continual inspiration to him, and he was pleased to see that Jo shared his enthusiasm for her.
Jo was herself in the usual mess, with charcoal smeared over her face - as she was working feverishly at the drawing. The subtle play of shadow on the girl’s sensitive face charmed her and she was doing a really good drawing. Mr. Jansen was enraptured.
“A pity we have memory drawing this afternoon,” Jo said, “I’d like to go on with this.”
A gleam came into Mr. Jansen’s eyes. Memory drawing was an innovation of Professor van Heemskerck and Mr. Jansen thought it a waste of time.
“It’s only optional, you know” he said.
“Oh?” Jo had never seen anyone skip it.
“Oh yes, “ purred the teacher, pulling the printed folder with the Academy timetable out of his pocket. Jo saw that it said ‘Optional’ under Memory Drawing.
“We made that provision on purpose,” Mr. Jansen said, “For cases such as this, when a student is doing good work and should not be disturbed.” His eyes returned caressingly to Jo’s delicate sketch. At last a pupil who appreciated his favorite model!
“Well then, I’ll stay.” said Jo. The other girls stared at her.
“It’s van Heemskerck’s turn today to give the Memory drawing,” Wanda whispered to her.
“So what?” asked Jo.
“You’ll see,” warned Wanda.
Jo shrugged her shoulders. She thought van Heemskerck a wonderful, broadminded person. She didn’t understand why people were scared of him.
Mr. Jansen made a point of arranging for the model for her alone, and Jo enjoyed the quiet empty classroom. She began to get the hair sorted out, arranging the dark curls in a proper pattern.
Her drawing was going well and she hummed to herself.
Scarcely half an hour had passed when the door opened, and Professor van Heemskerck, stormed into the classroom, slamming the door and shouting to Miss Dubois to get off the throne. He thundered at Jo, ”Posing is not allowed here now!
Miss de Vries!” he barked, “What are you doing here? It is memory drawing!”
“But Mr. Jansen...” stammered Jo. “Mr. Jansen was countermanding my orders. Come with me.”
Jo thought for a moment that the Director was going to take her by the ear, like a naughty boy. But he recollected himself sufficiently to let her go ahead of him politely.
In the Memory class an old man was posing. He was allowed to sit for five minutes and then he disappeared behind a curtain. Ten minutes later he was allowed to sit again for five minutes.
Jo had got a vivid picture of him, but the trouble was that when he came back he looked different each time, and she had to erase her sketch and start again. Soon she was working on a messy piece of paper.
“You see, you need memory drawing, “ The Director told her, “You need to be less impetuous, to wait for inspiration. I see you have made him very old and sick - you should have given him more life, like this -” and the Director began to work on her drawing. “Precision and neatness!” he said.
”But that’s not the way I see him at all!” Jo protested, and wiped out what the Director had done.
“Bah! You make him look like a schoolmaster!” she added. She had been dreaming of portraying old age and nearness to death - and how it must feel - and now she’d lost interest in the drawing. But she had annoyed the Director who left her abruptly, speechless with rage.
She saw the other pupils looking at her as if she had done an unforgivable thing. This was not her lucky day - and all just because she wanted to finish her drawing. What was she here for anyway?
She scowled at the Director’s back as he left the room.
There was a stunned silence in class.
“Well!” said Sammy, “If you weren’t a pretty girl you’d be finished!” he said, looking at Jo half with admiration and half with pity. “You did about the worst thing you could have done; first skipping his class and then wiping out his drawing!”
“I don’t care!” said Jo, but she did care. She realized that she had been very foolish and she knew that now the Director would be cold and haughty to her in future.
After the class the Director entered his Secretary’s office. “I told off Jansen.” he said. “He countermanded my order and let Miss de Vries go on working at the model when I was giving the memory drawing class. He acted as though he thought he was in the right!”
“So he was.” said Piet.
“How could he be? He was directly going against my schedule.”
“No, he wasn’t.” said Piet. “You put it in black and white - Memory Drawing class is optional.
Don’t you remember the discussion we had? I told you it might not suit all the pupils.”
“Oh dear, I’d forgotten.” The Director looked embarrassed. “I suppose I’ll have to apologize?”
“If you want to keep a good teacher, yes!”
“Well, I’m not going to apologize to that sassy girl de Vries!” the Director said obstinately.
“What has the poor girl done to merit such severity?” asked Piet.
The Director told him. “So she defended her own conception, good for her,” said Piet, grinning to himself. Jo had acted just as his heroine would have done. He’d made the right choice.
“Oh, you are impossible!” said the Director, and stomped out.
Piet looked out of the window. His heroine was sitting on the bench in front of the Academy talking animatedly to that Roland fellow, probably telling him the whole story. Yes! She was making the motions of rubbing out a drawing - grinning broadly, Piet took out his novel and began to scribble.
This story was really going to be good.
A day later Jo met van Heemskerck in the hall, and ducked her head, preparing to scurry past to avoid his angry look. To her surprise he called her name, “Miss de Vries!” Jo blushed and looked at him timidly. “I’ve seen your drawing of the model. I agree with Mr. Jansen that it is excellent. I have arranged with him to take you into my Monumental division for awhile.”
Jo flushed. She knew that this was a great honor, but her drawing was not yet finished. “Not immediately?” she asked.
“Yes, this afternoon.” said van Heemskerck. Before she knew what she was doing Jo insulted him again.
“Oh no! “ she said in a horrified voice, “My drawing isn’t finished yet!”
For a moment van Heemskerck looked as though he were going to explode. Then suddenly he laughed. “Miss de Vries, you are incorrigible. But I like your honesty. All right! I’ll await your convenience, may I expect you when your drawing is finished?”
“Oh yes, please!” stammered Jo, “I’m sorry...”
“That’s arranged then.” said the Director, and moved on.
Mr. Jansen was surprised to see Jo in the drawing class that afternoon. “I thought you were going to the monumental division.” he said.
“Not till I finish my drawing.” Jo answered firmly. She saw a new respect in Mr. Jansen’s face.
“You mean to say you TOLD him you would not go?”
“Yes, why not, I’m here to learn art and I’m supposed to be interested in my work,” said Jo. But she knew that it was van Heemskerck’s magnanimity that had prevented her getting into trouble, and she was grateful.
Chapter Seven - Jo joins the Monumental Class
Jo was flattered to be invited to join the Monumental Class but she had not been successful so far in van Heemskerck's class working on monumental subjects. The more the Director tried to teach her, the more confused she became. The drawing she was working on at the moment looked as if it were suffering from measles, smallpox and mumps all at once. Everyone who looked at it gave her different advice and at last Prof. van Heemskerck admitted that his attempts to teach her neatness and simplicity had been a failure. He took her drawing between his thumb and second finger and holding it away from him with the look of someone carrying out a cat that has misbehaved, he threw it into the wastebasket.
Jo didn’t dare protest, but she fumed inside. “I’ll give you one more week here,” van Heemskerck told her, “But if you don’t improve I’ll consider you hopeless, and you can go back to Mr. Jansen's kindergarten class!” Jo was shocked at his words, considering that he was not only insulting her, but Mr. Jansen, and all the students who had found his teaching helpful. She was even more shocked to find that Mr. Jansen had silently entered the class behind the Director, and had heard his words!
Mr. Jansen rapped on a table and the Director turned and saw him. He scowled at the Director and made an indignant gesture of wiping dirt from his clothes. “Sir!” he said in a voice trembling with anger, “If you do not find my teaching satisfactory, I shall resign!” Realizing that he had gone too far, van Heemskerck patted Mr. Jansen’s shoulder and murmured, that he would never accept his resignation, that Mr. Jansen was one of his most valued teachers, that he had only been joking.
Mr. Jansen still stood unyielding. “A teacher’s reputation is not a subject for jokes. It is not a laughing matter!” he said sternly.
The Director looked so humbled that Jo even felt sorry for him. With a red face he apologized deeply and so feelingly that some members of the weaker sex burst into tears. Mr. Jansen bowed stiffly in acknowledgement. The Director then invited all the weeping girls into his office to have coffee, a privilege he used when when a confrontational situation had got out of hand.
He led the girls out, leaving behind a disgruntled class and a malignant drawing teacher. All this seemed highly amusing to Jo, who wrote a full description of the incident to her mother that evening, and then opened the door to Wanda, who had missed the scene and wanted to know all the details.
“I’ve been to many different art schools!” she said, when Jo had finished her tale. “But this must be more absurd than any of the others!” Wanda shook her head, “ Sometimes I wonder if I'm wasting my time here!” She repeated her remark about wasting her time at great length in the classroom the next day.
Victor took exception to her. “You have a point, Wanda, “ he said. “But it’s not your time you’re wasting, but mine. Would you mind doing us the favor of keeping silent while we’re trying to concentrate? You may not find this class to your liking, but we are serious students and we want to benefit from the large fees we are paying.”
Mr. Jansen cut off Victor’s rhetoric, though he agreed with it, and the class simmered down to work again and peace was restored.
Chapter Eight - Relationships
The evening classes were helping the students towards forming their own relationships. The day classes had an unromantic glare about them. The cold, Northern light emphasized all the flaws in people's faces; lucky the girl who could survive the test.
But when the evening lights threw a mellow golden glow, leaving the rest of the room swathed in mysterious darkness, people suddenly gained in intimacy, in mystery and importance. Even the Monk looked pathetic rather than repulsive, and girls like Dora came into their own now.
Instead of going straight home to her dreary room, Jo eagerly assented when Sammy and Victor asked her if she were game to go on a walk through old Amsterdam to a café for coffee. It seemed just the thing. Dora was going, and Reina and Tommy. Wanda said she had to be fresh the next day, and she could not afford to spend time on that sort of thing. Gomperts and Anton weren't invited, but Fik Fernhout and several other boys went. Jo and Dora walked between Sammy and Victor.
At first, students called one another by their last names, prefaced by "Miss" or "Mister." Jo hated this formality and started calling her fellow students by their first names. Now they were all doing it. The boys linked arms with the girls and they went out into the chilly November night. Amsterdam was beautiful then. Years later, the excess of cars crowded out people.
As Jo walked along the dark canal, she saw the reflected drooping glimmering lights, the overarched bridges and the century-old streets with their on worn cobbled pavements. She stood and stared into the water where a little boat chug-chugged past, casting a glow around it from all of its lights. It made Jo feel intoxicated with the excitement of being a student in this city.
Later, in the café, the students sat and had coffee around a marble-topped table with its yellow lamp, and had beer or hot chocolate. Jo looked at the faces of her fellow-students and suddenly she loved them all. Sipping her chocolate she felt a rush of happiness to be here, to be seeing life. The old quarter of Amsterdam teamed with life. It was the Jewish quarter, and full of interesting characters and funny little shops. (No one knew then of the tragedy that awaited it, only a decade later, when the trains that would be leaving every Saturday night would bring some of those who were now laughing and bustling about to the gas chambers.)
On the way back, Sammy wanted to stop at a little shop where they sold hot ginger buns. Most of the students had spent all their money on the drinks, but Dora had some left, and generously treated everyone to a bun. They were only ten cents. An old woman, who looked just like a witch out of a fairy tale, warmed them over a little blue flame until the ginger melted and dripped and the shop was filled with a hot, spicy smell.
Then they sauntered on, laughing and eating and licking their fingers. Sammy was their guide. His father’s shop was in the neighborhood, and he pointed it out as they passed. Then the students began to disperse until only Dora, Victor, Sammy and Jo remained.
“Where do you live?” Victor asked Dora. “Roelof Hart Plein,” she said. “I’m in the Balthasar Floris St.,” Jo announced. “Well, we’ll bring you both home,” Sammy and Victor promised. “We can go through the Vondel Park. They strolled through the almost deserted park, where here and there a loving couple sat on a bench, even in that cold weather.
Sammy began to talk, which was interesting as he usually only listened. Jo was conscious all the time of the presence of Victor. Even though he paid more attention to Dora, she felt he was aware of her, and wondered at it. She was conscious of the fact that she was no beauty, like Dora. Yet people liked her, so she must not look too badly. Still, it seemed incredible that anyone would fall in love with her. What was there to fall in love with?
And yet, she kept having the strange feeling that something was happening between her and Victor.
Jo was finding the Memory class more interesting. At first she had been put off by the difficulties of drawing only by remembering, but then gradually it became easier. All the students in the class worked hard, spurred on by effort and interest. Jo felt forced to exert herself so much that she felt dizzy when she got up from her chair.
One Tuesday they were given three hours of Memory drawing and to Jo’s surprise they were sent to the room with the concrete floor where they usually had animals, and there stood a fellow with a wheelbarrow full of peat. He had to spend three hours wheeling the barrow from one side to the other, dumping the peat, sit for a moment, pile the peat back again, wheel the barrow back, rest and begin again.
The students were told to pick a particular moment in the cycle and draw the continually moving man at just the moment they had chosen. Jo chose the moment when he upset the barrow. That was of course terribly difficult, for that occurred only once compared to others which occurred ten times more frequently. Jo therefore looked with eyes bulging and her tongue hanging out of her mouth whenever the man was in the right position for her.
Professor Westerfeld saw her and asked, laughing, “Have you got it yet?” Jo realized that to do this for three hours without ceasing was completely exhausting! It was so hard just to sort out the one image of the man upsetting the barrow from all the other images of him. But Professor Westerfeld explained that this was a kind of preliminary study for what an artist has to do when he composes a picture, and Jo found that very interesting.
Chapter Nine - Drawing in the Cafe
At night Amsterdam was at its best. Its solid gabled houses revealed themselves as hollow shells filled with light, which is reflected in the canals. The streets are filled with pleasure-bound people, queues form at the tram stops - concerts and theatres flash their neon lights, and guests crowd around the little tables at the many cafes.
The evening classes at the Academy had finished and the students were pouring along the canal, noisily chatting. Victor had made friends with one of the new arrivals, a young half-German Jew called Silbersteyn. He was an intelligent, lively boy, and Victor enjoyed talking to him. Somehow, he didn’t look his 19 years, he had the appearance of an adolescent. Victor had already noted that he was gifted. He had been drawing caricatures of the professors at the side of his drawing paper. Strong, witty sketches.
“Where are you going now?” he asked as he saw Silbersteyn marching determinedly towards the Kalverstraat - Amsterdam’s shopping centre.
“Oh, I’m going to sketch in the cafes, that’s the way to earn a little.” said Silbersteyn. “We need the money, my parents had to sell up to move here, so they don’t have much, and it’s really decent of them to let me study art.”
Victor hadn’t thought of doing that. His efforts to support himself were more orthodox and had consisted of careful drawings for advertisements, posters and bookplates.
“How do you do it?” he asked. “Come and see,” said Silbersteyn. For most of the young male art students, earning money was a problem, as they mostly came from simple homes. They were at an age when their families expected them to bring in money rather than costing any - and this art business seemed a shady career anyway.
So they were more or less thrown on their own resources and to live for a few days on dry bread was a common experience. Silbersteyn was to be envied, having the full approval of his parents. Victor had broken with his family and often sat up all night working for his keep while he studied all day at the Academy. Lack of sleep had given him dark circles under his eyes which merely made him look more romantic.
Like the milkmaid in the song, Victor’s face was his fortune; he usually got work because he looked like an artistic genius. The less he said, the more impressive he was. Silbersteyn, on the other hand had to talk to sell his work. With amusement, Victor saw him move from table to table at one of the large cafes - making lightning sketches and chattering away with his funny German accent - cracking jokes, boasting - till he sold his drawings.
Victor felt that he could not demean himself to do such work. He also realized that he didn’t have that kind of talent. He ordered a beer and watched Silbersteyn at work. Victor’s eyes roved here and there noticing people. He saw a woman drinking coffee alone, in a corner. She was wearing a fur wrap, and her hair shone in the lamplight with the deep bronze autumn colour that he loved. It reminded him of a painting by Toulouse-Lautrec. The lady herself reminded him of a Toulouse-Lautrec figure, she had the same long neck which looked even whiter against her black fur. She had the same rather sharp features, accented by plum-colored eyes and a vivid mouth.
Victor found himself looking at her more and more. He fumbled in his pocket for a notebook and started to make a sketch of her. Meanwhile the lady had noticed his admiration, though she appeared to be unconscious of it. She began to powder her nose and in the mirror of her compact she didn’t miss an admiring glance from Victor’s dark eyes.
Victor got up and approached her; “Excuse me,” he said, “May I offer you this little sketch?” The lady looked at it and she couldn’t help smiling. It was a caricature, but a kind one. Victor had brought out the lovely throat line, and the burning hair.
“Yes, it’s like me, the lady said in a deep husky voice. “How much?” she asked, reaching for her purse.
“No,” said Victor proudly, “it’s a gift.”
“Oh...” for a moment the woman hesitated. Then she said: “Thank you. Will you sign it for me?” Victor wrote his signature underneath the sketch. The woman glanced over to where Sammy was sketching his fourth victim.
“Is he your friend?” “We study together at the Academy, “ said Victor, “but I wouldn’t want to sell portraits in the street like that. I like to take time, to study my sitter and get to know the spirit of the person.”
His dark eyes gazed at her hypnotically, and she seemed a little flustered. “Well, my husband was thinking of having my portrait done, and he is looking for the right artist. Have you a number where he could contact you?” Victor wrote his name and address on a page of his notebook and tore it off, handing it to the lady, who put it in my handbag, and then, blushing, said a quick goodbye, carefully carrying away his sketch. Afterwards Sam joined him. “I did six portraits!” he said, “A good haul.” “What about you?”
“I think I might have had a good haul too.” said Victor.
Chapter Ten - Blanche Verhaven
Blanche Verhaven finished dressing. She wore a simple black gown with a string of pearls around her milky powdered neck. In her attitude and gestures, as she looked into the mirror, she expressed a certain nobility, a certain chic. She liked to imagine herself in some sort of role - it seemed to add to her personality. Since she had learned that her husband had engaged that attractive young artist to paint her portrait, she had wondered what personality to select. She didn’t know much about art, but she had heard of the Mona Lisa with her mysterious smile. Mystery. That was it. She would be mysterious. Hence the dark dress.
She had read somewhere that men were no longer interested in the ordinary worldly woman. They preferred the type which had suffered and was purified. Someone capable of understanding and forgiving masculine foibles. She arranged her hair more becomingly and sprayed a little lavender water on her throat. Whenever she remembered she said to herself “Noble - purified - understanding.” and her face relaxed into sad resignation.
“Blanche!” Mr. Verhaven cried out from the bathroom. “Have you got a clean towel?”
“Hasn’t Annie brought you one?” answered Mrs . Verhaven, annoyed. “Annie!” The servant came upstairs. “Why didn’t you bring Mr. Verhaven his clean towel? I have so often told you to remember that on Mondays and Thursdays he needs a clean towel - and you keep on forgetting. “If it happens again I’m afraid I’ll have to discharge you.” Mrs. Verhaven searched in a drawer for a lace handkerchief.
“Yes, but Ma’am, the laundry hasn’t come back yet.”
“What! Hasn’t it come yet? Tell the laundry man I’ll go to another - and find another towel for Mr. Verhaven.”
Annie departed and Mrs. Verhaven knocked at the bathroom door. “What time did you say Mr. Roland was coming?”
“At ten.” said Mr. Verhaven. “Where is that towel?”
“The laundry hasn’t come back yet,” his wife explained sweetly. “But Annie can bring you one of my night gowns instead.”
“I say, Blanche, are you crazy? A man can’t dry himself on a night-gown! What will the girl think?”
“I haven’t anything else,” snapped his wife. “And don’t forget you have a meeting today!”
“I haven’t forgotten, what do you think I am washing for?” growled her husband. Luckily just then the maid had found a kitchen towel which she brought him.
Mrs. Verhaven trailed downstairs to arrange the room in which she was to be painted. She saw herself already, on a large canvas - hanging in an important Exhibition - lots of people in front - moved, searching in the catalogue - who is that tragic woman, what depth in her face... Mr. Verhaven came stumbling down the stairs, swearing at a loose rod. Mrs. Verhaven had to look for his hat and gloves and cane and still he was fussing around. Mrs. Verhaven sighed and looked at the clock. Five to ten. She waited impatiently for her husband to go...
Victor walked along the Keisersgracht feeling fine. He breathed deeply, notwithstanding the fact that the canal on his right wasn’t exuding the very best odor. He was too preoccupied with himself to notice it. He felt young, strong, talented - irresistible. The world was an empty canvas for him to splash on. He looked at the address in his hand. It should be about here. These were the grand old houses in which people lived who could afford to have their wives painted. Yes, 275, this was it.
He mounted the high stoop and rang the bell, adjusting his tie. A neat little white-capped servant opened the door and flashed a saucy grin at him. Victor repressed a desire to tickle her under her plump little chin and entered.
He twirled his hat in his hands. He wanted to appear at ease - he wondered what one did when one was at ease. Did one look indifferent? Was he to appear pleased or bored with the commission? Should he be eager or reluctant? Not being able to make up his mind, he just stood there, twirling his hat until Mr. Verhaven appeared, a short fussy man, who said, “Mr. Roland? Ah yes. I’ll show you what I want done. Come inside.”
For a moment Victor wondered if he had been mistaken for an upholsterer and was going to be shown the furniture, but when he entered the drawing room the tall graceful woman of the cafe arose to greet him. She came forward languorously. “This is my wife.” said Mr. Verhaven, “She wants to be painted. She’ll tell you how. I’ve got a meeting and must leave you now.”
He consulted his watch and left the room in a way that reminded Victor forcibly of the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.
Mrs. Verhaven meanwhile was struggling with irritation. How dare George say it was SHE who wanted the portrait! Now she must seem vain and self-regarding. The tragic pose slipped for a moment as she battled with her feelings and came forward with her most charming smile. “SO sorry, George was most anxious to have a portrait of me, but he is shy about it, dear man. I’m sorry he had to leave so abruptly. Business, you know.”
She gave Victor a glance that excluded business from the room and enveloped Victor and herself in a common bond of ART. “But if you would be so kind as to paint me, we should be so delighted. I fear I am not much of a subject...” as she said this her eyes opened wide to receive Victor’s instant shocked denial and then half closed to digest their prey. “Well, of course if you think you can do it, we’d better settle a day for the sitting. Mrs Verhaven voice had a purr in it now, which seemed to echo the purr of the Persian cat which rubbed its long furry body against Victor’s leg. The interview was over soon, the pert little maid showed Victor out. In his hands he held Mrs. Verhaven card with her telephone no. and the time of the first sitting - Sunday afternoon. Victor noticed that Mrs. Verhaven's first name was Blanche. Blanche. My God, what a woman! He sighed deeply.
Chapter Eleven - Lisette
Victor didn’t feel like going back to the Academy. Somehow he felt deflated. Why hadn’t he asserted himself in front of this woman, Blanche - shown that he was somebody - about to be famous - that she was lucky to get him? What a stupid ass she must have thought him! He walked along the canal morosely. His feelings had been aroused and there was no outlet for them.
Then he knew what he would do - he would visit Lisette. Wouldn’t the dear girl be delighted! She was always free on Wednesday afternoons. Lisette’s Mother was a respectable bourgeois woman who would certainly disapprove if she knew the company her daughter was keeping, but luckily Lisette lived alone in a room of her own. She worked in the alteration department of a dress shop. When Victor called he found her in bed, as she wasn’t feeling well.
However, it didn’t take him long to persuade her that she wasn’t so ill as she felt. She agreed to get up and go for a walk, if Victor chose the clothes for her. But Lisette didn’t care for his choice, he didn’t seem to be concentrating on it, and in the end the walk proved less than a success too. Victor wanted to walk along the Keisersgracht and Lisette would have liked to go to the seaside. She pleaded with him, but Victor noticed the dried remains of yesterday’s powder on her nose and the splotched rouge on her cheeks and felt that she wasn’t really the girl for him.
If she had been clever, or even slightly intelligent so that he could talk to her - but girls were all stupid. Listen to her whining now - just like a baby. If he wanted to walk along the Keisersgracht for a bit, who was going to stop him? How foolish and ungrateful these girls were. Instead of being happy that he had fetched her from that gloomy room to walk with him in the sunlight... Well, of course, he was fond of her. His friend Fik Fernhout had two girls, one for the evening and one for the daytime. So Lisette should be grateful for his fidelity and look more cheerful.
He grew tender - that was true love - true unselfish masculine love. The same girl for the daytime as for the night, and he pressed her more closely to him. He was just going to say something when his breath caught in his throat. He saw an elegant lady crossing the road in high heels.
He recognised Mrs. Blanche Verhaven immediately. How tall she was, and what a face she had! So tragic - it would be difficult to capture. How much more there must be in a ripe woman like that, than in a silly little girl like Lisette. If he only didn’t feel such a fool! Mrs. Verhaven’s eyes swept the two of them briefly. Her finely plucked eyebrows went up a fraction - there was a barely perceptible twitch to her nose. Then she was gone.
Victor let go of Lisette. He walked on, awkwardly. He wondered whether she thought it odd to see him so soon after the interview, and with a girl. He bit his lips. Why had he walked here? Why hadn’t he gone to the beach with Lisette? Lisette should have made him go to the beach. Of course now Mrs. Verhaven thought he had come here on purpose. It was rather obvious. How she must despise him! He bent his head. Lisette beside him chattered. He again put his arm around her. She was all that remained to him in a cold world.
He took her to his studio and let her comfort him. The dear little girl was happy. She cooked pancakes for him and put cold compresses on his head when he said he had a headache. He was touched. How it brought out the best in these girls when they loved him! But he wouldn’t cheer up. Even Lisette couldn't console him. Nothing in the world was worthwhile. Pancakes were unpalatable, girls insipid, the whole world empty.
“No Lisette, leave it - my headache’s worse. Yes, all right, I’ll take some coffee, Lisette. Ah! Lisette, I’m such a worthless fellow!”
The next day Victor imagined that he was ill. He didn’t go to the Academy but stayed at home and squeezed out his paints. He was painting a self-portrait. He had wound a red and white muffler around his neck which flattered him, and he had surrounded himself with tables so he could work without interruption. His stove was burning nicely, he had washed all the dirty dishes of the day before and his studio was as neat as a pin. Only the violet perfume on his cushion betrayed that he had had a visitor the night before.
Now he washed himself ascetically under the cold tap and plastered his hair on his head so that he had the air of a much licked kitten, and he could go to work with a pure conscience. He felt rather melancholy. He thought of himself as a volcano which one day will have to erupt but which now only sends forth little puffs of smoke. He lit a cigarette. His friend of the night had left him half a pack.
His painting was getting good. A fine head. You saw two glittering eyes scrutinizing you, and a mouth wry with the anguish caused by the vanity of this world. The forehead was wrinkled in a painful attempt to penetrate the meaning of life. It all made an impression of a young man in the fulness of life; he has sinned, but he has been purified by those sins. He searches for the truth... yet illusion holds him in her grip.
Then follows a wrestling match whereby the sweat pours down but one can see that in the end he will indeed be victor. Yet that day has not yet dawned and the fear in the searching eyes is great. His swollen facial muscles witness to the almost superhuman struggle... an inner struggle... a struggle against the low and animal side of nature. He took another pull on his cigarette. Really, a splendid portrait.
Victor wondered whether Mrs. Blanche Verhaven knew that she had made an impression on him. But why should he care - wasn’t she married? AH! but to what? A White Rabbit! Victor grinned at his reflection in the mirror. How white his teeth were against his healthy sunburned skin! He was happy with his portrait and went to wash his brushes in the sink. He still had some money and decided to go out this evening, but he wanted to go to something up-lifting. Lisette would have to do without him today.
But with whom would he go out then? He had some relatives in Amsterdam, but he didn’t like them - they were all older people and after all people who were past 40 didn’t signify much any more to him. Without vitality, disappointed, often in ill-health, they sought refuge in a spiritual life. Usually they had some religion - anyway it was obviously a rather sad petering out of human existence, the last convulsive movements of a man who had once lived, eaten and mated - and as such they did not interest him. He had friends with charming wives, but he thought that rather dangerous - you never knew with these women. And as a man of honor you could not seduce the wife of a friend. There were limits.
He decided therefore to go out alone to a concert. That would be a really pure entertainment. He dressed neatly and left, closing the studio door behind him. It was a beautiful concert - the Beethoven violin concerto. Victor was lifted up out of himself. He went winging like an angel with the high violin sounds - when he came back to earth at the thundering applause he noticed that his eyes were wet. He appreciated his own sensitivity as he wiped them.
Then he got up to get some coffee. As he followed the crowd through the passage he caught sight of a familiar face; round cheeks, long lashes - Jo! She was with a female companion chattering gaily. Something struck his heart, as if a bell had been rung. What was it that she did to him? She seemed to evoke things out of his past. Childhood memories. What was it about her that made him think of the garden in his old home - of sunlit days pottering about among the flowers and vegetables? Irritated, he brushed aside the thought. She is just a girl, he thought. Like hundreds of others. And resolutely he went to get his coffee.
Chapter Twelve - A New Rule
In the Director’s Office there was a secret conclave. Rick van Heemskerck, the Director, and his assistant, Piet Huygens, were in conference. Piet Huygens was a well-known novelist. Not popular, really, as his novels were rather biting and extremely literary, but perhaps he was all the more well-known for not having been read. It is easy to admire what we don't know. The result was that he needed money rather than fame, and gladly accepted the offer of a well-paid post to help Rick van Heemskerck with the administrative side of his duties.
He had a smaller office at the back, with a window facing on to the little garden outside. In this way, by keeping his eyes and ears open, he knew far more of what was going on among the students than the Director. He was using this knowledge as material for a book he was secretly writing, keeping it hidden in his desk drawer. Now he sat in seeming subservience, his balding intelligent head slightly bowed, though his eyes had a sparkle of secret amusement.
“I have an idea,” the Director was saying. “What’s this one now?” asked Piet. “I’m going to throw the boys and girls together. No more segregation. It’s fairer too. The boys’ class is better than the girls’ class.”
“You’re insatiable,” said Piet. “You seem to need to stir things up! But I’ll set it all in motion for you, if that’s what you want. Have you told the other teachers?”
Rick van Heemskerck looked a little guilty. “No... uh... not yet.”
“Don’t you think you should get their reactions first?”
The Director was silent, gazing out of the window. Then he shrugged his shoulders. “You do it for me.” he said. “You’re so tactful.”
“Then you don’t think they will like the idea?” Piet watched the Director shrewdly.
“People don’t like change,” Rick responded. Then, wanting to change the subject, he said: “I’m looking forward to my Monumental class this year. I intend to get the best of the new blood - Victor Roland and Sam Silbersteyn and some others.” Then as if it was a small thought that he had just been reminded of, he said lightly - “So I’ll leave this new change for you to organize then?”
“Willy-nilly,” murmured Piet to himself. Then to the Director: “I only hope you know what you’re doing!”
In the beginning of the next week the Director’s bomb burst. Piet Huygens had typed out the new declaration of the Director and it was displayed in all the classes. “From now on, “ it said, “There will be no distinction made between the sexes. All facilities and classrooms will be open to both male and female students.”
Groups of students stood staring at the announcements and their reactions were critical rather than approving. Worse, the teachers and professors had not been consulted and were as surprised as the rest. The girls’ class attacked Mr. Jansen on the subject: “Are we going to have boys in our class? Heh! What a nuisance! They smoke and make a mess and all our privacy is gone!”
Mr. Jansen warded off the criticism with his hands. “Don’t blame me! I wasn’t even consulted!
“And what will happen if there is a difference of opinion between us and the boys?” Wanda said darkly. “You know on whose side the Professors are, especially Westerveld.”
Dora, however, was frankly for it. “I feel cooped up in here,” she said.
Saskia and Kay had no opinion, but Janina pointed out the advantages. “We’ll be full citizens at last!” she said. "And we'll have the choice of both models. And for the antique studies, they have Michelangelo’s Pieta in the other class, while we’re stuck with this old gladiator who has chips off him. I know we got him because the boys refused to draw him!”
“Yes, at least we’ll can share the good models now,” agreed Lisa Brandsma. She was the girl who had earned the fees for the Academy herself and she was an enthusiastic student. Jo liked her.
Meanwhile in the boys’ class, the new rule fared no better. When Westerveld broke the news, there followed a stunned silence. Then Victor said; “You don’t mean that they are going to let skirts in here!”
“Why not?” said Sammy. “I think it’s a good idea. There are some very nice girls.”
“That’s worse!” groaned Victor. If they were all beanpoles it would not matter. It’s the distraction.”
“Well, I say the more the merrier,” leered Arie Gomperts. Victor thought, If the presence of girls keeps him from regaling us with his repertoire of dirty jokes that, at any rate, would be a relief.
“What does the Monk think of it?” asked Gomperts with a snicker. "This will give him an extra chance of dazzling the girls!”
Grinning faces were now directed to the lanky figure of Lambert Moenck, who flushed. He had the air of having sprouted in a cellar. His complexion was pale and unhealthy, and his eyes were hidden behind owlish steel-rimmed glasses. He looked superior, as if he were a sixth form boy who had to consort with the fourth form. That this superiority was partly assumed as a defence other people could not know. Lambert may not have been the loneliest boy in the Academy, but he thought he was. He did not say anything, knowing that they were going to laugh at him. He kept mostly silent, but when he spoke he used long words and defended chastity, honor and obedience. Needless to say, he was unpopular. Yet people paid more attention to him than many a shadowy figure that glided in and out of the Academy every day, too quiet to leave an impression. One or two of those quiet ones became famous later on for their work, but on the life of the Academy they left no mark. Moench, however, always stumbled into the limelight, either by expressing an unpopular opinion, or because he was just generally tactless and clumsy. He was not particularly gifted, but he toiled hard enough to reach a decent standard of work. He blushed a deep red at being the butt of the class again.
Sammy said quickly, “I’m going to the girls’ class to see what they think of the new arrangement.” “I’ll go with you”, said Victor, and they left, followed by Arie Gomperts. They bumped into Dora and Jo, who’d had the same, but opposite idea, but the girls turned back to show the boys into what had been the room exclusive to the female sex.
“This is like a ladies’ boudoir,” Gomperts said, pulling a face. “I won’t dare to sharpen my pencils on the floor anymore. The girls can have it - I’d rather have our masculine room - you can’t do real work here - and what a sissy model!” This wasn’t kind, the little model lost her poise and took herself and her straw hat behind the screen.
Victor, looking over Sammy’s shoulder, laughed. “What’s wrong with her?” he asked. “I think I’ll work here; I don’t mind a little tidiness and cleanness! I’ll get my painting things.”
Very soon the whole Academy was in the process of change. In the teachers’ room another discussion was underway. There the professors were almost in two camps over the issue. Because the measures were already taken, the professors who were for it felt that they didn’t need to discuss it, but those in the other camp could not refrain from dark forebodings.
“The students don’t like it,” said Jansen to Winters. Winters was a small dapper man who gave the appearance of enthusiasm and vivacity, but who really lacked the breadth of vision of the others. “We must keep up standards!” he said, in response to himself. “Without standards where are we?” and he burbled on about the decline in art until he had emptied the room.
Meanwhile the argument continued; Was it a good thing or a bad thing to throw the sexes together? On the whole the girls favored it more than the boys. “Girls chatter! “ The boys said. “And they’re a distraction.” “Also, they’re prissy, we can’t say what we like anymore.” In spite of the disturbances caused by the new changes, Jo found that by the end of the third week she had settled down and had collected quite a lot of friends. Sam and she were on the best of terms. Nobody else seemed to appreciate him properly. He wasn’t just the amusing boy he seemed to others. Jo had talked with him a lot and she had found out that he had a difficult life and was very brave. That Moench boy was uncouth, but interesting too, he was a Catholic. Jo thought it must be very difficult to be a Catholic. No one in her family had managed it. She imagined that being a Catholic meant consuming enormous dogmas, like big indigestible lumps. You had to do it, or you couldn’t be a Catholic. She regarded Moench as a kind of sword-eater.
There was a bearded man who turned out to be rather nice too. He was always thinking about art and had long theories about it. He thought so much about how to work that he never did much of it. Jo thought he would probably be an art critic one day. His name was Brauer.
Wanda, the red-haired girl, had become a friend. Jo suspected her of having had an unhappy love affair. She was very bitter about men. She didn’t mind Sam, though she spoke of him as though he were a child. She was tolerant but contemptuous of Moench, but she couldn’t stand Victor Roland. “That’s the sort of man who’d eat the inside out of you and throw the shell away,” she warned Jo. Jo was surprised at her vehemence. “He won’t bother ME,” she said lightly, “I’m not his type at all. He is interested in Dora.” Jo wasn’t surprised at Victor's interest in Dora. She was a delightful girl, and she had taken a fancy to Jo. Dora boarded with an elderly lady and Jo had visited her there, and another day Dora had come to Jo’s little room for coffee.
Eventually the Academy accepted and got used to the new regime. After their first negative reaction, the girls welcomed the equality. “The boys always had the cream of the models and all the teachers’ attention. We have always been second-class citizens! No! this is much better.”
One evening Victor and Sammy accompanied Jo home after class again. They began to discuss the effects of the new changes. Sammy said he didn’t think there was so much difference between men and women. “We’re all just people.” he said. “If we make big differences, it’s our own fault!”
At this Victor gave a short laugh. “If we’re just people, it’s not so much fun! Vive la difference.” He turned to Jo. “What do you say, Jo?”
“I don’t know,” said Jo. “Is it so much fun to fall in love?”
“You bet it is!” said Victor with a triumphant laugh.
“I came to the Academy to work.” said Jo. “I want to be an artist. This new rule has improved our working conditions. I won’t miss the special ladies’ class at all. I’m learning from seeing the way boys work.”
“Bravo! “ said Sammy, “That hits the nail on the head.”
“She’s too young to have an opinion,” Victor grumbled. “Anyway, I wouldn’t worry, Jo, it would be a brave man who dares to fall in love with you!”
“So what?” said Jo. “There are plenty of boys in the world... and girls,” she added.
“Stop arguing with her.” Sammy said, giving Victor a dig in the ribs. “You’ll never win.”
“Don’t say that! That will only egg him on!” grumbled Jo. “He isn’t called Victor for nothing! “Here’s my trolley, I’ll leave you now - I’ve work to do at home...” She jumped on the trolley just in time.
Victor turned to Sam: “What do you think of her?"
“Leave her be," said Sam. “She’s a fine person. Don’t monkey with her.”
“And who says I’m planning to do that?” asked Victor, looking offended.
“You yourself,” said Sammy.