The Dutch Orientalist

Aard Streefland tells the story of Marius Bauer

  • A caique on the Bosphorus

One of the stars of Orientalism, the summer exhibition at Istanbul’s Sakıp Sabancı Museum (SSM), is Marius Bauer (1867–1932), the Netherlands’ best-known Orientalist. In the late 19th century, while other Dutch artists were preoccupied with the streets and landscapes of their home country, Bauer found his own niche by heading eastwards. During his life he would make several trips to Istanbul, recording the everyday life of the city in lively sketches and atmospheric pastel drawings.

Marius Bauer was born in The Hague on January 25, 1867, the youngest of six children. His father owned a painting-and-decorating shop. From an early age, Marius showed a passion for illustration, and at 13 he was admitted to the city’s Royal Academy of Art. In his late teens he was encouraged to join the Dutch Etching Club by the painter and writer Philippe Zilcken, who kindled his enthusiasm for the East by telling him about his travels in Algeria.

At the age of 21, Bauer met the art dealers EJ van Wisselingh, who recognised his talent and financed his first trip to Turkey. He set off in early October 1888, taking a train to Marseille and then travelling by boat, via Smyrna, to Istanbul. He stayed there until the end of the year, overwhelmed by his impressions of the city, which prompted him to dash off five sketchbooks of drawings and to produce around 100 larger pastels.

The drawings would later inspire a series of etchings, which in turn would produce some very lucrative prints for Van Wisselingh. An exhibition devoted to his etchings opens in May this year in Mardin. Bauer’s experiences in Istanbul are recorded in correspondence with family and friends, which he often illustrated. In one missive to his sister Fré, he wrote: “My letter has now become riddled with little drawings rather than words.” A sociable and adventurous man, he noted: “Sometimes I walk through Istanbul with a cigarette and if anyone sees that I don’t have a light they will offer one. One time a boy even came out of his shop to be of help with some coal.”

He returned to Istanbul in 1892, filling four more sketchbooks, and again in 1896, by which time he was writing for De Kroniek, the highly respected Dutch weekly magazine (to which he also contributed 52 cartoons, under the name Rusticus). He regaled its readers with details of his visit to a dervish monastery, and of an excursion to the Sweet Waters of Asia, showing that he could conjure colourful pictures with words as well as with his art. On the river that gives the Sweet Waters its name, he observed “many little boats with veiled women who take in the scenery with childlike pleasure”. At the water’s edge, “next to an elegant palace, one finds a large field surrounded by beautiful trees with, in front, a group of ancient and magnificent plane trees. These provide shade for a broad terrace with a fountain, beautifully constructed out of white marble and decorated with ornaments and calligraphy in gold.”

Bauer’s writing didn’t always please: he had outraged many of De Kroniek’s liberal-minded readers earlier that year, when he travelled to Moscow and filed a somewhat overenthusiastic account of the crowning of Tsar Nicholas II.

Bauer would return again to Istanbul – in 1899, on his way to Syria and Palestine; in 1904, when he combined Istanbul with Bursa, Izmir and Egypt; and in 1911, again taking in Syria and Palestine. By then he was also enchanted by India, where he had spent four months in 1897–98. His later, large-scale etchings of the Ganges and the great mosque in Delhi were to make him more widely known, his frequent use of chiaroscuro inviting comparisons with Rembrandt.

In 1902, Bauer married Jo Stumpff, the daughter of Amsterdam’s leading orchestral conductor, who became a member of a group of female artists known as the Amsterdamse Joffers. Together the Bauers went on to visit Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and India, making one last long trip to the East Indies in 1931. A year later, Marius died in Amsterdam at the age of 65.

During his lifetime, his passion for Istanbul was expressed in architecture as well as art: in 1901 he commissioned his architect brother Willem to build him a residence in the smart Dutch village of Aerdenhout, which he named the Villa Stamboel.

a.a.streefland@gmail.com

This year [2013] Marius Bauer’s work is included in 1001 Faces of Orientalism at the Sakıp Sabancı Museum (from April 25) – a tribute to Edward Said’s book Orientalism, published 35 years ago. His etchings are at the SSM’s Mardin City Museum, May 15–Sept 29. muze.sabanciuniv.edu Schiedam’s Stedelijk Museum held a major Bauer exhibition for the 2012 celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Dutch–Turkish relations. stedelijkmuseumschiedam.nl/

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