The RS monogram on PZH objects

For many years there have been plenty of discussions about who painted the PZH P décor pieces with monogram RS. The name most frequently coupled with this monogram is Roelof Sterken, master painter at Rozenburg till 1904 and subsequently at many other ceramics companies. The quality of the PZH RS marked pieces would definitively support this attribution. In comparison with pieces with the same décor but from other top painters, the RS signed pieces frequently stand out in both painting techniques and detailing of the décor. This in itself is a powerful argument to consider Roelof Sterken (born 1877) as the painter of the PZH RS objects. Through archive research, Dennis van den Hoek has been able to follow his career from employer to employer:

  • Rozenburg: from 25 August 1894 to 18 March 1904 (surviving workbooks show full-time employment over this whole period)
  • Haga: he moved from The Hague to (or was registered in) Purmerend on 15 July 1904, and moved back to The Hague on 7 May 1907.
  • De Kroon’ Noordwijk: He lived for four months in Noordwijk from 4 February until 9 June 1908. 
  • Amphora Oegstgeest: 1908-1909, he could have commuted from The Hague as he only moved to Leiden on 21 April 1909 and moved back to The Hague end June 1909.
  • St Lukas Utrecht: he moved 25 August 1909 from The Hague to Utrecht and moved back to The Hague on 1 February 1911 but could have continued to commute to Utrecht.
  • After 1913 we know he owned and operated Nieuw Rozenburg in The Hague from 1919-1923 and worked afterwards for Ram in Arnhem. He moved on 17 August 1927 from The Hague to Renkum near Oosterbeek, his profession still “plateelschilder”.

This leaves precious little time for working at PZH in the period c1901-c1907 when the RS signed PZH pieces were created, at most four months in 1904 and less than 8 months in 1907.

The vase model 218 depicted on the right has an unusual décor without any hatching and is signed RS. Based on a period photo of a similar vase we know the model and decor are from before mid-1902. The decor might even pre-date P decor and be from before 1901. Compared with P decor from between 1901 and 1904 it is practically unimaginable that this vase was painted much after 1902. It is therefore questionable that Roelof Sterken can have painted this vase in Gouda. While ceramic painters did do work at home in evenings and weekends, it is highly unlikely that Roelof Sterken did this in The Hague or elsewhere under his own initials for PZH, the biggest competitor of his employer Rozenburg.    

To compare the output of RS against other painters, this author used a dataset of almost 400 pieces from the early P décor period.  This we define as the period when P décor pieces were branded ‘Made in Zuid-Holland’, from the start of production in c.1901 to.1907.  At some moment in 1907/1908, the branding changed back to the ‘Zuid-Holland Gouda’.

​This gave the following output (between brackets the working period  within the 1901-1907 period by artist if known):

  • D G Bordewijk 12  (early 1901-late 1904)
  • C J van Muijen 16 (early 1901-end 1904)
  • J C de Vries 12 (early 1901- early 1904)
  • F C Delchambre 44  (full period of 1901 – 1907)
  • C J Delchambre 17 (full period from 1901 -1907)
  • L Peeters  13 (1901- 1905)
  • C van Straaten? 20  (full period from 1901 -1907)
  • Monogrammist S 16
  • Monogrammist MS  18

All these artists painted predominantly-P décor, representing on average 95 % of their output. The dataset has smaller numbers of early P décor pieces from other artists, but these all produced many other, non P decors, in this period as well. 

RS is represented in the dataset with 17 objects in early P décor from a total of 20 objects known from the period. While not conclusive this makes it hard to believe that this RS worked only for a very short period at PZH and more likely that his/her working period was at least the larger part of the early P decor period.

When we compare the RS monogram at PZH with the Roelof Sterken monogram we see that at PZH RS (top row) always signs with a very simple, straightforward R and S. Roelof Sterken (bottom row) tends to end at least one of the letters with a curved extension. From the left:  three monograms from his Rozenburg period, three from his Haga days and one from his time at Ram.

In the early years PZH relied at first exclusively, and a bit later heavily on artists hired away from Brantjes, Holland Utrecht but mostly from Rozenburg.  No RS has been found that came from any of these factories to PZH in this period.

But considering his/her quality, can the PZH RS have been a “homegrown” talent? We believe so. Cornelis van Muijen had only worked for Rozenburg for 19 months when he came, age 14, to PZH. Before he left in November 1904, he produced some high-quality work. Frederika and Charlotte Delchambre were local Gouda sisters who were highly talented decorators of P decor from c.1902 onwards. Other local talents that developed quickly to become very skilled PZH decorators with a long career were a.o. P Woerlee, C Prins, H Houdijk en J van Schaijk. So, it cannot be ruled out that the RS at PZH was also one of these talented people who in a short time developed into a very skilful, artistic plateel painter. 

​Productive period, monogram and the possibility of a locally trained painter who reached great artistic heights all make a strong case for another RS who painted the PZH P décor, and not Roelof Sterken. But who was he/she?

The model 218 vase depicted above was in the collection of Nico van Eijk (1959-2019), a much-missed collector, connoisseur and dealer in late 19th and 20th-century Dutch earthenware. He had described it as a ‘design R Sterken, painted by F Sanderus’, but as the vase was acquired by this author after his untimely death, we do not know what his assumption was based on. However unlikely the assumption was for this author, it did link to another puzzle and lead to an unconventional theory.

​The best-known female PZH artist was Francien Sanderus. Born in 1868 in Rotterdam she started painting for PZH already in 1898 (her 25th jubilee in 1923 is well documented). She was considered a very skilled, all-around decorator and had a senior role as a painter. Already in 1901 she was was selected to give painting demonstrations at the PZH standat  an art show in Friesland.  Around 1918 she moved to the drawing department where the designs were adapted to the different models and turned into colour cards. She worked for PZH until at least 1923. She is well known for the beautiful later P décor (from c 1907), décor 304, New P décor (both from 1908 onwards) and the matte birds and flower decors (from 1910 onwards). She must have had a huge output, not only under her “FS” monogram but also under her “OO” monogram, very likely for work done by her at home. See FS and OO.

But the analysis of the database of over two thousand PZH objects from the period 1897 to 1918 had come up with one result that just did not make sense.  Over the c. 1907-1918 period 20 were signed by Frederika Sanderus, 12  as FS, 8  as OO, but we found none before c. 1907. Her monogram was simply 100% absent from all early P décor and not encountered either on any other decors from the period 1898 till 1907. Statistically, this was a glaring anomaly.

​At first, one idea was that she had exclusively trained other female painters in this period. From early male master painters, we have some proof that they had trainees that signed their work (possibly executed with the assistance of the master painter) with the monogram of the master. However, enough pieces signed by the male master painters themselves show that their training role was very much part-time. This “signing for a master painter” has not been found yet for any of the known female painters. It appears that less experienced female painters started on smaller objects with simpler decors (but signed as themselves), and could only do larger pieces once they had proven their skills.

​When searching for other likely explanations Nico van Eijk’s attribution suddenly gave this author an idea: could it be that RS was the early FS monogram….? FS is known in the literature as Francien Sanderus, but the names given to her at birth were Frederika Wilhelmina Cornelia Sanderus. Birth Names are often shortened in Holland, so a Frederika would commonly be called Rika, Riek of Rie. So, RS as a possible monogram for a Frederika Sanderus is not too far fetched. 

Continued here

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