Contemporary Art

Jan Schoonhoven: An Important Dutch Artist's Works on Paper

By Sotheby's

Jan Schoonhoven is known as one of the most significant Dutch artists of the second half of the 20th century. Born in 1914, Schoonhoven began making art as a child and would go on to become emblematic of reductionist art, utilizing a constrained set of media and techniques to create masterful works.

Schoonhoven’s ink drawings and paper reliefs paralleled his life outside of art. When he wasn’t creating artwork, Schoonhoven worked as a civil servant at the Dutch Postal Services for three decades. The routine nature of his employment was translated and transformed beautifully into his pieces – they are similar yet sovereign, structured while explorative. He was not interested in imagining new forms or concepts; rather, Schoonhoven spent his weekends and after-work hours by interpreting his surroundings and adapting them to the page.

Schoonhoven’s immediate environment influenced his artwork in practical ways as well. He made his art in the living room of his apartment in Delft, Holland, where he lived with his wife and child. The reliefs he created could be no larger than his sitting room table; if they were any bigger he would risk the art being too large to be brought down his building’s stairwell.

Schoonhoven founded the Nul-groep in 1960, an evolution of the German Zero group. He worked to create art that was “objectively neutral” and began to move away from painting, instead focusing on sculpture, a medium that complimented his affinity for minimalism, repetition and geometry. He explained, “For me, it is all about one white plane – free from any principle of painting, free from any interference that is foreign to the character of the plain. White is no Arctic landscape, it is not a material that brings to mind certain associations, nor a beautiful material nor a symbol of something else: a white plane is a white plane.” Schoonhoven applied this philosophy fully to his artwork, from his depersonalized aesthetic to the nondescript naming conventions he used to title his works.

Schoonhoven’s minimalistic ideology makes his ink drawings a particularly interesting point of his artistic career. Although his color palette and materials remained restricted, he departed from ridged geometric symmetry and instead experimented with expressive, bold, painterly strokes. Despite the varying strokes of each ink drawing, Schoonhoven was able to masterfully serialize the drawings by his selective color palette and working within a limited range of sizes.

Sotheby’s is pleased to present Contemporary Art Online: Jan Schoonhoven, a unique auction dedicated to the artist’s works on paper, all of which are being offered without a reserve. Bidding is open from now through 24 May. Click here to explore the sale.


LEAD IMAGE: JAN SCHOONHOVEN, T83–75, 1983. ESTIMATE $1,000–2,000.

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