Reactor

When Painting Labels Do Their Job

by Hrag Vartanian on December 3, 2012

On the left is Johan Van Hell’s “Musical Saw” (1934) and, on the right, is Nola Hatterman’s “On the Terrace” (1930) at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

While touring Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum last week, I encountered a fantastic label for a painting by Nola Hatterman that did what a good art work label should do, mainly providing the context that augments the experience of looking, while connecting the work to our own time and place.

The label that caught my attention at the museum was for an easel-sized work by Dutch modern painter Nola Hatterman. The painting, which is placed in a room of works that explore portraiture between the two World Wars, sits across from Max Beckmann’s “Double-Portrait of the Artist and His Wife Quappi” (1941) and adjacent to Johan Van Hell’s rather homoerotic “Musical Saw” (1934). What makes Hatterman’s painting particularly poignant is that it grapples with many issues that are common today, including commercialism, migration, and identity. The label says it all, just like a good label should.

Nola Hatterman’s “On the Terrace” (1930) (click to enlarge)

Here is the English-language label at the Stedelijk:

Nola Hatterman
Amsterdam (NL), 1899 – Brokopondo (SR), 1984

On the Terrace, 1930

oil on canvas
acquired in 1931

The man feature in this painting, Jimmy van der Lak, emigrated from Suriname to Amsterdam, where he found fame as a boxer, barman, and cabaret artist. By including the newpaper open to advertisements of cabaret performances, Nola Hatterman indicates the role played by the subject in the city’s nightlife. Hatterman painted in a style known as the New Objectivity (Nieuwe Zakelijkheid), in which objects often disclose details of the subject’s background. Hatterman was commissioned to paint the portrait by the Amstel Brewery, but the company did not consider the piece suitable for advertising their product. Raised in what was consider a ‘colonia milieu’, Hatterman said that she felt black on the inside. She settled in Suriname in 1953, where she founded an art school.

The label made me curious to know more about both these curious figures (artists and model) and I found this short video about the life and times of Jimmy van der Lak, which provides more information about the Suriname-Dutch celebrity and the curious context for the portrait.

In addition to mentioning the fact that he often worked as an extra in movies, boxed under the name Jimmy Lucky, and worked as a model at the Rijks Academy of Arts, the video mentions:

In 1930 Nola Hatterman painted a portrait of Jimmy in an outdoor café. Hatterman uses several motives symbolizing Jimmys occupations at the time. The clenched fist represents the boxer Lacky. The performances in the newspaper represent the artist Lucky and the glass of beer, the bartender Lucky.

Artists like Nola Hatterman (1899-1984) also had political and social reasons for painting black people. In the 1920s and 1930s many artists were communists, they viewed Afro-Americans as the main victims of capitalism.

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