Jan Sluijters (Den Bosch 1881-1957) is the master of Dutch modernism. An outstanding aspect of Sluijters' work is the diversity of styles and subjects he tackled. From colorful fauvist landscapes to the geometric compositions of cubism, and from portraits to political prints, Sluijters demonstrated his ability to adapt to various art forms and subjects. Alongside Piet Mondrian and Leo Gestel, Sluijters formed the vanguard of vibrant luminism and is considered one of the three greatest artists of Brabant, alongside Van Gogh and Bosch.
Sluijters' drawing talent became evident early on. As a young boy, he observed his father, an engraver who executed many assignments at home. This apprenticeship proved to be ideal, as he soon found himself at the Royal School of Practical Art and Applied Sciences. At the age of 13, the young Sluijters, along with his parents and three sisters, moved to Amsterdam—a pivotal location for launching his career as a painter. While traveling through Italy, Spain, and France, he always returned to Amsterdam, where he evolved into an unprecedented innovator of Dutch painting.
In 1904, he won the Prix de Rome with his painting 'The Prophet Elisha Raises the Son of the Shunammite Woman to Life,' executed in an academic style. This achievement granted him a scholarship of 1200 guilders per year.
Shortly after marrying Bertha Langerhorst, Sluijters embarked on a journey through Italy and Spain. Subsequently, along with his artist friend Leo Gestel, he settled in Paris for a year. In Paris, he encountered fauvism, a movement characterized by bold colors, and was immediately captivated. Admiring the free use of color and the light effects of impressionist painters, he aspired to engage in 'light-painting,' distancing himself from the dark tones of the academy. Incorporating modern, 'wild' influences into his work, he lost his scholarship because it did not conform to the rules of the Allebé and Willem Maris academy and was deemed too vulgar—an unjust judgment, according to him.
In Paris, he created works depicting the unrestrained nightlife that he himself enjoyed, as seen in pieces like 'Femmes qui s'embrassent' and 'Bal Tabarin.' The advent of electric light brought unprecedented sparkle, both in reality and in his paintings. Upon returning to the Netherlands, Sluijters infused even more color into his impressionistic works around Amsterdam, providing a colossal (color)impetus to the development of modern art in the Netherlands. Sluijters and Mondrian closely associated, prominently displayed side by side at the St. Lucas exhibition of 1908 in the Stedelijk Museum.
In 1909, Sluijters briefly returned to his roots in Brabant, specifically to the artist village of Heeze. There, he painted farms, forest lanes, and idyllic orchards with delicate touches and color nuances. In his landscapes, he extensively experimented with light and color, a focus recognized as luminism at the time. Expressing his emotions through color, he remained faithful to reality. The blue-green and purple hues characteristic of his Brabant period were noteworthy.
From 1909 to 1911, Sluijters resided and worked in Villa Vita in Laren, where he painted numerous landscapes and experimented extensively with colors. Deliberately avoiding the sheep and weavers that traditional Laren painters often portrayed, he, along with Piet Mondrian, Leo Gestel, and others, founded the Moderne Kunstkring in 1910. This group exhibited the works of the foreign avant-garde in the Netherlands, responding to the traditionally inclined Arti et Amicitiae.
In 1911, Sluijters moved to Amsterdam, revisited Paris with Leo Gestel, and experimented with cubism. Reality was fragmented into pieces, reflecting a mirror image of reality. While Mondrian moved towards increasing abstraction, Sluijters maintained his figurative and realistic representation. He also came into contact with Kees van Dongen.
Inspired by the late work of Vincent van Gogh, Sluijters began painting his most abstract pieces, the renowned 'October Suns' and 'Moonlit Nights,' in 1913-1914. Loose brushstrokes were replaced by larger, interlocking color patches in blue, orange, and soft violet with flowing contours. Considered the most modern of his works, these paintings, with their non-naturalistic use of color and abstraction of forms, are highly expressive. During these years, Sluijters actively participated in Amsterdam's artistic community, exhibiting at the Moderne Kunstkring St. Lucas, where he served as a jury member. He frequently clashed with the conservative society Arti et Amicitiae. In 1912 and 1913, retrospectives of his work were held in Rotterdam and The Hague.
Sluijters may have initially been a draftsman. Before and during the war, he created political cartoons for various publications. After the war, he may have become somewhat more conservative, but he continued to produce art. He was consistently in search of his style and perfection, contributing to and pioneering in the modern art scene of his time. His prolific output included works that may be considered less remarkable. He often revisited his artworks even years later.
The second part of Sluijters' painting life, after 1920, was characterized by a moderately impressionistic, figurative style. This period marked him as the portrait painter of the Netherlands. His portraits of women and children, especially, were highly cherished. 'A beautiful woman is like a beautiful bouquet.' He portrayed numerous prominent individuals, creating a diverse and wealthy clientele of politicians, industrialists, musicians, actors, and art collectors. Often commissioned, his portraits captured the characters in a typical colorful style. His second wife, Greet van Cothen, and his children Loes, Jan, Rob, and Lies posed for him with pleasure. He had a penchant for capturing the skin tones in hues of yellow and blue for the fair-skinned individuals, and green, brown, and orange for tinted portraits, such as Tonia, the secretary of Minister Wibaut—a union leader and painter's model.
Sluijters is regarded as the innovator of Dutch painting at the beginning of the 20th century. Especially in the period from 1906 to 1916, he produced highly innovative work. His experiments with various art movements, including fauvism and cubism, contributed to introducing modern and avant-garde ideas into the Dutch art scene. His daring to break traditional boundaries and experiment with color and form established him as one of the most significant modernists. Sluijters did not undergo a consistent development toward a distinct style, which also explains why Mondrian became world-famous while Sluijters did not. Sluijters' greatest achievement lies in bringing modernism, color, and light to the Netherlands.
His works can now be found in all major museums in the Netherlands dedicated to modern art. His Brabant period is housed in the Noord Brabants Museum, Singer has a substantial collection, and the Stedelijk also exhibits his works. Sluijters, with his vibrant, non-existent colors, greatly influenced the Amsterdam impressionists, later the Cobra movement, and, through Gestel, the Bergense School.
Jan Sluijters-1906-Spaanse danseres-Singer
Jan Sluijters-1907- Bal Tabarin-rkd
Jan Sluijters-1912-Cubist still life with vases from Delft-rkd