Early Years 1875 - 1900

Robert Archibald Antonius Jean Graafland was born in Maastricht, in southern Limburg province of the Netherlands, on Friday 26 November 1875, the second son of Johan Magdalenus Leo and Francisca Suzanna Geertruide Mols. The Graafland family were originally from Amsterdam where they had been a regency family since 1600. His father, Johan Graafland, was a banker, but above all a heraldist who published two large illustrated books on heraldry: "Limburgsche Wapens" ("Coats of Arms of Families in Limburg") in cooperation with J.M. v.d. Venne and "Encyclopédie Héraldique" / "Heraldische Encyclopedie" ("Encyclopedia of Heraldry"), the latter both in French (main language) and Dutch, after his death prepared for publication by A. Stalins. In addition, Johan created heraldic wooden boards by burning and colouring coats of arms. A fine example is his large Graafland coat of arms board to celebrate the wedding of Rob Graafland and Maria Duquesne.

On 4 November 1890, after the bank was dissolved, the Graafland family - three girls and five boys - moved to Nieuwer-Amstel, close to Amsterdam, and then to Amsterdam where Rob Graafland attended two schools at the same time: the Rijksnormaalschool voor Teekenonderwijzers (school for training future teachers in the art of drawing), and the Quellinusschool, many years later renamed the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. The purpose of the latter, founded by the architect P. J. H. Cuypers in 1879, was to educate young people to become artisans in order to build the Rijksmuseum, which was designed by Cuypers. The parents of Rob Graafland wanted him to be trained as an architect but Graafland himself had set his heart on becoming a painter, and after taking a course in architecture at Cuyper's studio and taking his diploma in drawing in 1895 at his parents' request, he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Art in Amsterdam. His teachers were Professor Augustus Allebé and Professor Carel L. Dake. In the evening during the next few years, Graafland taught at an art school in Amsterdam founded by a college friend of his, Gerrit Willem Knap, whose classes were very popular.

On 26 September 1898 Rob Graafland applied for a position at the Stadsteekeninstituut in Maastricht which had been founded a few months before, an institute which provided a training course for young artisans. Graafland was accepted on 7 November, and he first settled down in the centre of Maastricht and then moved to Gronsveld on 28 december 1899, a hamlet near Maastricht. His two colleagues at the institute were Frans van der Laar, a sculptor from Sittard, and Willem Sprenger. The school started on 1 December 1898 in the former Augustijnenkerk (church) with 159 pupils who were at least twelve years old. The director of the Stadsteekeninstituut was Jacobus van Gils who left for Rotterdam in 1902, his successor was A. van de Sandt. Around that time, Maastricht was a small vilage of about 34,000 people and cultural life was limited to three or four artists.

Graafland set up his first painting studio in Maastricht in 1900. Influenced by his acadamic training he painted the next few years predominantly in Rembrandt-brown colours, yet among his early work there were already paintings that show what mode of expression he would eventually choose, like "Romantic landscape with figures" (1901), "Picnic beside Red Car" (1902) and "Maastricht" (1906), all colourful pictures. Graafland disliked still lifes, flower arrangements and religious subjects. Still lifes he has never painted and flower arrangements very occasionally, like a blue vase with poppy flowers. There are no religious paintings, despite the fact that Graafland illustrated religious school books for Brother Cyprianus all his life. There is one exception as far as we know, this religious watercolour.

Graafland's art had no connection with political and social developments and he was not influenced by them. He did draw, however, a coloured postcard with the caption "Support the Government before it is Too Late", which was sold in bookshops all over the Netherlands when the politician Troelstra called the revolution in November 1918 and Belgium laid claim to Dutch-Limburg (southern Dutch province). And several other political illustrations have survived, but never has Graafland expressed his political and social viewpoints in his paintings.

Jean van der Voort wrote about Graafland in "Kunst in Limburg" (No. 1, 1919 / 1920) ("Art in Limburg"): "Beside a strong personal style, you can see in all of his paintings, in a brilliance that cannot be ignored, the beautiful reflection of an intimate, poetical emotion, which turns every painting into a colourful poem." Graafland did indeed sometimes choose the theme of a poem to express it on canvas. Van der Voort: "Jonge liefde" (1918) ("Young Love"), is the poetical expression of the poem by Gottfried Mann:

"The sun was high in the sky, spring echoed in the leaves,
The whole world was singing for them,
He bent over, whisp'ring, towards her,
Next to the little head beside him, red of a rosy glow..."

Poetry and music had a great influence on Graafland's life. His favourite subject "Levensgang" ("Going Through Life Together") was derived from the oratorio the "Schöpfung" by Joseph Haydn. It was thanks to listening to the "Schöpfung" that Graafland, after a long illness, started painting again. Van der Voort: "Each time when Graafland paints the noblest in the world, the human being, he manages to avoid, what many people are sometimes shocked by in modern art, and the rough brush strokes of colour create, refined, the ethereal face."

Sunday Art School

Graafland turned out to be an inspired teacher at the Stadsteekeninstituut. One of his pupils, the writer Mathieu Kemp, wrote in the newspaper "Limburgs Dagblad" on 2 November 1956: "His great ability and pedagogic qualities earned him quickly high esteem". Graafland's teaching was not limited to drawing and painting skills, he also broadened the minds of his pupils by teaching music and literature. It was thanks to these lessons that Pierre and Mathieu Kemp got acquainted with the work of the Belgian poet Guido Gezelle, which would stimulate their literary development a great deal. Pierre Kemp remembers in his "Proza" ("Prose") (1945) Graafland's "brilliant and inspiring leadership". Pierre Kemp signed his early poems (1909-1913) with the pseudonym of "Rob. Ree", a nom de plume composed of Graafland's first name, Rob, and the second note of the scale. A. Gorissen wrote in "Mathias Kemp, een leven voor Limburg" ("Mathias Kemp, a life for Limburg") (1991) about the Stadsteekeninstituut: "Graafland was very good at schooling his pupils morally and intellectually. During his lessons he did not only spend time on drawing and painting art, but also on music and literature. In addition, he was a freethinker who did not refrain from explaining his modern ideas, at that time, to some of his pupils." Graafland was raised in the Christian faith, but as an adult he lost to some extent interest in Christianity and one could not really deny his anti-clerical attitude. According to Mathieu Kemp he was an agnostic.

In 1901, Rob Graafland founded the Zondagsschool voor Decoratieve Kunsten (Sunday School for Decorative Art) in cooperation with the Stadsteekeninstituut. Graafland had made a start with this on his own initiative in 1899 and fifteen pupils had already signed up who were willing to pay f 0.25 per lesson. In November 1899, therefore, Rob Graafland proposed the foundation of this Sunday Art School for talented pupils of the Stadsteekeninstituut. His proposals were discussed by the Committee of the Stadsteekeninstituut on 30 November 1899, but they decided not to support him. The reason being that if only twelve of the fifteen pupils were paying for this course, the proceeds would not cover all the expenses (apparently this was not a problem for Rob Graafland). In addition, the Committee disapproved of a course which would be a risk to the teacher without an existing official relationship with the Committee of the Stadsteekeninstituut. The Stadsteekeninstituut itself was not yet ready to organise a Sunday Art School, since high ranking officials had decided that such a course would not be desirable for the time being. But in 1901 Graafland's proposals became reality. At the meeting of 26 November 1901, the Committee decided to found a painting course that would commence in January 1902 on Sunday mornings from 9am to 12 noon. Graafland was appointed teacher, teaching drawing and painting skills, and the venue would be in the ....... of Graafland (unreadable in the minutes). The official name would be the Zondagsschool voor Decoratieve Kunsten (Sunday School for Decorative Art).

Thanks to Graafland's intuition, honed by his experiences as a teacher at the evening classes in Amsterdam and during the last three years at the Stadsteekeninstituut, he was able to choose the most talented pupils for the Sunday Art School. To name a few: Edmond Bellefroid, G. Boosten, Hermann Bopp, Jules Brouwers, P. Coenen, Guillaume Eberhard, Jean Grégoire, Charles Hollman, Hull, Han Jelinger, Henri Jonas, Mathieu and Pierre Kemp, Victor Marres, Joep Narinx, Nicolaas, Jan and Jos Postmes, Vic Reynders, Harry Schoonbrood, Willy Schoonhoven van Beurden, Selinger and Charles Vos. They were also known as "The Class of Graafland". Although it says in the minutes of 26 November 1901 that these lessons would take place in the ....... of Graafland, the class also painted in the Augustijnenkerk (church) in Maastricht, and in summer in the countryside "en plein air". As from 1911, the lessons were to take place in the Italian garden of Graafland's house at Sint Pieter near Maastricht.

Monique Dickhaut wrote in "Onmoeting met Rob Graafland" (2010) ("Meeting Rob Graafland"), that Graafland was an enthusiastic teacher at the Sunday Art School who did not only taught the technical and artistic features of drawing and painting art, but also got his pupils acquainted with art and culture in every sense of the word, which must have been a revelation to these young people most of whom were from working-class families.

A. Gorissen mentioned in "Mathias Kemp, een leven voor Limburg" (1991) ("Mathias Kemp, a life for Limburg") about the Sunday Art School, that Graafland was especially an inspiration to his pupils and that he made them feel confident and that he encouraged them to achieve as much as their talent allowed them to.

Mathieu Kemp's memories of his experiences with "The Class of Graafland" are similar as outlined by Monique Dickhaut and A. Gorissen. About Graafland he wrote that he was a talented man, charming, with sophisticated beliefs and views, a moderate freethinker, who embraced other art forms, like literature. It was apparently not easy for Mathieu Kemp to deal with Graafland, because in 1956 he remembered Graafland as (A. Gorissen) "A fascinating, sometimes charming personality who attracted more admiration than affinity....... This [not quite homogeneous] did not mean that his great talents as a teacher were not fully displayed....... When he examined our work, he always found something that he improved with a brush stroke or a powerful touch".


On 19 August 1902, Rob Graafland married Maria Hubertina Leopoldina Isabella Duquesne, daughter of Tilman Joseph en Maria Johanna Louisa Hubertina Diederiks from Heer (near Maastricht), who lived at the estate "Wittevrouwenhof". Charles Graafland described his mother as a sweet, sensible and handsome lady who courageously managed to cope with her husband's depressions later in life; it was a happy marriage. A number of portraits, painted in warm and tender colours, confirm these words. Maria was a hospitable lady; whenever pupils and friends were visiting she served them coffee, cake and drink. The couple temporarily moved to Amby, on the outskirts of Maastricht. Their honeymoon took them to Italy and they travelled in the country for quite some time. Italian's art, architecture and climate overwhelmed Graafland, especially Venice, and they would be the inspiration for his colourful paintings between 1909 and 1919. When the couple returned to Maastricht, Graafland had a large expensive detached villa built designed by himself, "Villa Aldegonda". In this beautiful home he devoted himself to his art, spending most of his time in his studio trying to find a style that satisfied him. On 29 December 1903, their first child was born, a daughter called Suzanna.

Visit to America

In 1905 Graafland travelled to the USA. It is debatable for how long, but it will have been a few months.Three postcards to Wilhemina Jelinger in Maastricht, sister of the painter Han Jelinger, are respectively dated New York 4 June 1905, New York 19 June 1905 and New York 6 July 1905. Why did Graafland visit America? Nobody knows. Graafland himself never explained his reasons. Mrs Yvonne Graafland-Marres, daughter-in-law of Rob Graafland, said about this visit in an article in the art magazine "Kunstwerk" ("Work of Art") written by Ieneke Suidman: "His motivation was a mystery to all of us". Graafland's reasons for visiting the States must have been fuelled by a sense of adventure focussed on America, combined with a strong artistic curiosity to meet American painters and to find out about their artistic development. This was very unusual since other Dutch painters, like the "Haagsche School" ("Art School of The Hague"), chose Paris for the same purpose. It is possible that he kept in touch with the artist Antoon Molkenboer who stayed in the USA from 1905 to 1910 and who Graafland must have met at the Rijksnormaalschool voor Teekenonderwijzers in Amsterdam (School for Training Future Teachers in the Art of Drawing), as well as with the painter Hubert Vos from Limburg who lived in the USA, a nephew of his pupil Charles Vos. However, Molkenboer lived in New York in 1905 for only six months and the question is whether this period coincided with Graafland's visit to New York. But he did pay a visit to Hubert Vos on Long Island. This must have been in April or May 1905, or even earlier, for on 5 June 1905 Hubert Vos arrived at the palace in Beijing to paint two portraits of the Chinese empress dowager Cixi, and he returned to New York in 1906.

Unfortunately, little is known about Graafland's travels across the USA. All we know is that he painted with American fellow painters "en plein air" on Staten Island (New York), that he visited Hubert Vos on Long Island and that he received many commissions for paintings. He also visited a tribe of native Americans who, upon arrival, threatened to kill him. Only by making a quick pencil drawing on paper of the proud and magnificently dressed up chief in front of the whole tribe did they leave him in peace and even treated him kindly. After arriving safely in Maastricht, Graafland wrote to the famous art critic Plasschaert that he was very happy to be back home again.

Graafland as Illustrator

After his return, a son was born in "Villa Aldegonda" on 27 January 1906, called Charles. Due to financial problems Graafland was forced to sell his house and the family moved to Belgium. On 2 September 1907 they stayed for a short while in Liège and then settled down in Wandre, a hamlet between Liège and Maastricht. In Wandre, Graafland worked for many years mainly on commissions, especially the American ones which were shipped to America. Every day he travelled by carriage or train to Maastricht to carry on teaching at the Stadsteekeninstituut. He also continued his lessons at the Sunday Art School which were getting more and more popular. A few people asked him for private tuition, like the brothers of the monastery de Beyard in Maastricht. It was at this monastery that he met Brother Cyprianus who had dedicated himself to education, and whose educational and religious books for schoolchildren were read by schoolchildren all over the Netherlands. Brother Cyprianus Andreae used the pseudonyms A. Vincent en B.C. Kloostermans. Graafland started illustrating these schoolbooks after his visit to America and he would be illustrating them all his life, even when he was seriously ill. His illustrations became very popular, they ignited children's inspiration and curiosity. The general purpose of the illustrations was to set an example for children's behaviour and attitude; the aim and implementation had pedagogical roots. On top of that, Graafland managed to visualise the text of the lesson so that it would be easier for children to absorb it. Mathieu Kemp, a pupil of "the Class of Graafland" and a writer, called Graafland the first among the best illustrators of catholic youth literature. Apart from these schoolbooks, Graafland also illustrated kindergarten books, reading books for schools, novels for youngsters, and weekly and monthly magazins. His wife Maria and his two children, Suzanna en Charles, were often models for these illustrations. Sadly enough, a large number of these illustrations along with paintings were destroyed in the Second World War during a bombardment on 's Hertogenbosch.

One of the novels of Albertine Steenhoff-Smulders illustrated by Graafland was titled "Een Kind van 1813" ("Child of 1813", 1813 being the year of the arrival of the Prince of Orange in Holland). The photo below the front cover of "Child of 1813" shows Rob Graafland, three friends and his two children posing for the backdrop of the illustration on the front cover. The other three photos show his children and his friends posing as characters for "Child of 1813". Fancy dress parties for Graafland's illustrations were common as they enabled him to make sketches on paper. Graafland was extremely successful with his illustrations and he was so much in demand that he asked Edmond Bellefroid, a pupil of "The Class of Graafland", to assist him.

Graafland's Italian Garden

On 21 March 1911, the Graafland family moved from Wandre to a large rented house in the Groenstraat at Sint Pieter near Maastricht (from 1920, Burgemeester Ceulenstraat 22). The next eight years would be the happiest of Graafland's life and his creativity would reach its peak. He abandoned the Rembrandt-brown colours in which he had predominantly been painting - he destroyed many of his paintings of the past ten years - and he developed a style of his own, a romantic impressionism: sparkling colourful romantic compositions which express the beauty of life, the good side of life which people instinctively try to experience as much as possible. Graafland's art embraces sun and light, joy of life and happiness. He was a true romantic - he expressed his feelings in his work - a devoted impressionist, a colorist whose compositions are dreamy and idyllic. His choice of colours is rich and brilliant, they reveal his passion for luminous colours, and some of his subjects resemble that of Italian impressionists, the opposite of his Dutch fellow artists. Hans Redeker wrote in the newspaper "NRC Handelsblad" of 19 September 1975 after visiting an exhibition of Rob Graafland's work in museum "Cultureel Centrum Venlo": "This exhibition makes it abundantly clear that, from Graafland's work in those years, one could select a small number of masterpieces which are absolutely unique in the Dutch art at that time, or even in European art".

In those days, Sint Pieter was surrounded by lonely fields that stretched as far as the gentle slopes of the Sint Pietersberg (Sint Pieters Mountain). At the back of Graafland's beautiful house there was an extensive garden which, according to his own design, was transformed into an Italian garden with terraces on different levels. Two life-size white stone lions, sculptured by his friend the sculptor Frans van der Laar, in squatting position on columns, gave access to the garden. Dirt paths meandered between oak trees, apple trees, spruce, lilacs and flowerbeds, and past elegant wrought iron benches, vases, columns, sculptures and fountains decorated with sculptures, the largest sculptures created by Frans van der Laar. In the middle of the terrace at the lowest level there was a large pond guarded by four life-size white stone lions in squatting position on columns. Exuberant parties were thrown in this garden, like the gondola parties when the partygoers floated around in gondolas laughing and singing; the gondolas were made according to Venetian design. This Italian garden is a recurrent subject in many of Graafland's paintings between 1911 and 1919. As from now on, the lessons of the Zondagsschilderschool (Sunday Art School) were taking place in this garden. Graafland himself was painting day and night. His son Charles described in his notes Graafland's work routine. Graafland often finished a painting in one day, but it could also take a few months or a few years. His favourite way to finish a painting which he had not worked on for a long time, was to get up at three o'clock in the morning, take the painting to his studio and give it his all. At sunrise the painting was finished.

Frits Goovaerts, son of the painter Henri Goovaerts, wrote to Suzanna, Graafland's daughter, about the Italian garden on 22 November 1962: "I often see the valley of the [river] Maas in front of me and the fields of the farmers at Sint Pieter, the way it used to be. I told Charles [Graafland's son] how I cherish the memory of your garden. The dreamlike peace of a late summer day, when apples floated in the fountain, while the white lions were gazing serenely into the distance, meditatingly, and the droning of a harvest cart returning from the fields could be heard across the mayor's shed. It was so delightfully quiet without the noise of planes and mopeds. And how could we know how unsavoury the world can be? It lasted for only a short time, but it was a very beautiful time."

Bennie Ceulen, grandson of Léon Ceulen, the last mayor of Sint Pieter and Rob Graafland's next door neighbour, wrote about the Italian garden: “...... and have been a great admirer of your grandfather Robert Graafland ever since I was small. This has to do with the enthusiastic stories of my father Frans Ceulen who told me about the painter Robert Graafland and his beautiful Italian garden. When my father and his sister Marieke were children, they often were models for your grandfather's illustrations of books for schoolchildren. That's why. He did not only tell me about your grandmother, but also about your father Charles and your aunt Suze whom he knew very well and who used to walk in and out of my grandfather's farm as often as they liked....... Your grandfather spent his most productive years as a painter in his magnificent house."

Charles Graafland referred to this garden in a speech at a dinner for his sister on 28 December 1963: "In the middle of a round pond there were a few sculptures; four enormous sculptured stone lions, life-size, surrounded the pond, proud and forbidding like merciless guards. The water bounced off sunrays and it seemed to turn into millions of sparkling jewels....... In the distance I could hear the bass voice of Joseph Joosten singing, accompanied by piano and guitar....... the pupils of the Academy walked through the iron gate into the garden to paint you under a flower bulb tree....... I walked out of the house and just a few yards away I stopped in my tracks, stunned. In front of me Napoleon sat on a colossal horse, his hand-in-waistcoat as he used to do, and next to him a little girl wearing a long yellow dress with a lot of lace and a large hat on her head; golden curly hair covered her shoulders. She looked sweet but scared. Then I recognised you, Suze. I turned my head the opposite way and saw the reason for your dismay, for a group of farmers carrying lances, pitchforks and scythes were running towards us shouting 'revolution'. 'Suze', I said, 'what's the meaning of this?' 'Quiet', you said, 'we are playing Child of 1813. Daddy is drawing on the balcony.' I looked up and surely, daddy was making sketches on several sheets of paper to capture the scenes as fast as possible."

Other artists joined Graafland, like the painters Henri Goovaerts, Herman Gouwe, Chris Hammes and Willem van Konijnenburg; the conductor of the Maastrichter Stedelijk Orkest (Maastricht City Orchestra), Henri Hermans; and the opera singer Joseph Joosten, baritone, singer of the operas in Lyon, Dijon, Antwerp and Liège. Graafland's house at Sint Pieter became a meeting place for artists and pupils. On weekday evenings and Sundays, they passionately discussed everything under the sun and they also organised music nights. The harmonium was placed under the apple tree, and in front of enthusiastic friends and pupils Joseph Joosten sang an aria from Faust with Henri Hermans on harmonium; Charles Hollman played the cello; and Graafland had a pleasant tenor voice and often performed songs from the "Schöpfung" by Haydn and recited poems by Schubert. Graafland loved music. A pianola played when he was painting, and new rolls of classical componists were delivered every week; Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and especially Haydn were his favourites. Apart from meeting at Graafland's house, there were two other popular meeting places where friends and pupils would meet: at the studio of Henri Jonas also on Sunday evenings, and in Café Suisse at the Vrijthof Square in Maastricht where they were given the nickname "The Gang of Suisse".

Herman Gouwe, from Alkmaar, wrote in his unpublished autobiography that he visited Limburg for the first time as a student at the Academy when he worked in Gulpen (14.63 km from Maastricht as the crow flies). Several years later he returned to Gulpen and met Graafland in Maastricht, a contemporary and fellow student of the Academy in Amsterdam, who introduced him to his friends in Café Suisse. In spring 1911, Gouwe stayed with the Graafland family as arranged in advance and he joined the Limburgsche Kunstkring (Art Society of Limburg Province). After that, Gouwe often spent the summer months with the Graafland family and the house became his pied-à-terre. Charles Graafland remembered in his notes that Gouwe spent several years with them, with which he probably meant that their house was Gouwe's pied-à-terre for several years, and that Gouwe's "luggage" was a very small parcel, posted in advance, that contained a matchbox with a comb, toothbrush and tube of toothpaste. Many years later, Charles recounted how during the First World War he, his father and Gouwe together watched the bombardments in Belgium from a hill near Maastricht. Gouwe wrote about Rob Graafland in his unpublished autobiography: "He lived in a big and beautiful house at Sint Pieter near Maastricht. He was very popular and his character was light-heartedly philosophical en his paintings were full of joy". Gouwe settled down in Tahiti in 1927, and when he visited the Netherlands in 1959 for the first and last time he wrote in his unpublished autobiography about his meeting with Mrs Suzanna Twaalfhoven-Graafland: "I had known Mrs Twaalfhoven as a child, for she was the daughter of my friend and colleague Graafland in Maastricht where I used to have my pied-à-terre when I was visiting Limburg in summer". And: "There was a large painting on the wall 'Ploughing Horses' [in Twaalfhoven-Graafland's house] which I had made for my friend Graafland a long time ago". Herman Gouwe and Suzanna Graafland exchanged letters until Gouwe's death (1965), and Suzanna regularly received crates of paintings from Tahiti with which she organised exhibitions in the Netherlands on his behalf.

Graafland's Personal Life

Rob and Maria (Marieke) had a happy marriage and Rob was a cheerful father who spent much time on his children. Suzanna and Charles thoroughly enjoyed their childhood, their parents did a lot for them. The children especially had a good time at the farm De Winhof of their next door neighbour, Léon Ceulen, the last mayor of Sint Pieter. Graafland had a hut built in his garden where the children could play with their pals and where they had, as Charles mentioned in his notes, "crazy fun", in particular when it was raining. The children were fond of the numerous fancy dress parties when Graafland was making sketches on paper for his illustrations for children's books. When Sinterklaas was approaching - 5 December, Santa Claus's progenitor - Rob and Maria organised plenty of amusing events. Graafland exchanged paintings for rifles and Charles, as young as he was, owned a large collection of rifles among which an elephant gun. He and his friends used to shoot in a corner of the Italian garden at targets that were placed in front of a fence (the rifles were confiscated by the Germans in 1940). Suzanna regularly posed with or without a girlfriend for the Sunday Art School and was now and then presented with a box of chocolates by the students. Charles too posed sometimes and for each time he received one cent (for three cents he could buy a small bar of chocolate). Every day, the dog Flip accompanied the children to school in Maastricht and picked up the newspaper for Graafland, whereupon he cheerfully trotted back home with the newspaper in his mouth. And in 1918, Suzanna and Charles were allowed to fly with the French pilot Duchereux in his plane, a contraption that was kept together with ribs and long strips of cloth. They flew for fifteen minutes over Maastricht and surroundings, and after a smooth landing the children rushed down the large stairs with beaming faces.


The first time Rob Graafland took part in an exhibition was on 29 October 1908 in the Larensche Art Gallery in Amsterdam. He chose Amsterdam because he did not want to confine himself to Maastricht. In 1911, he wrote to the famous art critic Albert Plasschaert that he had been isolated in the south for ten years and: "I destroyed all my paintings until I had to take part in exhibitions, which is about two years ago". But he did sell paintings at his studios. The painting "Le cygne méchant", exhibited in the Larensche Art Gallery in 1908, made such a favourable impression on the committee of Sint - Lucas in Amsterdam (Sint - Lucas Art Society) that they invited Graafland to become a member of their society in 1909.

Between April 1909 and January 1916, Graafland took part in seven exhibitions with Sint - Lucas in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (City Museum). Among the many participants were Herman Gouwe, Ferdinand Hart Nibbrig, Piet Mondriaan, Martin Monnickendam and Jan Sluyters. The reviews of Graafland's work were enthusiastic, especially of the small painting "Rode auto" ("Red Car") (1911) at the exhibition of 30 April - 11 June 1911. The abundance of colour reminded an unknown newspaper and the newspaper "De Telegraaf" of Monticelli. It was in itself remarkable that the subject was a car.

Graafland introduced a few of his pupils to Sint - Lucas who took part in some of aforementioned exhibitions. Henri Jonas, arguably Graafland's most talented pupil, attracted much attention with a huge painting titled "Trajectum ad Mosam" at the exhibition of December 1915 - Januari 1916. After the exhibition, Jonas gave this work as a present to his teacher to thank him for everything Graafland had done for him.

Graafland was also a member of another art society, Arti et Amicitiae in Amsterdam, from 1907 - 1913. But he only took part in the exhibition of April - May 1909 with a single work, titled "Secrèt de Fleurs" ("Secret of Flowers").

It was a serious problem for Graafland to deliver his paintings at exhibitions in the north of the Netherlands. The distance Maastricht - Amsterdam is 178 km / 111 miles (flying distance), and there was no fast and save connection between both cities. The only solution was to ship crates of paintings to Amsterdam by Janssens boats.

In 1956, Mathieu Kemp, a pupil of "The Class of Graafland", wrote in the catalogue for the Rob Graafland exhibition in the Bonnedantenmuseum in Maastricht: "He is one of the first artists of Limburg the spoiled North gets acquainted with and he is welcomed as 'painter of sunlight'".

Art Society of Limburg Province

Sint - Lucas will have inspired Graafland to found the Limburgse Kunstkring (Art Society of Limburg Province), an official social center for artists to inspire each other, represent Limburg in the north and teach talented youngsters; in short, to assure that the budding artistry in Maastricht not only would get a foothold but also would take root. On 4 May 1940, Mathias Kemp wrote in his "In Memoriam Rob Graafland" that Graafland can be considered the founder of the Limburgsche Kunstkring. The Limburgsche Kunstkring was established in 1910 by Jan Bakhoven, Guillaume Eberhard, Rob Graafland, Henri Jonas, Johannes van der Kooij, Jos Narinx and Vic Reinders. Herman Gouwe joined them in 1911, as he wrote in his unpublished autobiography. Graafland became chairman and the first exhibition took place on 5 March of the same year in the Dominicanenkerk (church) in Maastricht. Approximately two hundred paintings and sculptures by nine members of the Art Society were exhibited: Herman Bopp, Jules Brouwers, Guillaume Eberhard, Henri Goovaerts, Robert Graafland, W. A. van Konijnenburg, Reymans, G. Windt, and sculptures by Frans van der Laar. Graafland brought about fifty paintings as well as pen drawings and one watercolour. His dazzling colours and romantic subjects, like "Picnic" and "Japanese Parasol", caught everyone's attention.

Two Awards

In 1912, Graafland was invited to take part in the Exposition Internationale Musée Municipale in the Stedelijk Museum (City Museum) in Amsterdam, 13 April - July. His painting "Lezend meisje" ("Girl Reading") won the Bronze Medal of the City of Amsterdam. Soon afterwards postcards of this painting were sold by bookshops all over the Netherlands. The Exposition Internationale Musée MunicipaleIt was a very large exhibition with oil paintings from the Netherlands and 16 other countries, among others: Belgium (30), England (44), France (80), Germany (61), Hungary (42) and Italy (53); sculptures from 13 countries (including the Netherlands); watercolours and pastels from 14 countries (including the Netherlands), and prints and drawings also from 14 countries (including the Nederlands). Among the Dutch participants of oil paintings were professor C. L. Dake (Graafland's teacher at the Royal Academy of Art in Amsterdam), Ferdinand Hart Nibbrig, Isaac Israels, J. H. Jurres, H. W. Mesdag, Martin Monnickendam and Jan Sluyters. As a result of Graafland's work, professor C. L. Dake and two lecturers at the Royal Academy, P. H. van Moerkerken and J. H. Jurrus, travelled to Maastricht to get acquainted with the development of visual arts in the south. They were welcomed with open arms by Graafland at Sint Pieter.

Graafland received his second award in September 1916. Invited to take part in the exhibition of the 's-Hertogenbosche Kunstkring (Art Society of 's-Hertogenbosch), he won the Gold Medal for his paintings "Levensvreugde" ("Joy of Life") and "Meisjes in de zon (1)" ("Girls in the Sun (1)"), which was presented to him by Her Majesty Queen Wilhelmina. "Joy of Life" was given a place of honour at the exhibition because of the attractive originality and charming richness of colours. On 1 September, Graafland received a telegram from Dolf van Engelen, secretary of the 's Hertogenbosche Kunstkring, to congratulate him with the award. The news spreaded like wildfire through Sint Pieter and Maastricht, and the same evening the local brass band serenaded Graafland in his garden, surrounded by a large crowd. Charles, Graafland's son, remembered later in his life with great joy how his father, after the serenade, invited brass band and admirers in for a few drinks to celebrate this memorable occasion and how he, Charles, eleven years old, was allowed to collect all the empty bottles in house and garden the next morning, hand them in at the shops and keep the deposit money.

Setbacks and Depression

Robert Graafland had now reached the pinnacle of his career. As a teacher he had educated talented pupils and introduced them in Amsterdam where their paintings were exhibited at the Stedelijk Museum (City Museum). As an artist he was acknowledged and admired, his paintings had made him famous both in Limburg and Holland. Also, his was a happy marriage and he enjoyed being a father. All his life he had been struggling to develop his art and his pupils, and his enthusiasm, dedication and energy seemed limitless. But then, suddenly and unexpectedly, all this came to en end.

Graafland faced a financial crisis. Before 1914, he had bought a valuable life insurance policy in the German Empire, as one used to do in the Netherlands in those days. Due to the collapse of Germany at the end of the First World War this investment became worthless. Another investment in Maastricht also failed. And at the same time Graafland started suffering from ill health. The first symptoms of a depression took hold of him and undermined his creativity. These depressions occurred more and more often and there were days that he was too ill to work. And the days turned into months, years. Slowly and inescapably, as the years went by, Graafland became gravely ill. And in Maastricht, important changes in cultural life were taking place. "The Class of Graafland" had grown up and his pupils had gone their own way, which Graafland had always encouraged. Some of his pupils and some of his friends of the Limburgsche Kunstkring (Art Society of Limburg Province) had left Maastricht. The Stadsteekeninstituut had fallen into disarray during 1914 - 1918. German and Belgian soldiers were being nursed in the Augustijnenkerk (church) and there was no room for teaching. Another art school for working-class children in Maastricht, the Patronaatsteekenschool, had become more popular. On 4 September 1918 Graafland applied for sick leave, which was granted by the council on 17 September. A year later, on 22 September 1919, after an examination by the Pension Committee, he was given honourable dismissal and a pension. At the age of forty-four he retired from the Stadsteekeninstituut. The Zondagsschilderschool (Sunday Art School) ceased to exist.

Despite no longer being able to paint, Graafland took part in a few exhibitions. In August 1918, December 1920 and 1921 with the Limburgsche Kunstkring (Art Society of Limburg Province) in Maastricht. In 1920, he was invited by Nederland in den Vreemde (the Netherlands Abroad) for an exhibition in Brighton, Blackpool, Bradford, Sunderland and London; Graafland submitted "Young Love" and "Joy of Life". And in December 1922, he was invited by the 's Hertogenbosche Kunstkring (Art Society of 's-Hertogenbosch) to take part in a large exhibition; 160 works of art represented the visual arts development in Brabant and Limburg provinces. This was Graafland's last exhibition for the time being. The next time he took part in an exhibition would be in July 1935.

Other Activities

There was also a problem with Graafland's house which was rented from Guillaume Ceulen, Léon Ceulen's brother, Graafland's next door neighbour. When Guillaume's wife died at a young age, he sold his farm in Belgium and wanted to move back to his house at Sint Pieter, the house Graafland was renting, who therefore had to look for a house somewhere else. On 29 August 1922, the Graafland family moved with a heavy heart from Sint Pieter to Sint Servaasklooster 23 in Maastricht. This time Graafland did not set up a painting studio; his palette, easel and painting materials remained untouched. Until 1934 he would not be able to paint. The view out the window of his study was a square and a church across the road; there was no garden. The rooms were decorated with numerous paintings by himself and his pupils, silent witnesses of his creative period. Unfortunately, his condition could not be solved by medical science in those days. Although he consulted several doctors, none of them really could help him. And as the years went by, the depression intensified. But Graafland refused to accept the situation and forced himself to get another teaching position.

He became a drawing teacher at a school for domestic science in Maastricht where he spent much time on decorative drawing. He also made drawings to make it easier for children to learn French. And he created art for advertising purposes and patterns for, among others, hand knotted rugs, cushions and tapestries as well as designs for applied arts like coats of arms and windows. His production of illustrations for schildren's books and weekly and monthly magazins increased significantly. In 1920 he became a member and chairman of the Schoonheidscommissie of Maastricht, Houthem and Valkenburg (Heritage Maastricht, Houthem and Valkenburg), and in this capacity he, among others, prevented the demolition of historic sites. He often published his opinions in newspapers.


On 29 September 1933, the Graafland family moved from Maastricht to Vught. A few weeks later Graafland's depression worsened so much that he shot himself in the head. He survived but lost his right eye, and he was admitted to the psychiatric hospital Voorburg in Vught. To everyone's astonishment he made a complete recovery a short time later. After an illness of fourteen years he could paint again. However, he was no longer the man he used to be, as he wrote to the famous art critic Plasschaert on 7 September 1935. Outwardly he was physically and mentally fine again, inwardly the illness had devastated him. And as a result of the loss of his right eye he had lost depth perception. During the next years Graafland focussed on painting portraits, but he also made time for painting many other subjects, like dancing-girls, brides, nudes, children, mother and child, and horses. Around this time he painted the portrait of Her Majesty Queen Wilhelmina, commissioned by Mr van Beuningen who gifted it to the town hall in Vught.

Graafland was now almost sixty years old. His first exhibition since 1922 took place in July 1935, a large exhibition to mark 750 years of the city of 's Hertogenbosch. His painting "Levensbron" ("Source of Life") won first prize. In February 1936, Graafland held an exhibition in The Hague of forty-six of his own works: etchings, watercolours, drawings and oil paintings. The art critic J. R., reviewing the exhibition for an unknown newspaper, wrote on 8 February that he admired the fiery red hunting outfit of a member of a hunting association, and ".......the paintings are nothing but praise for life, witnesses of the beauty of the world.......". A few months later, Graafland took part in an exhibition of the Summer Olympics (Olympiad) in Berlin, and his portrait of the Dutch horse rider Charles Pahud de Mortanges on his horse Mädel Wie Du won the Bronze medal. In January 1937 he held another exhibition of his own works in 's Hertogenbosch, and in 1938 he took part in an exhibition in Maastricht in honour of the 40th anniversary of Her Majesty Queen Wilhelmina's reign.

In the same year, 1938, the Graafland family moved from Vught to The Hague, Graafland wanted to be part of life again. One of the paintings he created was "Dying Swan", a triptych, inspired by Tchaikovsky's ballet "Swan Lake". Sadly enough, a large number of the paintings created in The Hague were destroyed during the allied bombardment of The Hague on 3 March 1945. In September 1938, Graafland took part in the exhibition Veertig Jaar Limburgsche Kunst in Maastricht (Forty Years of Art in Limburg). The reviews of his work were full of praise. The following year, 1939, Graafland returned to his former house in Vught, escaping the hustle and bustle of The Hague. One of the works he painted in Vught was a portrait of his friend Hubert Cuypers, componist, conductor and organist. Also in 1939, Graafland accepted an invitation to take part in an exhibition of the Bredasche Kunstkring (Art Society of Breda); his final exhibition.

In Memoriam Robert Graafland

In 1940, Graafland started suffering from a serious illness and the diagnosis was cancer. He rapidly grew weaker and weaker. Before long he lost most of his physical strength and he could no longer stretch the canvasses himself, yet he did not give up painting. Hendrik de Laat from 's Hertogenbosch, friend and assistant, stretched the canvasses during the last weeks of his life for him. Graafland's final painting was the standing veiled bride with a bouquet of flowers in her folded hands which he was unable to finish. Since he was in critical condition, he was taken to the St Joseph Hospital in Heerlen where a friend operated on him, the surgeon E. Hustinx from Heerlen. Despite this effort, Graafland died during the operation in the morning of Sunday 28 April 1940. The funeral took place on 1 May. The painter Han Jelinger paid his last respects on behalf of the Limburgsche Kunstkring (Art Society of Limburg Province). Hubert Cuypers said a few words to honour the memory of his friend whom he had known since their student years in Amsterdam. Maastricht honoured him by naming a street after him: the Robert Graaflandlaan.

Mathieu Kemp, pupil of "The Class of Graafland", published in the newspaper "Limburger Koerier" on 4 May 1940 his article "In Memoriam Robert Graafland", in which he remembered Graafland's many talents: as painter, teacher and educationalist; as ornamental artist and illustrator for catholic children's books; and as organiser of the art in Limburg. "....... Graafland can be considered the founder of the Limburgsche Kunstkring (Art Society of Limburg Province). For a long time he was the inspiring leader and the dominating figure at the Art Society's exhibitions. His influence was great, not only with his pupils".

Graafland's Motivation for his Art

Robert Graafland explained his motivation for his art at two exhibitions. At the first exhibition in 's-Hertogenbosch in January 1937 he thanked the mayor of 's-Hertogenbosch, baron F. van Lanschot, for his opening speech and added:

"If my work has contributed to people's happiness and if I - in case an artist's vocation is like that of the Apostles', however small mine may be - have succeeded in showing the beauty and purity of God's Creation, then my work has not been in vain."

At the second exhibition in Maastricht in 1938 Graafland expressed his motivation slightly differently:

"My effort will be rewarded if my work contributes to and increases people's happiness."

And on 1 October 1938, Rob Graafland wrote to his friend and colleague Charles Hollman: "....... Fortunately your romantic nature is still present in your work; for, of course, in these rational, businesslike times we certainly need a bit of romanticism. It is obvious that whatever happens in the world influences artists, but it is a fact that, the more businesslike and rational life becomes, people's desire for romanticism will grow. After all, romanticism is an essential part of life."

© Fr Graafland 2019