The Paintings of Pieter J. L. van Veen

by Allan J. Kollar



A third distinct period of Pieter van Veen's work occurred during the 19305 and early '405 when he produced a series of floral still lifes, each one bold, vibrant and energetic (FIGURE 5). Some were painted in New York, some in the Pacific Northwest. The influence of the floral image came from an earlier experience in his development. While a student in the Hague in 1889, he passed a mercantile and artist supply store daily on his way to the academy. In the window was displayed a painting by an artist whose work caught his eye. His peers at the academy, however, were hesitant to condone or to criticize this painting by Vincent van Gogh. Even though van Gogh was residing in Paris at this time, his painting had been placed in the shop in hopes of finding collectors in his homeland. In van Veen's lecture notes, he states that he later met van Gogh in Paris.

In 1934, van Veen spent the summer in Tacoma, Washington where he painted and fished on Puget Sound In 1937, van Veen returned to the Pacific Northwest once again to record the landscape. He had met Doris and Willy Schneider in New York City, most likely at his exhibitions between 1920 and 1930. Doris was performing in a musical production in Boston; Willy was the business manager for John Philip Sousa's band. Doris and her brother Russell Holmes were brought up in Tacoma, Washington. Their family maintained a Tacoma residence to which she and Willy frequently returned. They moved to Tacoma after Willy severely injured his legs in an elevator accident in January of 1942.

Pieter van Veen was scheduled in 1937 to exhibit paintings at Paradise Inn, Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington State. Soon thereafter, he exhibited works at the Frederick and Nelson department store gallery in Seattle. The works he exhibited were new; all had been painted in the Northwest. Cascade Range, Washington (PLATE 22) joined several others with descriptive Northwest titles. Many of these works demonstrated his vitality as a painter at the age of sixty-two.

In 1940 and 1941, his paintings were exhibited in Boston, Chicago, Palm Beach and Pittsburgh, but World War II turned this country's attention from the arts. Nevertheless, van Veen continued to paint landscapes and still lifes during the 1940s. He took up residence in Tacoma, Washington, where a handful of friends and patrons purchased his paintings during the remainder of his lifetime. He loved the Northwest and his name once more surfaced in the press, though this time for the prize salmon he caught in the Point Defiance Fishing Derby.

When this writer started doing research in the late 1970s, Pieter van Veen's work had been in storage, out of public view for over thirty-five years. Museum curators, art dealers and new collectors knew nothing of his work. I had met Doris Holmes Schneider, van Veen's long time friend, who had cared for him in his later years and owned half of his painting inventory. Seven years later, I traveled with my family to Yucca Valley, California to meet Marion van Veen, Pieter's daughter-in-law, (son Pierre's widow). She was the owner of the second half of the remaining inventory. Interviews with these two women allowed the most accurate and personal documentation to date on the artist. Without this contact, little could have been compiled on van Veen's life and accomplishments. An inquiry placed in 1979 in Antiques Magazine requesting any knowledge of a Dutch-born, American painter named Pieter van Veen brought forth only one American art dealer who remembered him from two exhibitions his family gallery sponsored: one in 1940, the other 1941. Robert C. Vose II sent an illustration featuring one of van Veen's paintings. Accompanying the magazine page was a note describing what he recalled of the artist: "His stature and pride were both quite tall."

Pieter van Veen, who stood six feet five inches and fluently spoke six languages was indeed an individual of stature. On one occasion at a dinner celebrating his Legion of Honor Award in 1929, America's French ambassador, Paul Claudel, introduced van Veen as a man of focus, talent, intellect and drive. Claudel concluded, "He is the only self-made man in the room."

In his childhood, Pieter van Veen was surrounded by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Dutch paintings owned by his family. His national heritage included the reputation of Holland's great masters. Even within his family's ancestry, a noted historical figure existed; Octavio van Veen, known as Otho Vaenius (1558-1629) was the teacher and prolific master of Peter Paul Rubens. This ancestry was an encouragement for young Pieter van Veen, but never a crutch. He knew his work would have to stand on its own, a reason he once gave when asked why he did not document his career.

When examining van Veen's paintings, first impressions can be misleading. It would be easy, yet unfortunate, to compare his works to similar images created by artists at an earlier time in history. If he painted figuratively, we could analyze the inner person being portrayed. If interiors were his forte, we could study objects and their placement to proclaim social and material values. A close look at his landscapes reveals an artist with an awareness of loneliness, serenity and optimism at various points in his career. Pieter van Veen's French cathedrals recorded one of history's greatest architectural feats, a demanding and ambitious task. The floral motifs he vibrantly created connote a commercial awareness (FIGURE 6). Their energy finalized van Veen's self demanding career. Appraised individually or together, Pieter van Veen's paintings are the legacy of an artist with a long and prolific career, a man who brought his European training to work with an optimistic American vision in three distinct genres.


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