life story of the artist Cornelis Zitman cannot be told often enough.
the 1940’s this builder’s son from Leiden attended the Royal Academy
of Visual Arts in The Hague where he made friends with Co Westerik and
fell in love with Vera Roos. When the defense of the Dutch colonial empire
threatened to call up the young painter, he fled to Venezuela.
1948 Vera Roos, his fiancé, followed him and they settled in the old
colonial town of Coro, where he worked in a small construction company and
learned a lot from two Italian cabinetmakers, immigrants like himself.
the meantime, Zitman continued to sketch and paint in his free time.
moving to the capital Caracas, around 1950, he started his own furniture
factory that developed into a company called Tecoteca, a kind of Ikea. But
in 1958, during a holiday on the island of Grenada he came to the
conclusion that he had had enough of the business and they stayed for
young family then stayed for three years in the Jordaan district of
Amsterdam, The Netherlands, as Zitman wanted to learn the craft of bronze
casting which he did at Pieter Starreveld’s foundry in Amersfoort.
the Zitmans had too much Latin verve to settle in the polder. This became
abundantly clear when Zitman shifted the front door of his house from one
canal to another, driving the municipal authorities to despair. In about
1964 Zitman was invited to teach at the design department of the School of
Architecture in Caracas and he and his family settled in the hills above
Caracas in a centuries-old sugar mill that Zitman converted into a unique
place for living and working as a sculptor. His earliest sculptural work
– a group of 23 small-scale sculptures – was exhibited in 1968 in the
major art museum of Caracas. He enjoyed growing recognition as a visual
artist. Shortly afterwards he received a visit from Dina Vierny, the
famous artist’s model who had established a flourishing art business in
post-war Paris and who would open the Musée Maillol in 1995. Vierny’s
meeting with Zitman resulted not only in the purchase of much of his works,
but also signalled the start of his international career, as Vierny would
organize exhibitions of her ‘cher sculpteur’ all over the world.
is unknown in The Netherlands. Only two museum collections there have any
of his work: at Boijmans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam (sketches) and
Beelden aan Zee Museum in Scheveningen (two sculptures). Queen Beatrix and
premier Lubbers were presented with works by Zitman on a state visit from
the Venezuelan president, and some private collections include Zitman
pieces. Over the past decades a bond of friendship has grown between Theo
and Lida Scholten, founders of Beelden aan Zee Museum, and Cornelis and
Vera Zitman. After the Scholtens bought their first Zitman in 1973 at the
Amsterdam Gallery d’Eendt, they sought out Zitman in Caracas. When
Beelden aan Zee opened its doors in 1994 it was the Scholtens’ great
wish to devote an exhibition to Zitman’s work. The upcoming donation of
six sculptures by the American collector couple Rothenberg brought that
exhibition within sight. In 2005 Zitman thereupon decided to donate all
the sculptures from his debut exhibition in Caracas to Beelden aan Zee.
These two donations are the core of the first retrospective of the
sculptor Cornelis Zitman on native soil – with 100 works.
great thanks go in the first instance to Cornelis and Vera Zitman, for
their generous contributions and stirring assistance in everything. Daniel
and Suzanne Rothenberg have ensured that the restless Zitman has now
dropped an anchor in The Netherlands after all. I thank Dick den Haas,
former ambassador to Venezuela, and Bertrand Lorquin, curator of the Musée
Maillol in Paris, for their excellent contributions to the catalogue.
Patronage of the project by the current ambassador Hinkinus Nijenhuis has
been extremely important. Art historian Joke Horde once again coordinated
the exhibition and publication to perfection. Finally I would like to
extend my gratitude to Dina Vierny, Olivier Lorquin, Vincent Mentzel, Wim
Weyland and all those who have given works on loan for their cooperation.