18 juni 2024

About the People and the Things They Write

I have often been amazed by what people write on postcards, which, after all, can be read by anyone who gets to handle them during delivery. The back of the post card shown in Figure 1 is such an example. The text reads (translated from Dutch):

Amice [Friend},

Not without emotion will you hear that our friend Wendelaar has died suddenly this morning. One suspects voluntarily, but we have no details yet. v. Sou (?) is very shocked. He will go there tomorrow. As you may know, they had planned to take a journey together to Rio de Janeiro in April. What an emptiness in his existence this will cause him!

Amicable Greetings

The card is signed by what seems to be C.H. de Groot and has the date February 21, 1921 written in the lower left corner in a different script than used for the text of the card.

Figure 1:Back of postcard.

The front of the card (Figure 2) shows that it is the answer part (but the ‘antwoord betaald’ heading is scratched out) of a post card with the imprinted 2 cent “Vürtheim” stamp, overprinted with ‘vijf cent’ (five cents) in Gothic letters (Geuzendam 107) mailed from ‘s Gravenhage (Den Haag, The Hague), where it was canceled at nine in the morning with the short bar cancel number 10, used between September 26, 1919 and August 13, 1924. The cancel has the date February 22, 1921.

Figure 2: Front of postcard.

The card was addressed to H.J.N. Maas, Dutch Consul General, on Madeley Road, Ealing, England. A web search revealed that this must be H.S.J. Maas. Henricus Stephanus Jacobus Maas was born in Amsterdam on August 20, 1855. He became Vice-consul in London in 1879, Consul in 1886 and Consul General on April 1, 1897 (Algemeen Handelsblad, Januar 13, 1897).

Consul general Maas was the first of thirteen candidates who passed the first exam for career consul in 1875, and therefore he was considered to be the father of the Dutch consular corps. He was married to Mathilde Susannah Corrall and their private residence was on 77 Madeley Road in Ealing (the consular offices were at 4 Coleman Street).

About five months after the postcard was mailed, the newspaper ‘Het Vaderland’ reported on July 30, 1921 that Consul general Maas was on a six weeks leave. A year later, various newspapers reported that Consul general Maas had died on July 9, 1922 after a very brief illness, with ‘de Telegraaf’ writing that the interment at South Ealing Cemetery would take place on on July 12.

Figure 3: Obituary in Algemeen Handelsblad’ of February 24, 1921.

The Wendelaar mentioned in the text as probably having committed suicide is Gerrit Simon Hendrik Wendelaar, who, according to the obituary (see Figure 3) placed by his brother Willem Gerrit, in the ‘Algemeen Handelsblad’ of February 24, 1921, passed away on February 21, 1921 in Berg-en-Dal, near Nijmegen. Gerrit Wendelaar was born in Amsterdam, on January 7, 1861 as the second son of Willem Louwrens Wendelaar, a stock broker, and Carolina Bonga. He studied Mathematics and Physics in Leiden (at least he was registered there as a student in 1883).

He must have been very wealthy (inheritance?) as he was one of the first persons to receive an automobile permit in the Netherlands in 1898. In 1907 he had the country house ‘De Wychert’ built after a design by the Hilversum architect J.W. Hanrath (1867-1932). The monumental house on 15 hectares of land, designed in the New Historical Style, still exists (see Figure 4). According to ‘Door de wereld bewogen. De geschiedenis van de nederlandse missionarissen van het heilig hart’ (Moved by the world.

Figure 4: Country house ‘De Wychert.’

The history of the Dutch missionaries of the holy heart) by Gabrielle Dorren, the purchase price of the house had sunk as low as Fl. 100,000 by 1927 because the people in the neighborhood believed that the house was bewitched since the hermit-like owner, Wendelaar, had shot himself through the head on the eve of a journey to Spitsbergen. Thus, assuming that the suicide took place during the evening of February 21, it is likely that the postcard was mailed in the morning of February 22, as attested by the cancel.

By the way, the placer of the obituary, Willem Gerrit Wendelaar, was a stock broker and also very wealthy, as evidenced by the country house Stameren in Maarn he had designed by his grand-nephew the architect C.N. Posthumus Meyjes. This house, built in 1904-1905, also still exists.

The sender of the card is most likely the art historian Cornelis Hofstede de Groot (Figure 5), born on November 9, 1863 in Dwingelo, and who died April 14, 1930 in The Hague. He passed the candidacy exam (roughly comparable to obtaining the bachelor degree) in classic languages at Leiden University in 1889, and proceeded to study art history in Leipzig. There, in 1891, he completed his doctoral dissertation on the impact of Arnold Houbraken (28 March 1660 – 14 October 1719, Dutch painter and writer from Dordrecht, now remembered mainly as a biographer of artists from the Dutch Golden Age) on Dutch art history.

Figure 5: H.C. de Groot

In August 1891 he joined the ‘Mauritshuis’ museum in The Hague as vice-director, and he was appointed director of the Rijksprentenkabinet’ (national prints and drawings museum) in Amsterdam in 1896. However, personal conflicts made him resign this position in 1898, whereupon he moved to The Hague and became an independent art historian, making a living by editing books and catalogs, and expertizing old Dutch paintings. For example, he and Wilhelm von Bode (10 December 1845 – 1 March 1929, German art historian and creator and first curator of the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, now called the Bode Museum) published an eight-volume reference work on Rembrandt in 1906.

Hofstede de Groot did also a lot of work for committees and societies. He was a member of the National Monument Committee, secretary of the National Committee on Museums, long term member of the board of the historical society ‘Die Haghe’, and involved with the Municipal Museum in The Hague and the Frans Hals museum in Haarlem.

Over the years, he assembled a sizeable art collection, most of which was left to the Groninger Museum upon his death. His extensive collection of photographs of paintings, art historical notes and other documentation material were willed to the State of the Netherlands with the stipulation to maintain and extend the collection. This legacy led to the establishment of the National Office for Art Historical Documentions (‘Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie’ or RKD) in The Hague. Electronic access to notecards (‘fiches’) containing descriptions of artworks seen by Hofstede de Groot and/or copied by him and his collaborators from auction-, exhibition- and collection-catalogs is provided through the website of the RKD.

Among this collection, now consisting of about 1.2 million ‘fiches,’ I was able to identify several with handwriting similar to that of the postcard, and (cropped versions) of three such fiches are shown in Figure 6. Two of the fiches have a box with a typed note indicating that Hofstede de Groot has seen the painting described (‘Door Dr. C.H. de G. zelf gezien’). The black arrows point to letters also appearing on the post card, and a one-to-one comparison is presented in Figure 7. It appears that the post card was written by the same person who wrote on the fiches.

Figure 6: Handwriting on notecards in the RKD.

The inventory of the archive of Hofstede de Groot (C.E. Hündgens, 1999, RKD) lists three letters received from H.S.J. Maas, Consul General, London in 1894, 1896 and 1906, thus establishing a relationship between the two. The letters have not been digitized and could not be inspected by me, so it remains unclear what the nature of the relationship was and how the two became to know each other. Hofstede de Groot was a member of Societeit de Witte (social club) in The Hague and also of the Burlington Fine Arts Club in London, but I do not know if Consul General Maas was a member of these societies. The nature of the acquaintance between Wendelaar and Hofstede de Groot and Maas remains a mystery. Wendelaar and Hofstede de Groot both studied in Leiden, but attended several years apart.

Figure 7: Comparison of handwriting on notecards in the RKD and postcard of Figure 1.

Hofstede de Groot was combative and stubborn, causing many conflicts with his colleagues. Especially noteworthy is the case about two paintings that he had attributed to Frans Hals in 1923. He bought one of them and the other was auctioned. However, analysis showed that new paint, glue and nails had been used. Against all reasonable arguments he continued to argue for its veracity during a 1924/25 lawsuit and, to preserve his good name, bought this painting as well. It was not until more than two decades later that it became known that both had been forged by Han van Meegeren, who gained notoriety for creating fake Vermeers!

Unfortunately, I have not been able to determine who the “v. Sou” is who was supposed to travel with Wendelaar to Rio de Janeiro. Suggestions are welcome.

Netherlands Philately magazine and the ASNP
This article was originally published in Netherlands Philately, 42/5, pages 113-116, 2018; published here with kind permission of the editor of NP magazine.
Ben Jansen

Ben Jansen

My current collection focus is on (correctly addressed but) undeliverable Netherland's mail. I am also the Editor of Netherlands Philately, the Magazine of the American Society of Netherlands Philately.

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