Etie van Rees (1890-1973)

Eecoline Adriane van Rees was born in 1890 in Buitenzorg (Java, Dutch East Indies). She was drawn to drawing at a young age and was mainly inspired by nature. At the age of 13 she came to the Netherlands to go to school here. When she was twenty, she studied for a year with the painter Bernard Schregel (1870-1956), but was subsequently brought back to the Dutch East Indies by her parents to get married. She had four children, but after a few years the marriage ended. Shortly after the First World War, she returned to the Netherlands, where she had ‘Het Spreeuwennest’ built on the Jagerslaan in Wassenaar. In her studio she painted, etched and drew. She would live here until 1938 with her cousin Nel van Genderen Stort.

When the children left the house they moved to the Van Boetzelaerlaan in The Hague. ‘Het Spreeuwennest’ was sold, but she kept part of the land and had a studio built on it (De Hut). During the war they spent several years on the Veluwe before returning to The Hague. In 1965 they moved to Aerdenhout where Etie van Rees died in 1973.

Etie van Rees discovered ceramics in 1952, more or less by chance. She made her first handformed clay pieces with clay that she had bought for someone else and “baked” them over a stove. The results were decorated with oil paint. She experimented further and not much later she bought an oven and also started to focus on glazes. Although she underwent a major development as an autodidact, the work always remained technically experimental in nature. The artist did not see herself as a ceramic artist, but in clay she found the ideal medium to be able to lightly depict her fantasy world. The experimentation was further enhanced by the frequent use of non-ceramic “accessories”, such as bird feathers.

In 1946 Etie (Eetie) van Rees wrote and illustrated a children’s book, De Nachtmannetjes, which was published by Uitgeverij W. van Hoeve. The story is about a girl who doesn’t want to sleep and secretly flees the house, where she meets the Night Men. A dream of course and during her dream she meets the most special creatures. The following passage is significant, when the protagonist sees a number of dancing bugs and flies: “You see that bugs and flies have faces.” The Nightman says, “Of course they have faces, almost all things have faces, as long as you can can see and not everyone is capable of doing that.” And when asked why they have such strange faces, she gets the answer:“ You must not forget that it is night Marjolijntje and that you are dreaming… The little animals are dreaming too, they look themselves up this way; and you dream that you see their dreams, you understand? “
These passages and remarks of the Night Man beautifully reflect how she viewed life. She thought that all life had the right to exist and had a soul. In her art she gave that soul its own face. She often let other people decide on a name for her creations. Etie van Rees almost always first made a sketch of the image she wanted to create and also used her graphic work from earlier times, as the illustrations in the aforementioned booklet would later also be worked out in part.

In the more than twenty years that she has been involved with ceramics, she has made an impressive amount of figurative pieces. The vast majority are (fantasy) animals, sometimes more recognizable than other times. She also made human figures, whether or not inspired by existing people. A good example is the figurine “De Nieuwe Hoed”.

Her work caught on from the start. In 1959 it was awarded a gold medal in Ostend. The definitive breakthrough came with the exhibition “Between humans and animals” in 1964, in Boijmans-van Beuningen. In the circles in The Hague where she went, she had a lot of contact with artists such as Kamerlingh Onnes, Elisabeth Gerst (both also “painters”), Lily ter Kuile and Gerda Wijmans. For the artist, who initially saw herself as a painter, the success of her ceramic work was strange, certainly because in the years before she had received little real fame with her graphic art. All in all, the ceramic work of Etie van Rees has made an important contribution to Dutch ceramics of the twentieth century.