Suss Robertson: An innovative artist, but largely forgotten a hundred years after her death

At the end of the 19th century, it was not the intention of women to photograph live nudes. In 1878, a 23-year-old artist decided to change it with her own hands. Suss Robertson (1855-1922) found it intolerable that she was not allowed to attend “nudist classes” while her male classmates could. According to her, drawing from live nudity was necessary to master the portrayal of other humans. So I came up with a plan: Official members of the Rotterdam Academy could not be prevented from attending evening classes, so I became a member. Immediately after recording she sat behind a donkey during nude lessons.

Her classmates were angry. They put an open letter in masbody Dated December 1, 1878. “Modern Civilization” was the title of their letter, where they stated, among other things, that “it is inappropriate for young ladies, seated among students and members, to take part in such lessons in public.” What should the parents think of Robertson, who, of course, taught drawing at a civilian senior school for girls? However, rules were rules; Members had the right to follow lessons, according to the director of HBS and the Academy Board. Robertson managed to survive, and thanks to her, women have been able to take nude lessons since then and no longer have to be limited to still life, as was common at the time.

It is a typical tale about one of the first professional female artists, which can be read Susie Robertson. Customized, quirky, modern. She died a hundred years ago, and although she was appreciated during her lifetime, little is known about her. Cause a book about this almost forgotten artist and a retrospective of her work in Panorama Mesdaj in The Hague.

Suss RobertsonAnd the bleaching field, (circa 1895-1898, watercolor on paper).
Mesdaj panorama photos

The Hague School

During her lifetime, Robertson—who was born in 1855 when she was the youngest child of a lumberjack, and whose mother died when she was two years old—is seen as a master at The Hague, the dominant movement when she began as an artist. Critics of her work also confronted the ordinary life and brown landscapes that characterize the Hague School. Some see in her a female Bretner. Others, when she recorded farm life in Brabant in 1885, considered her the woman of Vincent van Gogh. But no one really came out.

Throughout her working life, Robertson continued to search for a suitable label. One thing was clear: She wasn’t painted the way women were supposed to be. The brushstroke was too harsh, the faces in her work too unfriendly, and her subjects were very different from what her contemporaries would capture: cats, still life, or young girls. Robertson also drew many women, but that was because it was easier for women in those days to have women as models in your studio than it was for men. However, her wives were women in business. Because of her use of color, she didn’t really fit into the Hague School. The Romantic movement that wanted to show the “most individual expression of individual feelings” in shades of brown also faded.

The colors that Robertson used were born out of vision rather than realism, as one critic noted in 1900, and were also often too contradictory to classify as one of the two schools of thought. Her turn-of-the-century cityscapes also stood out because Robertson was thinking in terms of airplanes and not so much in recognition of a street, a house, or an environment. her job breastsbased on a photo she took in Leidschendam, received great reviews, but a comment was also added, as was often the case with her work in those days: “It is a pity that there is still so much annoyance in her art, because of her preference for shades and shades of black. In some Sometimes it looks as if it was painted with soot,” according to the verdict Motherland In the year 1890.

Suss RobertsonAnd the church at katwick, (circa 1908-1912, oil on canvas).
Mesdaj panorama photos

It would be a judgment that, despite her success, stuck with her for a long time. It was too dark, not feminine enough. As late as 1911, he was one of the reviewers for general newspaperThere are undoubtedly good and great qualities in this business, but in order to find something feminine in these painted, densely drawn, smothered sloppy shorts, one must think a lot about Das dritte Geschlecht. Or at least those women in hobo bags since the time feminists among women still believed that in order to win the right to vote, they had to look as unattractive as possible. You really shouldn’t be getting out of it now.”

Suss RobertsonAnd the Petji, the reading girl(circa 1898, oil on panel).
Mesdaj panorama photos

Read also: Suze Robertson is more talented than Van Gogh


It was one of the last times a reviewer was bothered by her work. Suss Robertson has been widely recognized nationally, and in the last fifteen years of her life she has also broken through internationally. After 1905, more than a hundred of her works were shown in various exhibitions, and in 1921 – a year before her death – more than 250 of her works were shown. But she accomplished little new work in those last years: she suffered from depression, the imagination dried up, and osteoporosis hindered her drawing. When she was buried, many people flocked there – convinced that a great one had died. Painters of the generation after her, such as Charlie Toorop and Mondrian, also appreciated her work. Three years after her death, poet and art critic Albert Plasschaert stated: “If we want to find the transitions and ancestors of the modern, there are two possible painters in Holland. Vincent van Gogh of course, but also Sue Robertson.”

Much appreciation during her life and a clear locus of her meaning: it begs the question why this painter doesn’t say so much to most people now. If you look at her work now, it is astonishing how small the height of her subjects is: she does not romanticize ordinary life, but shows women working hard in a spinning wheel, holding branches or peeling potatoes. The image of a woman reading – Nanny Pietje – is remarkable, which almost resembles Madonna’s appearance due to the gold leaf in the background. Like subsequent works, like Harderwijk الصيد fishing portThe White House in Noordwijk and especially the woman who lays the sheets on the lawn.

Suss RobertsonAnd the Fish Gate in Harderwijk(circa 1908-1909, oil on canvas).
Mesdaj panorama photos

The most common argument about being forgotten is that she was a woman. Everything would have been different if she was a man. This seems logical, but during her life she managed to turn this argument around several times. Not only did she gain access to nudist classes, but she also ensured that the reading room of the Pulcherry Arts Society in The Hague became accessible to women. She kept her name on the paintings after her marriage, and received a large subsidy for four consecutive years from 1885 which allowed her to travel across the country for inspiration, she was the breadwinner of the family and the ability to devote herself entirely to art, she left her only daughter with a foster family so that she had to focus less on subjects In and around the house. Her colleague, Grada art historian Hermina Marius, noted, “Robertson is without doubt the greatest artist, and perhaps the only woman of our time, in whom femininity appears in her art not as a weakness but as a strength.”

The lost legend

There is a lot to be said for this logic, and it fits in the zeitgeist of the age in which many women are “rediscovered.” But it is not impossible that the cause of oblivion can be sought in Robertson himself. She was assertive (about her critics: “It is better to fight than to be ignored”), convinced of her own abilities and not wanting to be bothered. In short, she lacked self-presentation. She preferred to work alone and diligently, forgetting the importance attached to the person behind the artist. It was also not possible to track down personal documents for a long time, so the legend surrounding her character disappeared.

Of course: Fortunately we still have the business as it’s called. But, perhaps over a hundred years ago, something was also needed to keep these works alive. Van Gogh’s closest relatives understood this: now we marvel at the roots of the French tree that can be found in one of his works, and each part of the letters is interpreted ten times.

Robertson always had to lay off these lawyers, and she thought her business should speak for itself, while making more myths was possible without any problem. She grew up in foster care, had a bad marriage, had to fight sexism, was depressed and worked with bent fingers: all food for psychologists.

The fact that the painter Robertson has been forgotten by many is probably mainly because people forgot Robertson to form their own drama, which is very helpful in keeping the work alive after death.

exhibition Susie Robertson. Customized, quirky, modern It can be seen up to 5/3 in a flashed panorama. Inl: The book of the same name is published by Scriptum Art Books. Inl:

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