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INSIDE INFORMATION

Well, before we start about the art, there's a story that might be helpful. An artist checks with the gallery:
ARTIST: "How is it selling?"
GALLERY OWNER: "Well, I would say it was good, except..."
ARTIST: "What do you mean?"
GALLERY OWNER: "Someone came in and asked me if I thought you were the kind of artist who would be worth more after you died. I said yes."
ARTIST: "So what's the problem? Did he buy anything?"
GALLERY OWNER: "He bought everything of yours in the gallery."
ARTIST: "That's wonderful. It's exciting. Why are you frowning? Who was it?"
GALLERY OWNER: "Your doctor."

HILDA VAN STOCKUM'S ART

Hilda van Stockum, HRHA, attended art schools in Amsterdam, Dublin and Washington, DC. The Irish, however, have taken her work most to heart.

During the course of her career, Hilda van Stockum has had several individual shows at such galleries as the Painters Gallery in Dublin (1953), Difar Gallery in Geneva (1964), De Kuyl Gallery in Bilthoven, the Netherlands (1964), Venables Gallery in Washington, D.C. (1974), Den-Art Gallery in Ottawa (1974), and the Royal Hibernian Academy, where she showed annually in the group shows of the 1980s and much of the 1990s.

Her still lifes have been especially popular and Irish collectors and critics considered her at the very top of this art form. She is included in collections of great Irish artists of the 20th Century. One of her paintings, a still life of pears in a copper bowl, is featured on a stamp in the Irish Europa series, covering contemporary artists. Her ability to show the texture of pears was highly praised. She was also awarded a medal presented by the Electricity Board every year to an Irish artist.

Art Auction Catalogs

Whyte's 2001 The October 2001 catalog for Whyte's includes "Still Life of Summer Flowers and a Bell" (10.5"x14.5", lot #148). The artist is described in the catalog as follows: "Born in Rotterdam, of Dutch-Irish parentage, Hilda van Stockum was one of the leading pupils of Patrick Tuohy and Sean Keating at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art." Published Estimate: €800-1,000. Realised: €1,333 euros.

Adams 2005 The December 2005 Adams catalog includes the HvS still life "Four Eggs" (lot #26). Price Realised: €6,500.

Whyte’s 2006 The February 2006 Auction catalog includes two still lifes - "Pewter, Apples and Old Silk Screen," 1989 (18"x23", Lot #202). Published Estimate: €6000-8000; Price Realised: €5900. "Jug, Eggs and Bread," 1991 (20"x24", Lot #203). Published Estimate: €6000-8000; Price Realised: €7700.

O'Connor 2006 The catalog for the March 2006 auction in Dublin by Garrett O'Connor & Associates includes two HvS paintings - "Self-Portrait 1984" (33"x24", lot #39). Published Estimate: €10,000-12,000. "Landscape" (14"x24", lot #180). Published Estimate: €1,200-1,500.

    Hilda van Stockum as Painter

by Brigid Marlin, Founder of the Society for Art of Imagination

Mother did not receive full recognition for her work as an artist until after she had turned 70.

But then she was made an Honorary Member of the Royal Hibernian Academy, and a winner of  many prestigious awards for her painting. Her painting was featured on an Irish stamp, and her work hangs in the National Art Gallery, Dublin. She was most famous for her beautiful still-lifes which showed the Dutch influence in her life. She was three-fourths Dutch and one-fourth Irish.

Mother didn't paint for public recognition. In fact she was frightened of fame, because she was a very spiritual person and she was afraid of getting conceited.

However, she couldn’t stop painting, and she loved painting her six children. We all have memories of being hauled up to the studio at the top of the house and being made to pose for interminal lengths of time. I remember sitting in a chair till my legs felt that they were going to drop off while Mother took sticks with hairs on the end of them and hit a piece of board furiously. I used to wonder why she was so angry with the  board.

The fumes of turpentine made me feel slightly nauseous and I begged to go out, while meanwhile my jealous brothers and sisters banged at the door wanting to be let in.

“At last I sighed and said, “I don’t want to be a Mother!”

“Why not?” Mother asked.

“I don’t want to have to paint pictures all the time,” I said.

But later I changed my mind and did both things.

Mother was excellently trained as an artist at the famed Rijksacademie in Amsterdam, but just as she was beginning her career, the craze for "Modern Art" hit the Art world, and her work was disregarded. In spite of Mother’s fear of fame, it was a lonely time for any artist who was also a superb craftsman, and she did suffer from lack of recognition.

However, it didn't take much to motivate Mother. She had great faith in the "ordinary person," and would ask the tradesmen who came to the door for their opinion of her work.

This didn’t always help, for while she was delighted at the milkman’s reaction to her work, she was quite cast down by an unenthusiastic postman.

Mother brought her artistry into bringing up her six children. She created a magical environment where anything was possible. We grew up awash among paints, crayons and coloured pencils. Sitting around the dining room table, we made drawings, paintings and Christmas cards. Then we branched out and put on puppet shows, held fairs and even staged circuses.

As long as we were happy and creative, Mother put up with the mess. She and Granny (who lived with us) made a wonderful audience for us when Father was away at work or travelling.

With the connivance of Father, Mother organised wonderful adventures. When we moved to Canada we all went blueberrying along with the bears in the Canadian mountains and we went sleighing to Midnight Mass in the snow. We went as a family to the Trapp Family Music Camp in Vermont and made “the hills come alive with the sound of music!”

In 1947 we all went to Holland in a tiny cargo ship to see Mother’s surviving relatives after the war; and on the boat we were known as the ‘Lunch Hour Marlins’, because our ages were 12 to 2.

Our experience of being in Holland just after the war, and seeing the devastation and the still malnourished children made an indelible impression on us all.

Later, after Granny died, we went to live in Ireland where I went to Art School and Mother could reconnect with her old friends. She had a new lease of life mixing with her artist friends such as Evie Hone, the stained glass artist, who was my godmother.

Now Mother went painting and sketching with her friends, and exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy, and it was through the Academy that she was at last to receive her well-deserved recognition as a great still-life artist.

Mother believed we could do anything and we believed her because we saw her do everything. She regularly got up at 5 am in the morning, typed a chapter of her latest book, went to Mass at 7.30 am, then worked on her latest painting, or drawing or illustration, or did household chores.

Father believed that not only could we do anything, he expected that we should do something, so we were fired by his ambition. They made a wonderful team.

At the end of their lives, Father became Mother’s art agent and made Mother’s art into a successful business career. He was  Mother’s greatest admirer.

After he died Mother said to me, “Your father used to sit and watch me paint, and it was a little annoying, because it made me feel self-conscious to have him looking at my every move. But I never said anything, because I saw that he enjoyed watching so much, and now that he is gone I find I really miss him sitting there!”

She always felt her late blossoming as a successful artist was Father’s achievement as much as her own!

I remember her talking about one of her still-lifes with a group of bottles. She said:"The bottles are like people. Some reflect back the light brilliantly, some more dully, and there is one dark bottle that only has a tiny spark in the bottom. It made me think of some gruff people who have their good side so deep inside them that you have to look hard to see it. But it’s there!”

Mother was always able to see that spark in every person.

(If you have your own memories to share of Hilda van Stockum as an artist, put them in the Hilda van Stockum Guest Book.)

The Making of an Artist
by Hilda van Stockum

Art was never, in the past ages, worshipped the way it is now. It was a skill – something you learned from a teacher and then practiced, like weaving or carving or sewing.

Artists had a guild, like others in those days who practiced a craft, and the guild set standards and working conditions. Nor was it necessary to be ‘original’. Great works of art were accomplished by co-operation, different people contributing to the whole.

So were the Cathedrals built, and the great pyramids.

When, exactly, did the idea arise that the artist was a superior person, and that what he did was ‘fine art’? Was it the conception of those people who bought art – or did the artist think it up himself? Or was it those who sold the art that wanted to give it a mystic quality?

Perhaps it was a little of each.

When churches needed artists, the very fact that the art was allied to worship (and really, that had always been so from primitive times, when people made their own gods) gave superiority to those artists who most successfully adorned the house of God.

So that a numinous quality had always belonged to this particular branch of craft, be it music, sculpture or painting. Then, too, it required a certain talent. But so does watch-making or cooking. Gifts and talents come into everything.

But when reproductions came in, where machines could substitute for the work of the hand, when the multiplication of one design could eliminate the need for more than one artist, then a new idea set in. The artist – suddenly made almost redundant, watching his work cheapened by multiplication, and worse still, seeing photography taking away the need for his skills – well, he had to hit back. He had to find and stress his own value. He had to proclaim his work superior to machine-made objects.

He drew attention to himself as creator. And he directed his talents to doing what a camera couldn’t do. Instead of meticulously copying nature, he played games with it, He used his talent to baffle and shock. No longer did he aim to please his clients, for they were already quite happy with the pretty things they could buy in the market.

It was necessary for the public to be made ashamed of their bourgeois taste, so that they would dig their hands in their pockets and pay the artist a living wage.

This only partly succeeded. The public did react with romantic interest to the idea of a genius striving in an attic. They liked to read books about him, they went to exhibitions to see the work, and realized that without a signature the work had much less value – and they began to speculate on a name. They began to buy a legend, rather than a picture.

But the majority of people couldn’t be bothered. They were satisfied with photographs and reproductions.

And so, though Vincent van Gogh starved all his life – people now have his sunflowers hanging in their homes by the thousands.

The artist became lonelier and lonelier. First, there were movements; Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism, Abstraction. But more and more the individual worked himself loose from cocoons – found his own style and exploited it. Picasso is a brilliant example.

And art-experts, critics and dealers all contributed to creating these semi-gods; the creators of hard-to-understand pictures, only open to the cultured and the knowledgeable. The idea of art as a craft had vanished.

Art Schools now taught ‘Art’ – not the techniques of painting. the art of composition and the blending and interaction of colors.

And the more the limelight was fixed on the personality of the artist, the poorer his art became, until people were glad when they ‘saw something’ in a picture that they could like.

Art is doomed until it goes back to the humble position of a craft. It is doomed because artists, whose real love is copying, now copy each other instead of nature (which is always new). They see themselves as geniuses whose every scribble should be venerated. They want to astonish and startle rather than please, and they have lost their respect for the means, the materials, the viability of what they are doing.

They have gained a weird sort of acclamation that seldom pays, and they have lost a useful craft.

Being an artist myself, but having made it secondary to being a mother and housewife – all these reflections have led me to the view that as things are now, to be a successful painter you have to deny the deepest urge you feel to reproduce the beauty you see in faces, in children, in nature – in the light on pots and pans.

And because I did not need to make money, because I could paint just for my own pleasure, I found I could learn to express that beauty, and I was happy. And I realized that art is a co-operation, always.

The artist doesn’t stand alone. He owes so much to his environment – to art galleries, to colors, paints, the quality of the canvas, books and reproductions, fellow-artists, the simple reaction of children and humble ordinary people… and to God too, the great Creator who gives inspiration and inspires us to further and further effort.

In a way, all art could be called an accident because so many things have to come together to achieve it. I myself had parents who encouraged me and gave me paper and crayons and praised my pictures. I had the good fortune to get lessons from a humble artist, who liked painting just what he saw – and who taught me to see.

I also could watch him at work and very much admired a dead rabbit he painted. It had been a family tragedy and the children had surrounded it with flowers and he depicted the whole with infinite tenderness. The critics panned it, but I saw the simplicity and beauty of it, even at the age of twelve, and the honesty of my teacher, who was not afraid of betraying his emotions.

Later I went to art schools, even after I was married, while my mother minded my babies. I painted in the living room. Soon as the children arrived and filled my life, my painting was just a holding action, like a duck swimming in a circle to prevent the water becoming ice.

I had talented children. My second daughter showed great promise from the first, but her appreciation of art was marred first by having to sit for me – though I did reward her, and she shared that onerous job with five brothers and sisters, and secondly, because it wasn’t glamorous to her.

“I don’t want to be a mother,” she said when she was six.

“Why not?” I asked, very surprised. I’d always wanted to be a mother and had filled my sketchbooks with pictures of my future children.

“Because I don’t want to be always painting,” said the child. I was relieved, and I explained that you could be a successful mother and never paint at all.

Of course the children were all around me when I painted. Sometimes I let them paint a picture at the back of my canvas while I painted the front. I was constantly amazed at the beauty of children, and wanted to capture it. But I didn’t particularly want my children to be artists.

It was complicating and financially not very rewarding. I felt that there was more to life than art. Artists were often very odd – and had deficiencies in character. I wanted my children to be straight and true as human beings. Also I remembered how I hated to be told things before I had discovered them for myself.

***

So I didn’t teach art to my children, but neither did I hinder them. They could pick it up if they wanted to, and when two of them showed real promise I sent them to art school.

When Brigid was ten she made lovely little paintings which were published in the Horn Book’ – a very special literary magazine, not generally available to the public. I didn’t want her to be prematurely exposed to the public. A school-friend of mine had a fairy-story of hers published at the age of 12 and that was it – she never did anything else, as if her early fame had frozen something in her. But Brigid was an interesting child, though I’d never really noticed it myself; she was just one of the family. Every one of them was delightful and together they made a little orchestra of human personalities, so that if one wasn’t there a note was missing.

But when we went to Holland after the war and my relatives in Holland saw my children for the first time, it was Brigid they noticed specially, and it frightened me. The way they talked about her as something set apart. And they asked me: “What are you going to do about Brigid? Isn’t it a great responsibility to have a gifted child?”

It had such an effect on Brigid. She didn’t get conceited – it wasn’t like that. Anyway, I wouldn’t have worried about that – o ther children soon knock that out of you.

But she was becoming odd – like a tree with too much wind on one side, so that it becomes crooked. I couldn’t wait to be back at home in Canada, where she would be part of the family again.

“Do with her?” I told my relatives, who asked what should I do with her: “She’ll grow up and perhaps her talents will stay with her and perhaps they won’t. What does it matter, as long as she is healthy and happy?”

Of course I rejoice in the fact that her talents stayed with her and that she is now a well-known and appreciated painter who makes people happy with her pictures. I’m happy about it and thank God for it, but it has really nothing to do with me. She was allowed to grow – that’s all!
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