Julies biography

 

1903-1908

I was born in Java on February 8, 1903. My father, a Dutch engineer who had studied in Delft and Antwerp, was the Administrator of a sugar refinery there. At that time everything was not yet mechanized (automated) and they had to go out and inspect the sugar plantations themselves. During a reception of the Governor of a province he met a young lady, the sister of the wife of the Governor. Her name was Julie von Boddien, they fell in love and married soon afterwards. They had only one child, a girl named Julie Henriette Eugénie van der Veen, which soon became Kiki, my pet name. I can still remember that I had a cart with a small horse in front of it, a pony, and that I was cruising around the paths of our garden and the roads of the factory, and that we had five dogs, which were necessary for our house. and protect the garden against intruders. But we suffered a lot from malaria, at that time the factory was still surrounded by wild nature with a small river nearby, it was very humid and it was teeming with mosquitoes; we constantly had fever attacks, and my father, a serious worker, had not been on vacation for a long time.

 

After daddy's years of hard labor, we went back to the Netherlands in 1908, also because Daddy got malaria. We sailed through the Suez Canal where we went to Cairo and we saw the pyramids of Giza. We had two camels and a pony that drove us around, that was beautiful!

 

1908 - 1923

When we arrived in Holland I was five years old, I spoke better Javanese than Dutch. Mama had been a teacher in the Dutch East Indies and she was my teacher in the first years of primary school. The doctors in the Netherlands thought it better that my father did not return to the Indies, so he bought a house in The Hague, where I lived a very happy life together with my dear parents. But in high school I had problems with the director, I was not stupid but for algebra I had a five (out of ten); I thought that was enough, but the director thought I could not move on to the next class. She had no right to do so and everything my father tried to convince her failed. For that reason I was removed from that school and my parents sent me to a boarding school in Lausanne, a boarding school for young girls, where I spent a very happy year. There it was that I started painting, flowers on porcelain vases and plates, I thought that was very nice. Then my mother came to take me back and on our way to our house in The Hague we stayed a few days in Paris, where we visited all kinds of beautiful performances by Mistinguett and Maurice Chevalier, and later also the great discovery Josephine Baker who sang J'ai deux amours, mon pays et Paris! and became a major international celebrity.

 

After a few years at home in The Hague, I wanted to continue drawing, I took an entrance exam at the Academy for Visual Arts and was immediately admitted to the second class. There I became friends with Sierk Schröder, he was almost as old as I and could draw beautifully. Mama invited him to give me extra lessons, then he came to us very shy and we sat quietly in the front room while Mama looked out from the living room if everything went well. We were quite in love with each other, but it did not become a thing, because I was gone again and again.

At the academy we had to copy heads of white lime and often also still lifes. But at that time many people became ill, many died of the Spanish flu, and I myself became ill too. Little by little I got better but not quite, the doctors advised mommy, my father was already deceased from the flu, to live in a country with a softer and drier climate and lots of sun. With that advice, Mom and I went to Juan-les-Pins in the South of France, then to Nice and Cannes and Monte-Carlo. I met charming young men of Russian nationality who had left their homeland during the red revolution against the tsar. Those young Russians were very poor, they worked well but earned little and therefore tried their chances on the roulette tables, and so mom and I started to visit the casinos. Mama had lost almost the entire capital that my father had earned with his work in the Indies as a result of unfortunate speculation. As a result, she sold our house in The Hague, which I really regretted.

 

1924 - 1940

And that's how life began in hotel rooms, in the summer in the South and in the winter in Paris, where we were lucky that we could rent a small furnished room in the hotel and where I picked up the drawing again and made sketches of nudes in the Grande Chaumière. You could work there for several hours after buying a receipt. One day a boy was sitting next to me who was observing my work and told me it might be good for me to take painting lessons at the academy of André Lhote at the Impasse de la rue d'Odessa. I went there then. But before that time I had already bought some tubes of oil paint, although I did not really know how to use them. Lhote had the habit of inviting painters and students to his studio once a week, then he showed them his sketches for the large canvases he wanted to make and drawings that were intended for his books, because Lhote was also a great writer of art books and he had visited Egypt with the tombs of the pharaohs and the decorated and engraved walls. Anyway, on a small piece of cloth that I had put on a chassis in the paint shop, I believe it was in Rue Vavin, close to the metro station Vavin, I painted a painting that I called La Vie and that Lhote recommended me to sent to an exhibition in Metz, where I was honored to my great surprise with a Diplôme de Médaille d'Or!

La vie (1929)
La vie (1929)

But the monitor at the school of André Lhote, a Russian boy, Monsieur (Nicolas) Poliakoff, explained to me what paint I should use to make it much smoother and easier to spread on my palette, et cetera. I worked there every morning, paid monthly to Monsieur Poliakoff, the senior, but in the summer I worked there in the afternoon. We wore a jacket of canvas to keep our clothes from getting dirty and under the balcony we had boxes where we could store our cloths and above us there was a balcony where occasionally a second model posed to make portraits. But I did nothing more than paint nudes and I always wanted to make compositions with a landscape in the background.

I painted the landscapes by heart. On one occasion, Lhote taught theory for a week, which was very interesting, he explained how the old masters such as Michelangelo and others painted on canvas and on walls, such as Velasquez, Daumier, Rembrandt, etc., and how they used coordinates for the great compositions and how they help to paint a canvas immediately. He also taught us how Matisse painted with colors and did not paint the shadows as Rembrandt did. During those lessons I heard that Fernand Léger also gave lessons, I went there and worked there for two months. He used to throw a few objects on the table, a shoe, a glove, a bicycle wheel, etc., and then we had to compose a cloth. I quickly went back to Lhote because at Léger you were made a Léger, while Lhote left you much freer, he tried to correct you much more in your own style.

 

I also followed courses for several months with the painter Gromaire. But my first painting with him was a naked man seated on a dirty, unpainted yellow wooden stool that I had then painted in fresh, lively red. And there comes Gromaire to correct me, he got furious from my canvas and shouted that it is forbidden to change colors of objects, you have to paint that with ocher and make the dirt! The other pupils were completely silent and when they recovered they wanted to know if I would continue with this course or leave. No, I said, I think he is actually right so I will continue and I will try to keep following him. But after half a year I did not go there anymore and I went back to Lhote. There I met a student, Nina Négri, who made engravings and she was the one who asked me to come and work with Bill Hayter. I went with her and learned to make my own color engravings and print them on paper. Hayter was a demanding teacher; he corrected the least weight of the engraving line on the copper. But I learned well, in such a way that I was one of the few students who was allowed to handle the big press, which was locked up in a small room with glass walls and a door that was always locked. And so I learned to print on canvas, a piece of natural silk, and on crepe paper, something like that, and on a large piece of cream-colored, supple fabric, I printed an engraving in every corner while another student helped me to keep the material out of the fold. I succeeded very nicely, but unfortunate enough I left the wallet with the canvas somewhere in Paris, probably in a cafe where I had eaten a croissant with a cup of coffee. There were more engravings that were successful and that I wanted to sell and some sketches of paintings that I wanted to make.

 

So I came home very sad, that all my new ideas were lost.

At that time, of course, I had all kinds of fiançals with nice young men, but I did not want to get married, because they were all short romances. Except for one man, Yunis Bahri, I have been married with him for a few months, he was my great love. I met him in the Monte Carlo casino in 1928. He came to sit at the table with Mama and was looking at me all the time. I fell in love, we got engaged in The Hague in 1929, with reception at Hotel Des Indes. I was so happy! Yunis had been through so much, he was born in Mosul in Iraq, his father had been Governor of Baghdad, he was a journalist and traveled all over the world, he could tell so nicely. Mama loved him too, but my aunts did not trust him and did not think he was a good party to me. That was growing and so I was sent out to find out at the Dutch Embassy in Paris who my fiancée Yunis Bahri really was and whether his stories were right. On 5 December 1930 I went by train to Paris, for the first time without my mother, and I found out at the consulate who my love was. In part, his stories were true, and in part they were not true, his father had not been a Governor of Baghdad. The consul advised me not to marry him and that I had to take care. Then I ended the engagement, he lied too much and he had always asked for money.

 

Shortly thereafter I got a relationship with a Turkish boy, Djamel he was called. He invited me to come to Istanbul and I went there and there I painted. He was a sweet boy, but he too did not fit me.

After that I was dating a French young painter, Gérard he was called, we were very in love, but we got into a fight and that was it. Then there were Maurice and Léon, but with them it became nothing.

 

And then Yunis came back into my life. He wrote to me that he had a job in Berlin and asked me to come there. I was busy in Paris at the time, painted a lot and had exhibitions, so I did not really want to, but he kept insisting and then I went anyway, by train on 5 December 1939. We celebrated Christmas in Berlin together and were married there, on 29 December 1939. Yunis worked for the German world broadcasting as a journalist for the Arab world, he had a radio program in which he read the news about Germany. He never told me anything about it and it is not until many years later that I learned that he was spying for the English. Shortly after our marriage I was already unhappy, Yunis came home late, then I was alone all night, with no one I knew. Yunis apologized then that he was obliged to go to the club and that he was sorry that I was alone. In April 1940 we were separated, at the same embassy of Afghanistan where we were also married. I left Berlin and came back to mama in The Hague on May 9, 1940, a few hours before the Germans invaded our country.

 

1940 - 1963

The first day I did not know where I was, I was like a zombie, while so much happened. When the weather was quiet, I calmed down and I was glad that I was away from Berlin on time. I was worried about Yunis, it took a month before he wrote. He asked me where he should send my things. In the hurry I had left it with him. I wrote him to The Hague!

 

And like everyone else, we had a hard time at that time. We had almost no money left to live decently. I therefore did my best with painting to sell them. I knew art dealers who offered to me exhibit. I liked to do that, but then I had to sign a statement first and signed it because otherwise it did not work out. This is how I exhibited in art galleries at Prins Mauritsplein and Noordeinde in The Hague. A lot did not matter, there were few people and actually I should not have been able to exhibit, because when the war was over, I got a message from the ministry that I was no longer allowed to exhibit. Mama and I were already so furious at an article in an NSB newspaper and then that!

 

But that did not last long, in June 1946 I had an exhibition again. I wanted to become a member of an art club at the time, first I had contact with Art et Industriae but they did rather difficult, I had to appear for a ballotage and I did not feel like it. Then I became a member of the Haagse Kunstkring at the Denneweg and I stayed there all my life. When I first came they were not so friendly, but that changed happily.

 

I longed for Paris, I had so many colleagues there and I wanted to see Lhote again and paint with him. In the Netherlands I had no good reviews, I wanted to improve my technique and I could do that better in Paris, there you had many more exhibitions and I could sell. Luckily we got Drees then and we were able to get a little better. Aunt Henriette and aunt Elize sent us money every month, they were angry that we had almost nothing.

 

Finally I went back to Paris, in July 1947. I stayed with our friend Madeleine Frottier, in the Rue Mouton-Duvernet, she was kind enough to invite me. I had a small room with an apartment with all comfort and hot water. It was wonderful to be back in Paris, nothing had changed and I was so sorry that I had not taken my paint box with me, because I wanted to paint immediately! The next day, in the rue d'Odessa, when I went to the police to register, I met Poliakoff, we almost collided! He helped me with my paperwork and then we used something together in a café. We had so much to tell each other. Lhote had just left for the countryside, which I found so unfortunate. In his studio there was no model yet, they did still lifes and I was allowed to work for free.

So the next day I went there and saw my old friends again. And there was also a new boy who knew Djamel, my Turkish friend, with whom I was then in Istanbul. He knew so much about him, then we went to an exhibition later.

 

In the morning I painted at Lhote and in the afternoon I made drawings with Madeleine. I then went to an exhibition of Lhote, He had become so good in color, and I wanted to make my colors better, Lhote would help me with that.

 

And so I returned to mama in The Hague at the end of August 1947. She was now 73 years old and started to weaken, she had many ailments but was still happy with her two sisters Henriëtte and Elize, so close to her in the neighborhood.

During the war Aunt Elize lived in Ambt Vollenhove, and Aunt Henriette in The Hague, in the Van der Woertstraat. Elize then went to live with her and Mama often visited them there. At that time we lived in the Galileïstraat, before we had several houses, which we sold and then we moved again. We liked having pets, I had a turtle, Daphné, who always walked around in my studio when I was working. And we also had little birds, sometimes a wounded one, that we took care of. We found it sad to leave them in the cage all day, so we let them fly around in the living room, in the evening they went back to their cage. I also painted birds, pigeons, which I liked to watch. Mama became a member of the bird protection, then we knew what to do when it was very cold.

In the summer of '48 I went back to Paris and I stayed in Hotel Belfort in the Rue Sophie Germain, a small room, but I did not mind, it was much worse that Yunis was in Paris as well. He had a newspaper, Al-Arab, for the Arab world, his office was at Rue Vivienne, in the second arrondissement. When he found out that I was in Paris, he wrote me. He wanted to meet me, we spoke in a cafe, I was very nervous of course. He told me about his new work and I asked how it ended in Berlin and then he told me that he was a spy to the English and that I then was not allowed to know that. I could not believe my ears, but he was so serious, I thought maybe it's true. I did not go into his advances then and after that I did not hear from him anymore.

 

And again I had bad luck that Lhote was not there, Poliakoff was there and it was nice to see him again. I continued my work in Lhote's studio.

 

And so it went on, in the summer and winter in Paris, spring and autumn in The Hague! And everywhere I painted and I had exhibitions.

But mommy got sick more and more often, she needed more care, so I could not leave her alone anymore. That was in 1955, we had just moved to a flat in the Weldamstraat, which we got from the municipality. I had set up a small studio there, it was cozy. Mama was often in bed, her health went backwards and then she died, in 1961, a few months after her sister Henriëtte also died. I was so sad, fortunately I had comfort with Aunt Elize, but two years later she also died.

 

1963 - 1997

Then I did not have anyone, except for a few friends and colleagues.

 

I then became a professional painter, affiliated with the Haagse Kunstkring, after they had seen my small painting with which I had won the Médaille d'Or in France. I did not even have to appear before a jury. After that I visited the studio of the painter Willem Schrofer once a week, I became friends with his wife Hannie Schrofer-Bal who lived in Voorschoten at the time and I rented her husband's studio when he died. Once a week she organized exhibitions of all kinds of artists, the openings of these exhibitions were always fun and festive. 

 

Hannie sold her home and the studio on the Molenlaan, and she bought a very nice house in The Hague. And now, as a result of a skin infection on my legs, I can no longer go out or walk outside, and nurses come to take care of me and bandage my two legs, which I keep checking with the dermatologist who prescribes creams. The year 1987 was horrible for me by the renovation of my studio, during that time I could not work, now I find my tubes of paint back and the pencils and I occasionally make a drawing again.

 

The Hague, 1 September 1990


Epilogue

 

Julie died on 10 January 1997 in a nursing home in Scheveningen. She is buried at churchyard Oud Eik and Duinen. During the memorial service in the auditorium, "J'ai deux amours, mon pays et Paris" was sung by Josephine Baker, her favorite artist.

 

In Julie's last years, Hannie and Narcisse continued to visit her and organized exhibitions. Julie could no longer be present at the openings, she had become too weak, but she enjoyed the interest. 

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