A Dutch Impressionist

Willem Bastiaan Tholen (1860-1931)

from 21 September to 15 December 2019

Open every day except Monday, from 12 to 6 pm


Tholen was a prolific artist who tried his hand at a great variety of subjects. Although his landscapes and seascapes are the most familiar of his works, his urban views and interiors are often more arresting. He was interested above everything else in atmosphere, colour and light. His work is related to the paintings of the naturalist movement known as the Hague School, and also to those of the Amsterdam Impressionists, yet Tholen enjoyed less attention than some of his contemporaries.

The exhibition opens with the artist’s early works. As of 1880, Tholen regularly visited the isolated village of Giethoorn and he was the first artist to study this unusual village with its bridges and canals, where almost all communication was by boat. Tholen’s first taste of success came with the vast landscapes of the peat bogs around Kampen and his picturesque views of Giethoorn.

Willem Bastiaan Tholen, River Landscape, 1882
Oil on canvas. – 97 × 149.5 cm
Museum Gouda, Gouda, inv. no. 10683
© Photo Tom Haartsen

Although Tholen’s earliest paintings follow the tradition of the Hague School, with atmospheric landscapes in mostly grey hues, some of his paintings of Giethoorn, which he visited usually in summer, reveal brighter colours and are bathing in sunlight.

In 1885, the artist Willem Witsen (1860-1923) invited Tholen to Ewijkshoeve, a large property in a forest and an important meeting place for artists, writers and musicians. The painters who gathered there aspired to a more personal, sensitive style than the one in vogue at the time and looked for modern, often urban, subjects to paint.

Willem Bastiaan Tholen, Vegetable Garden at Ewijkshoeve, 1895
Oil on canvas on panel. – 32 × 40.2 cm
Private collection, Dordrecht

Tholen explored new motifs while at Ewijkshoeve and produced a large number of paintings, prints and drawings which attract our attention by their unexpected points of view. The paintings he executed during the period 1885-1903 are considered to be the best and most modern of his output. He took inspiration from his immediate environment, from the poetry of the everyday, the simplest things becoming potential subjects. For example, he was fascinated by the vegetable garden and its cold frames, making a number of paintings and etchings of the scene.

Willem Bastiaan Tholen, The Arntzenius Sisters, 1895
Oil on canvas. – 38.3 × 58.8 cm
Museum Gouda, Gouda, inv. no. 55498
© Photo Tom Haartsen

In 1886, Tholen moved to The Hague where he was to remain for the rest of his life. With his wife, he lived from 1890 on the first floor of the Kanaalvilla. Bram Arntzenius (1850-1920) resided on the ground floor of the same villa, with his wife and six children. Tholen often drew and painted the Arntzenius children during the 1890s. One of these works is regarded as one of his finest paintings: The Arntzenius Sisters now in the Museum Gouda.

Willem Bastiaan Tholen, Houses Under Construction, 1895
Oil on canvas. – 42 × 66 cm
Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, inv. no. KM 108.927
© Photo Rik Klein Gotink

During these same years, Tholen painted a number of urban views, including the sunlit painting of construction workers in The Hague. The same interest in the world of work can be found in the view of the interior of an abattoir, or the picture of an alleyway where a delivery man is chatting to a domestic servant.

Willem Bastiaan Tholen, Jetty, Enkhuizen, 1918
Oil on canvas on panel. – 30.5 × 40.5 cm
Private collection, The Netherlands
© Photo P. den Ouden, Van den Dool Sliedrecht

In 1901, Tholen commissioned a traditional sailing boat, the Eudia, to be built and sailed it around the Dutch lakes. From this time on he concentrated more and more on seascapes and views of fishing villages, with their harbours and boats. Tholen used a number of original framing devices to show fairly simple subjects to their advantage, as for example a jetty with a tight composition.

The final part of the exhibition is devoted to the artist’s oil sketches and drawings. A particularly gifted and prolific draughtsman, he filled a large number of sketchbooks, and often sketched en plein air.

Tholen’s art is timeless. Movements like De Stijl and Expressionism had no influence on him, in spite of the fact that he continued to work until 1931, the year of his death.

The retrospective, organised jointly by the Fondation Custodia and the Dordrechts Museum, contains about one hundred works (paintings, drawings, prints), from Dutch museums and private collections as well as from the Fondation Custodia.


The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue in Dutch, with an introduction and biography translated into French; a booklet with notes on the paintings in French and English is also available.

Willem Bastiaan Tholen (1860-1931). Een gelukkige natuur
Edited by Marieke Jooren
Uitgeverij THOTH, Bussum, 2019
320 pages, 300 colour illustrations, 24 × 28 cm, paperback
ISBN 978 90 6868 793 4
29,95 €

To order this book, please fill out the form below. You will receive an invoice by e-mail, including package and postage fees. Payments can be made by bank transfer.

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Practical Information


Fondation Custodia / Collection Frits Lugt
121, rue de Lille - 75007 Paris
Tel: +33 (0)1 47 05 75 19

Access by public transport

Metro: Assemblée Nationale (line 12) or Invalides (lines 8 and 13)
RER C: Invalides or Musée d’Orsay
Bus: lines 63, 73, 83, 84, 94, Assemblée Nationale
Vélib’: station opposite (n° 7009)

Opening hours

Every day except Monday, from 12 to 6 pm

Admission charges

Admission charges 10 € (full) / 7 € (reduced)
The reduced rate is available to seniors (over 60), unemployed people, groups of at least 10 people

Free admission: students, press card, ICOM card, disabled person’s card

No online reservations


Possibility to visit the exhibition W.B. Tholen, a Dutch Impressionist with a conference guide on the following dates (in French): Tuesday 15 October at 12.30 pm, Wednesday 23 October at 12.30 pm (fully booked), Thursday 7 November at 12.30 pm (fully booked), Friday 22 November at 12.30 pm (fully booked), Saturday 30 November at 12.30 pm (fully booked).
Admission: price of the exhibition ticket
Reservation required: visites@fondationcustodia.fr

The exhibition Willem Bastiaan Tholen (1860-1931), a Dutch Impressionist is organised in collaboration with the Dordrechts Museum (Netherlands), where it will be presented from 9 February to 31 May 2020.