Painting as if you were breathing – De Groene Amsterdammer

© Peter van Straten Collection, Allard Pearson, University of Amsterdam

In September 2020 Allard Pierson is enriched by Peter van Straaten’s collection, about 25,000 drawings, comic strips and comic pages, letters and manuscripts. One of the commitments made in the acquisition was to set up an exhibition. It is five years after his death. in There might be something to laugh about We commemorate Peter van Straten, the historian of the post-war Netherlands, and we can safely say that his work remains very vital.

It was at the end of summer 2013 when Peter van Straten called me. He wanted to donate the original drawings from his comic book Vader & Zoon to Allard Pierson’s Comic Collection, part of the University of Amsterdam. Since 1970, this comic group has steadily grown to become the largest public comedy group in the Netherlands. Van Straaten knew we already had the originals of Dick Bos by Alfred Mazure, by the first professional illustrator in the Netherlands, Henk Backer, as well as comics, pages and drawings by many other comics makers. Partly for this reason, he thought Allard Pearson was the most suitable place for father and son. The fact that the drawings would remain in Amsterdam was an important reason for Peter.

We made an appointment to see what it’s all about. And so I visited him and his wife, Els Timmerman, at home. After some handshake, this was still possible at the time, and a conversation with coffee and biscuits, I was allowed into his office. Of course there was a half-finished drawing on a table in front of the window (facing north, of course). But I didn’t come for it, I had to look at the chest of drawers there. Because it was full of graphics. He opened some drawers to show his painted treasures. Most fans would reply with “Oh” or “Ah”. Of course she acted professionally, and backed down and just said “yes, very nice”, “beautiful” and “when did you do that?” But on the inside I was really cheerful. These were all original, original drawings and the artist showed me almost casually.

What made me instantly likable was a bird diary from his teenage years. He kept an accurate record of the birds and other animals he encountered when he traveled through the woods and fields around Arnhem, where he grew up, in lined notebooks. Those diaries, as well as the comics he drew at the time, show that Van Straten painted like a normal breathing person. Out of necessity, day by day, day by day, he couldn’t help but get better as he got older. When I asked him what he would do with all those other drawings, he couldn’t answer. He and Els hadn’t thought of that yet. But the proposal to pass everything on to Allard Pearson was well received. Because shortly before his death he told him through Els that the idea that all his drawings would remain together after his death would be very comforting to him. Peter passed away on December 8, 2016. The transfer was officially approved in September 2020.

Although the exact number of drawings has not yet been officially determined, we can assume that in addition to more than five thousand father and son stripes, we still have about fifteen to twenty thousand drawings. Most of this can be attributed to Daily Life, daily cartoons about you and me and what moves us. As far as the subject matter is concerned, this fits perfectly in the comics of someone like Gerrit de Jager, from which Allard Pierson also has “everything”.

At De Jagers Familie Doorzon, in the ’80s and ’90s, we followed the daily worries of a fairly average family from a Vinex slum somewhere in the Netherlands. Here too, as with Vader & Zoon, the reader is presented with a mirror from everyday life. Thus we also immediately have the legitimacy to consider this type of group a cultural heritage. After all, whether it is a satirical, humorous look at society or a critical look, these types of comics show us what was happening at a certain period in our history, what were the topics of discussions between parents and children, what was on people’s minds and what were the trends in the society. Peter van Straaten’s formidable collection is fodder for psychologists, sociologists, and researchers in many other fields, including posterity.

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