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 Adriaan Jacob Barnouw  (1877 - 1968)

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Lived/Active: New Mexico / Netherland      Known for: landscape, portrait, figure

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Vase of Flowers
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following biography is based on "Moccasins and Wooden Shoes: American Indians and Dutch artists", a manuscript-in-progress by Pieter Hovens, Curator of the North American Department, National Museum of Ethnology, P.O. Box 212, 2300 AE - Leiden, the Netherlands. Any information about Barnouw and his work is appreciated by the author.

ADRIA(A)N J. BARNOUW (1877-1968)

Adriaan Jacob Barnouw was born on October 9, 1877 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, as the son of a physician. As a young boy he became interested in art and was a frequent visitor of the Rijksmuseum where he compiled his personal catalogue of the Old Dutch masters. He proved to be a competent draughtsman, but his father advised against an artistic career. Instead Barnouw studied medieval and modern languages, and history at the University of Leyden (1895-1900), and began to paint, developing his art outside academia. From 1902-1919 he taught Dutch and English languages and literatures at the Gymnasianum Haganum, and was a lecturer in English at Leiden University (1907-1913). During that time he became involved with literary and artistic circles in The Hague, continuing to paint, gradually developing his predominantly realist style.

In 1918 Barnouw moved to Americato co-edit the new "Weekly Review". The periodical folded after three years, but in 1920 Barnouw was appointed as lecturer of Dutch language and literature at Columbia University in New York. After a year this position was upgraded to a professorship, known as the Queen Wilhelmina Chair. Until 1949 Barnouw lectured on Dutch and English language, literature, art and history at Columbia. He lectured on Dutch art at the Institute of Arts and Sciences in New York. He published popular books on Dutch history, art and literature, a number of bulletins for the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Dutch painting, and articles for a variety of periodicals and magazines.

He is best known for his Monthly Letters (1924-1948, 1954-1961) for the Netherland-America Foundation, aimed at interpreting America for the Dutch, and the Netherlands for the Americans. He became to be regarded as the prime "cultural ambassador" between the two countries. In 1927-27 he travelled through the Dutch East Indies, and in 1932 Barnouw visited South Africa for the Carnegie Corporation and on his return wrote a critical treatise on the treatment of Blacks. During these travels he sketched and painted.

While developing his artistic skills, working in pencil, crayon and watercolors, Barnouw became especially interested in the physique and personality of individuals, including representatives of non-western peoples. Thus one finds many realistic portraits of ethnic types he encountered during his travels, and his work has therefore been characterized as "a human document.

Barnouw spent time in and around Taos, New Mexico, in the twenties and thirties to draw and paint valley scenes, and Indians at Taos Pueblo. In 1931 he drew Blackfoot Indians in Montana. In New York Barnouw made the acquaintance of Winold Reiss, although it is not know whether this was before or after he began painting Indians, a subject in which Reiss was an accomplished master.

In August 1934 an exhibition of Barnouw's work was shown at the Royal Art Academy in Amsterdam, and subsequently at the Kleykamp Art Gallery in The Hague, and at the Sears Roebuck & Company Galleries and the Argent Galleries in New York. The series was organized by the Netherlands- American Foundation whose primary aim was to promote exchanges between the two countries in the fields of science, literature and the arts. In New York the Century Club frequently exhibited Barnouws work in the latter part of the thirties.

The exhibition in The Hague consisted of forty drawings and watercolors of ethnic types, including North American Indians (Blackfoot, Taos), African tribesmen (Zulus, Kaffirs, Kikuyus) and several Asian and Caucasian types. In the latter category a trapper and a cowboy testified to Barnouw's interest in the history and culture of the American West. However, this was most clearly exemplified by the predominance of Indian portraits in the exhibition, among them "Turtle", "Dog-taking Gun", "Billy Big Springs", "Running Rabbit" and "Calf Tail". The judgement in artistic circles in the Netherlands about the combination of science and art in Barnouw's ethnic types was mixed.

During World War II Barnouw founded the Society of Dutch Scholars (1940), aimed at aiding emigré academics and artists, and he exhibited works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1942). After the war he criticized Dutch colonial policy in the East Indies and McCarthyism in the U.S. in his writings and lectures.

After 1940 Barnouw continued his painting in his Manhattan appartment and later, during the summers, on Shelter Island, even though his eyesight was gradually deteriorating, leading to several cataract operations. He wrote: "My father used to call me a boy with two left hands; but with that second left hand, which could not hammer a nail into the wall without hitting the thumb of the other, I learned how to draw and paint. I was fond of colors and lines, not of the straight line which you cannot draw without a ruler, but the moving line in which the hand that draws it in perfect freedom expresses an inner emotion. I was fond of words with which children and poets paint, words which, like chameleons, change color and meaning in the changing context in which they occur, words which are not facts but capricious symbols". He died in 1968.

Barnouw's artistic work in the public domain is rare, much of it still in private collections. Several works are curated at the Harwood Foundation in Taos.

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Adriaan Barnouw is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Taos Pre 1940

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