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Wessem, Jan Nicolas, van

    Full Name: Wessem, Jan Nicolas, van

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1922

    Date Died: 1993

    Place Born: Sittard, Limburg, Netherlands

    Place Died: Laren, Gelderland, Netherlands

    Home Country/ies: Netherlands

    Subject Area(s): aesthetics


    Director of the Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden, 1953-1967; professor of art history and esthetics at the Rijksacademie voor Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam, 1967-1982. Van Wessem grew up in the province of Limburg, in the southern part of the Netherlands. During World War II, after graduation from Gymnasium (high school), Van Wessem went into hiding. Following the liberation of the southern part of the country, in September 1944, he became liaison-officer in the Guards Armored Division of the British Army. Shortly after the liberation of the rest of the country (May 1945), he left active service and enrolled at Nijmegen University to study art history. After obtaining his B.A. he continued his study at Utrecht University under J. G. van Gelder, where he graduated in 1952. His M. A. thesis was on the Leiden painter Lucas van Leyden. In June 1953 he obtained the position of Director of the Municipal Museum De Lakenhal in Leiden. In 1956 he successfully organized the exhibition on Rembrandt and his pupils, “Rembrandt als leermeester”. In 1960 and 1966 respectively he held shows of the Leiden born painters Jan van Goyen and Gabriël Metsu. Van Wessem also paid attention to the work of contemporary artists, including the members of the Leiden association Ars Aemula Naturae. In 1960 he organized an exhibition of figurative drawings of nine local artists. In 1964, he published an overview of Dutch graphic art after 1945: Grafiek. Nederlandse grafiek na negentienvijfenveertig. Another field of interest was medals. Between 1959 and 1969 he served as the president of the Vereniging van Penningkunst (Medal Association). In 1967 Van Wessem accepted a professorship at the Amsterdam Rijksakademie voor Beeldende Kunsten, as the successor of Frithjof W. S. van Thienen. He quit his position in the Lakenhal and moved to the village of Laren. His inaugural lecture was titled: Creatie en reflectie. In the early 1970s he in addition obtained the position of director.Van Wessem was an enthusiastic and inventive teacher. The first years he regularly traveled with his students to Italy. Later he organized a yearly three week stay in the Dutch Institute in Florence. In 1973, the Italian prime-minister Aldo Moro granted Van Wessem a reward for his active promotion of Italian culture in the Netherlands. Another favorite country was the United Kingdom. Van Wessem gave guest lectures in Cambridge, London (Warburg Institute) and at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. In Laren he played a prominent role in the Singer Museum Laren where he was involved in the organization of art exhibitions, strongly defending artists who mastered traditional craftsmanship. For many years, between 1975 and 1992, he held a teaching position at the Nederlandse Film en Televisie Academie in Amsterdam, where he attracted many students. In 1988, as an active contributor to the jubilee exhibition of the Vereniging van Penningkunst, he published Nederlandse Penningkunst, his last major publication. He underwent serious surgery in 1990 and died three years later. Van Wessem highly valued craftsmanship in art and desparaged modern art where that was less evident. In 1960, his outspoken preference for representative art was criticized by Leiden artists and galleries who disapproved his rather conservative attitude regarding new developments in the art scene

    Selected Bibliography

    [bibligraphy:] “Voornaamste geschriften” in Moerman, Ingrid W. L. “Jan Nicolas van Wessem” Jaarboek van de Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde, 1994, 168; Negen Leidse tekenaars. Leiden: Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, 1960; Grafiek. Nederlandse grafiek na negentienvijfenveertig. Hilversum: De Boer, 1964; Jan Sluijters. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1966; Creatie en reflectie. (Inaugural lecture Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam, 1967); Nederlandse Penningkunst. The Hague: SDU, 1988.


    Moerman, Ingrid W. L. “Jan Nicolas van Wessem” Jaarboek van de Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde, 1994: 161-168;

    Contributors: Monique Daniels


    Monique Daniels. "Wessem, Jan Nicolas, van." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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