Jan Wingen - a biography

wingen-1Jan Wingen                  flag-nl-50x30deze pagina in het Nederlands

"I paint neither trees nor clouds,
I paint neither water nor land,
neither castles nor churches:
I paint life."


See also:

the paintings by Jan Wingen

newspaper clippings about Jan Wingen

text of a booklet about his exhibition in 1944 (in Dutch only)

Edmond Wingen, son of Jan Wingen

                                                                                                              

 

Jan Wingen" a portret by Edmond Wingen


By Rutger Booy

The reason I became interested in the painter Jan Wingen was because my parents had two paintings by him. After my father died in 1980, I had the two paintings cleaned and reframed.

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Loosduinscheweg, Den Haag



I was curious to know more about these paintings, but my mother couldn’t remember where they came from. Only recently an aunt of mine told me that a cousin of my grandmother had been married to a man called “van Zuylen” and that he was a nephew of Jan Wingen. In the fifties and early sixties this man van Zuylen (click for photo) had a shop in The Hague at the Witte de Withstraat number 30, in which he sold, among other things, frames for paintings. Probably there lies the link how the paintings came into my family, but I’m still not sure. Perhaps my parents may have gotten them as a present for their wedding in 1948.

At the end of the last century little or nothing was to be found about this landscape-painter on the internet, so I went to the local library. Through their database I found out that only the University of Utrecht had a book, containing fourteen reproductions of paintings by Jan Wingen. It’s a very small book, dating from 1944, which was published on the occasion of Jan Wingen’s seventieth birthday. The complete text of the booklet is shown on a separate page, but it’s written in mid-twentieth century Dutch and unfortunately there’s no translation in English. In short it’s an extensive praise to a painter who didn’t bother with any contemporary fashion in art.

Jan Wingen was born in 1874 in Cologne, Germany. His full name was Johann Laurens Hubert Gottfried Wingen, but when at the age of fourteen he moved, together with his parents, to Maastricht in The Netherlands, he changed his name to Jan or Jean. He became a decoration-painter, but little or nothing from his work in those days has been spared. Just one house in Maastricht, built in 1900-1901 at Wilhelminasingel 104, has an almost unchanged, richly decorated interior with several wall-paintings of castles. These paintings are signed and dated by Jean Wingen, Dec. 1901.

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During the World War I, Jan Wingen discovered a procedure how to make paint, without using certain necessary materials that were unavailable during 1914-1918. This led to a commission to repaint the “Moerdijkbrug”. It was certainly a big commission for those days and for his company. This procedure, in which cheap waste sulphite liquor from the paper industry was used for some kind of fast drying basecoat, was patented by Jan Wingen in several countries. The Dutch, German, Swiss and American patents can be found in the database of the European Patent Office

One of his other works could be seen on a house in Maastricht. A blind wall was decorated with an advertisement for the car-makes Ford and Lincoln. This advertisement was also done with the special paint and was still quite readable until the house was demolished in the fifties.

Wingen_Ford_reclameUp to the middle of the nineteen-thirties Jan Wingen owned a company that specialized in decoration-painting. One of the assignments was the painting of an advertisement for the car makes Ford and Lincoln on the blind wall of a house in Maastricht. This advertisement was done with the special paint of which the procedure was developed by Jan Wingen during the First World War. It was still quite readable until the house was demolished in the fifties.

I'm also a car-enthusiast, I was very much interested in this fact, so I started searching for a photograph of this house. After some digging I contacted the "Regionaal Historisch Centrum Limburg" and they had in their archives precisely the image I was looking for.

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The picture was taken on September 21, 1944 one week after the liberation of Maastricht. Look at the house with the advertisement. The roof is damaged, many tiles are missing, but the house is still being lived in, judging by the Dutch flag with the orange pennant. The tired looking soldiers passing the railroad must be American soldiers, presumably of the 30th infantry division "Old Hickory”, which played an important role during the liberation of Maastricht. I can’t find any insignia on their uniforms, but that could be right, because even now the American army does not wear insignia on their uniforms during combat situations. Even the general looks like a common soldier.


The house stood on the crossroads of the ‘Meersenerweg-Scharnerweg-Heerderweg’ with the railway station on one side and the beginning of the ‘Akerstraat’ on the other side. The railway personnel wear prewar clothing. The rails do not connect to a siding (anymore), but the primary tracks are alright. The wooden sleepers under the rails have been taken out, to be used as fuel during the war. The house was demolished around 1950, presumably to improve the railway crossing.

The advertisement on the house is for the car brands Ford and Lincoln, represented in Maastricht by N. Fissette & Zn., a car dealer with premises on the ‘Scharnerweg 119 and 165 (click) and also on the ‘Kapoenstraat 7’. As American brands Ford and Lincoln were of course banned products during the war, but would the German occupation have gone as far to remove these kinds of advertisements? I doubt it. The Lincoln emblem in the form of a teardrop dates from the thirties when the streamlined Lincoln was introduced. In all kinds of images was shown how the ideal streamline was achieved. This teardrop becomes a brand-mark that can be found in every brochure and leaflet in those days. The painted advertisement is signed by J. Wingen. The only free expression of the painter is that he had to make the oval Ford-emblem just as large as the outside diameter of the Lincoln teardrop. To achieve this he also had to redesign the Ford-lettering.


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Showroom of Garage Fisette on the Scharnerweg 119 in 1937, with a 12 cylinder Lincoln Zephyr (photo collection Jac Maurer)

 

There have been more of those painted wall advertisements by Jan Wingen. On the premises on the 'Scharnerweg 119', Garage Fisette also had had a Ford-advertisement painted. The building still exists, but the wall on which the advert was painted, was later painted over in white, presumably when Garage Fisette ceased to exist. There has also been a house on the 'Bilserbaan' that had a blind wall painted with a signed advert for Ford. This one was light-blue with clear, white lettering. This house has also been demolished.

Another building on which a wall was painted with more than one advertisement can be found in Valkenburg, not far from Maastricht in the 'Lindenlaan' on the corner of the 'Jan Deckerstraat'.
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Wallpainting in Valkenburg, 1928 (collection Jac Maurer)


This picture probably dates from 1928 and all these advertisements are from companies based in Maastricht, the city where the decoration-company of Jan Wingen came from and where he built his reputation. Unfortunately there's no signature. Could it be Jan Wingen himself on the top of the scaffolding? The advertisements are, although vague, still visible after eighty years, which surely says something about the quality of the paint. The paintings exist of two layers. The outer layer has almost disappeared; the first layer looks weather-worn, but can still be recognized.


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photo's Rutger Booy

Jan Wingen used his spare time to make sketches of his surroundings. He was a flamboyant man, always optimistic, generous to everyone and he loved to be in the centre of attention. Handling money wasn't his strongest point however. One moment he was rich, the next moment poor as a church mouse. In the twenties and thirties he had a luxurious villa on a hill in Houthem, near Valkenburg in Limburg. Later the house burned down.

In 1935 Jan Wingen moved to the "van Kinsbergenstraat" in The Hague, where he reworked the sketches that he made in Maastricht into paintings. Also the surrounding countryside of The Hague was painted by him; especially the sea, the dunes and cloudy skies were depicted in a fashion true to nature. Jan Wingen was often called "the grey painter", because he was colorblind. Whatever the color, he called it "grey". For instance, he couldn't spot the difference between green and blue. Which makes it unbelievable that he could mix his colors on his canvasses, like he did with glowing sunsets and the rays of the sun through church windows and treetops. Whenever he felt inspiration to start a painting, he first made a rough drawing, and then started to work on the paint with a palette-knife. At those times he didn't want to be disturbed and worked very quickly in a state of inspiration. The resulting painting was either good or was discarded by him. With his kind of technique he wasn't able to make changes after the painting was finished. Only during the last years of his life he started to use brushes.


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"The Royal Palace in The Hague"



During World War II, Jan Wingen became a member of the “Kulturkammer”. As he said it was the only way to be able to keep on painting and to make living. After Word War II he kept on living in The Hague. For a short period he also made paintings under the pseudonym “Leontine” (his wife’s name). These were mostly portraits, done in a style very different from his own usual style.

Apart from several exhibitions in gallery 'Bennewitz' in The Hague (1944 and later), Jan Wingen has had several other exhibitions, among which an exhibition in the 'van Abbe Museum' at Eindhoven (1944); in the 'Panorama-Mesdag' in The Hague (1950) and the 'Suermondt-Museum' in Germany. Some newspaper clippings and pages from catalogues can be seen on a separate page (in Dutch only).

On the occasion of the seventieth birthday of Jan Wingen in 1944, an overview of his work and life was written by Anton Deering. It was printed on the presses of “Drukkerij van der Drift N.V.” in Delft. The reproductions of paintings by Jan Wingen are from photos by Jan Koet. Only 250 copies of the book were printed, of which 50 numbered copies were not for re-sale. Click here for the original text (which is still in mid-twentieth century Dutch).
Wingen_80_jaar

When Jan Wingen grew older he had very little money to live on and, when he needed something, he often paid with a painting. Even his bookkeeper was paid with a painting. In his atelier he kept a great number of paintings, some old, some new, some on linen or canvas, but also several on cardboard. He either sold them or used them as a means of payment. When he needed a frame for one of his paintings, he preferred to buy one in the color "off-white". And indeed my paintings used to have frames in that particular color. Unfortunately (in hindsight) I had those replaced in the nineteen eighties by more modern ones.



Wingen_81_jaar
Jan Wingen died in 1956 in a nursing home in The Hague at the age of 81.


See also:

the paintings by Jan Wingen

newspaper clippings about Jan Wingen

text of a booklet about his exhibition in 1944 (in Dutch only)

Edmond Wingen, son of Jan Wingen

Text Rutger Booy

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