16 July 2022

great Dutch landscape artist who migrated to Australia - Jan Scheltema

Jan Hendrik Scheltema (1861–1941) was the youngest child of Lieut-Col Nicolaas Scheltema and his wife Anna Maria, who had 4 surviving children. This patrician family lived in Haar­lem and Rott­erdam, then moved to Gouda when Jan was 15. Brother Petrus Her­man became an ar­ch­itect, then editor of an archit­ect­ural magazine, and overseer of the Hague’s palaces.

Paulus Potter, The Young Bull, 1647
Mauritshuis, The Hague

After attending art classes at Rott­erdam Acad­emy, Jan took drawing and painting lessons from the painter JJ Bertelman of Gouda for a year starting in 1879. Bertelman helped him to become a plein-air artist. He submitted his work ad won a scholarship from Dut­ch King Wil­liam III for 1880-4 at The Hague’s Royal Academy of Art. La­ter he studied at Ant­w­erp’s Royal Ac­ademy of Fine Arts. Both in Net­h­erlands and Belgium, Scheltema created portraits in the 1880s - these are held by public museums in the Netherlands. 

Buvelot, Sheep Wash in the Western Dis­trict 1874,
Gall­ery of South Australia

Soon after arriving in Australia in 1888 he decided that portraits could not guarantee him a good living, so he sp­ecialised instead in rural landsc­ap­es with livestock in front. His c1000 surviving paint­ings often showed the vis­ible brush strokes of the Impression­ists. His opened his first studio in Well­ington Parade and then joined the Victorian Artists' Soc­iety, displaying his work in the same exhibit­ions as Australia’s most imp­ort­ant C19th artists: Charles Conder, Ar­thur Street­on, Tom Roberts and Fred­erick McCubbin. He was a close friend of landscape artist JA Turn­er (1850–1908), and they often went  together to the bush to paint.  
Scheltema, Droving Cattle, date?

I can recognise any C17th Dutch artist and I can recognise any C19th Australian art­ist, but this was an artist who covered both genres. In Austral­ia he focused on land­scape painting, popularising the livestock genre, espec­ial­ly the fore­gr­ound cattle genre. In 1917 Scheltema married pianist Edith Smith in Melbourne and their son Nich­olas was born in 1918. When living in Melb­ourne for dec­ad­es, he was a prolific artist and art teacher, even in the land depression of the 1890s, WW1 and the Great Depression.

Scheltema travelled and painted in Europe. In 1898–9 he visit­ed his native Holland, then Italy, Belgium, Switzer­land and Tunisia. After returning, paintings from this trip were exhibited succ­ess­ful­ly in his Bourke St studio. Again he travelled and painted in UK, France and the Netherlands in 1909-11. On his return from this 2nd voyage, he presented a very successful solo exhibit­ion in Sept 1911 with 88 works in Tuckett Chambers Melbourne, opened by the Chief Justice of Vict­oria’s Supreme Court. The cat­alogue, JH Sch­eltema's Exhib­ition of English, Scottish and Aust­ral­ian Paintings can be seen in the National Library of Aust­ral­ia today.

Australian Landscape was sent to his family in Gouda to explain our landscape. See the old eucalypts that had sur­v­iv­ed the ring-barking, fires & clearings, leaving markers from be­f­ore European settlement.    
Scheltema, Australian Landscape, date?
sent to his family in Gouda, Wikipedia

So Scheltema became a major land­scape artist. He put­ live­stock in the foreground, a genre developed by Dutchman Paulus Pot­t­er in C17th (photo). Jan’s skills in that genre were pub­licly sal­uted in Aust­ra­l­ian papers, showing the anim­als in act­ion eg drinking, run­ning, br­eaking away or interacting with hum­ans. He painted some equine works, and his oils of well known bullock teams were used to ill­us­trate Aust­ra­l­­ian bullock team hist­ory. His paint­ings told our nat­ional story in typical, dusty Australian bush settings.

He quickly showed the colours and textures of the Australian land­scape, and stud­ied individual tree species up cl­ose. Many of his rural works included one large gum tree, as a un­ifying feature. He explained the rural life in paintings, just as famous authors then had explained in writing eg Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson.                               

Scheltema, Early morning start, 1895

In 1895 one of his paintings, Driving in the Cows was purchased by the National Gallery Victoria. Since then, his landscapes have ap­p­eared in the Art Gal­l­ery of NSW; Art Gallery of South Australia; and National Gallery Australia Canberra. Ditto in Vict­or­ia’s larger re­g­ional galleries eg Ballarat, Benalla, Sale, Hamilton and Bendigo. Bendigo was the first rural public gal­lery to have a Schel­t­ema work in its collection, in 1890!! Going to Camp was a great sunset with 12 oxen pulling a cart-load of wool bales. Ham­il­ton Gal­lery now has 5 of Scheltema’s livestock-in-landscapes. He has been compared fav­ourably with Louis Buvelot, anot­her migrant painter of the earlier generation eg Sheep Wash in the Western Dis­trict 1874, in the Gall­ery of South Australia.

Scheltema became an Australian citizen in 1935. He and his wife ret­ired to Queensland in 1938 to sup­­port their son. Jan died in 1941 and was buried there.

Paintings by Scheltema still sell at auctions. In Dec 2018, 18 of his works held by his family, but unknown in public, were found in the estate of the wid­ow of the artist's great nep­hew Dr CAW Jee­kel and came to Aust­ral­ia. Most are now in the collection of the Gipps­land Art Gal­lery. His exhibition was called The Lost Impress­ion­ist.

See Jan's oeuvre at Aus Art Auction Records   

Turner, Australian pioneers, 1889


Luiz Gomes said...

Boa noite minha querida amiga. Não conhecia esse maravilhoso artista. Ele é muito talentoso.

Anonymous said...

I've not heard of him and I should have. I like his paintings very much.

Student of History said...

Helen, did we ever look at Scheltema in classes? His art looks familiar but I don't remember the name.

Hels said...


it is interesting that I too did not know this artist, until the "Jan Hendrik Scheltema:
the Lost Impressionist" Exhibition was mounted a few years ago. Then I followed the leads and came up with a whole range of paintings with cows, horses or empty landscapes. Most of them were very attractive.

Hels said...


I went back over my old lecture notes and blog posts, but couldn't find any mention of Jan Scheltema at all. Yet I can't find a difference in quality or content between Scheltema's works and, for example, Elioth Gruner's Spring Frost and Tom Roberts' Wood splitters.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Hels - they are beautiful ... and so worth having that record of Australian life so early on your history. We have a chap called 'Cow Cooper' Thomas Sidney Cooper, who came from the Kent area ... I've written about him (4 April 2017) - but he went over to the Netherlands, where he learnt his landscape and animal artwork ... then returned to Kent and spent the rest of his long years there.

But I loved his work ... as too these here by Jan Scheltema - excellent to have them on view for any visitors - local and overseas ones. Cheers Hilary

Hels said...


I suppose that people interested in 19th century Australian art were totally fascinated with Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts, Walter Withers, Charles Conder, Frederick McCubbin, Louis Abrahams, Emanuel Phillips Fox and Ethel Carrick Fox, John Mather etc..etc It was an amazingly talented era, but I have no idea why Jan Scheltema's contribution was overlooked for ages.

Hels said...


Bless your heart. I found two Thomas Sidney Cooper paintings straight away:
1. Landscape with Resting Sheep c1880 and
2. Landscape with Cows, 1891

Now I will go to your post on Mr Cooper and have a good look. Thank you.

DUTA said...

'Early morning start - what a charming painting! The two women don't look rural to me, but they fit well under the tree and among the cattle.
Landscape paintings with sheep, cows, horses are my kind of paintings. Scheltema seems to have been very good at it.

Hels said...


Agreed! People who love landscape paintings are used to wide, flat, brown Australian scenes with distant trees or perhaps animals and sheds. Now we have something different - almost portraits of cows and sometimes sheep or horses. Since most modern people have never been near a cow in their life, Scheltema and the others are very interesting to our eyes.

Luiz Gomes said...

Boa tarde minha querida amiga. Passando para desejar uma excelente tarde de segunda-feira.

Hels said...


I know your blog mainly shows modern art, but do you have any previous posts that examined 19th century paintings?

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Hels said...


Have Jan Scheltema's landscapes provided any inspiration to your work, would you say?

Peter Reynders said...

Great Hels!, that you picked and provided a blog on Jan Hendrik Scheltema. Well done. Thank you, indeed. About time he takes his proper place in Aussie art history. Indeed some nonsense had been written about JHS as well. His was of course not only foreground livestock in Australian Landscapes, he was able to paint anything, but that seemed to work for him commercially. And he loved the bush. I was the one who tracked down those letters OS and "family paintings" in Holland and at the request of the person who inherited, them I found 'a good home' for them here. The letters went to the S.L.V. and the paintings to the G.A.G.as you said. The letters, I translated to English and can be read in the S.L.V., but that can not be done in one afternoon, expect to read a million words! But your summery will give a fair idea for many people. I will be so bold to make a few comments to sharpen up the text just a little. Scheltema was at home known as Hendrik, to his siblings as Hein and to many in Australia, including his wife as Henry. Never Jan.
His scholarship was not tied to study in The Hague. He went there for 2 years, then went to Antwerp to study with Verlat, almost all the way to the time he left for Australia, but only after his mother had died. Turner was indeed a good acquaintance, but they are not documented as painting together very much, if at all. He painted often with Robert Camm and Thomas Fisher Levick. His collaboration with Rolando should not be missing from the story, as it was important for him to start off as a new migrant. The question of the little painting with the big tree trunk, and a cow to show how thick it was, is from early 1890 and the location is near Alphington, now all urban. He wrote that those old trees stand like "monuments in the bush from before white settlement". The painting 'Going to Camp', you correctly tell, went to Bendigo (then still known also as Sandhurst)is an important one. It shows the diverging shadows of the bovine legs in that contre-jour, perhaps then a new effect to Australia, yet understated, as was his style. The sunset is reflected in the stream behind the bullock train so there are actually 2 light sources to 'muddle' the shadows a bit. Elioth Gruner may have seen it when he painted in Victoria in 1915, i.e. 25 years alter, and others by JHS like it. Why Gruner's cows are, well, less alive?, is because he painted landscape with atmospheric effects and quite masterly, the cattle were props to assist with that. The landscape was everything for him and the animals were part of it, not so much at the foreground, which was often empty. Gruner could also have had difficulty painting eyes, compare his self portrait, or hated it. Eyes make a creature connect with the viewer much better than no eyes. (See the thesis of Dr Kovacic). I will write a monograph about JHS, or co-write it, so the whole story is together, but am a bit busy now, another year may see some action there.
Peter Reynders

Anonymous said...

Dear Hels, perhaps email me on pbreynders@yahoo.com.au or ring me on 02-62820064
Peter Reynders

Hels said...


Thank you for a detailed response and for the family name - I used Jan Hendrik because that is what the galleries and auction houses use, and I wanted readers to know who I meant. But I am pleased he was very close to his family.

And I agree with you that Gruner painted landscape with atmospheric effects, so the cattle were only props to assist with his focus. The landscape was everything for him and the animals were only part of it. Very different from Scheltema's focus.


Peter Reynders said...

Dear Hels, I did not have a problem with calling him 'Jan Hendrik', as indeed auction houses and galleries do, i.e. his full 'christian name', but I did with calling him just Jan. His work is in at least 25 public galleries in 4 Countries, Australia, UK, Netherlands and NZ. Should you send me an email, I will send you the list. I have not researched yet whether there are any in Belgian public collections or further countries.
The problem with Scheltema is that sources that we should be able to consider as usually reliable (such as art encyclopedias), have, indeed long after his death, provided incorrect details, through insufficient research. It meant that auction houses, galleries, art writers, indeed many people, spread the errors to the point that they became common, but erroneous, knowledge. I will spare you a list of these. I hope to iron that out further. Thank you again for adding further focus on this artist, who doesn't even have a headstone on his and his wife's grave.
Peter Reynders

Peter Reynders said...

Your inclusion of the Young Bull of Paulus Potter in the illustrations, Hels, was apt. Scheltema will have been familiar with it, as he was not only born in The Hague, AND studied there for two years. The huge Potter painting has been hanging in the Mauritshuis Museum for the last few centuries, with a holiday of a couple of decades to the Louvre in Paris, after Napoleon stole it when he occupied Holland, as part of his colonial art looting. The picture is a posed animal group picture, rather than natural occurring scene, with the grazier being present in the picture, to keep them together, like in Gruner's Spring Frost.
It was an internationally most influential picture, 8 square metres in size, causing many other landscape painters to place animals in their work or indeed place them further forward or also make a huge canvas with animals. e.g. Rosa Bonheur, the famous French female artist, needed to emulate its size and made a bovine picture of 9 square metres.
More recently, (1949) did American Painter Mark Tansy paint a monochrome of 6 sqm depicting a cow standing in front of the Potter Young Bull painting with half a dozen 'scientific looking men' around it to detect whether she would recognize the Bull, or be more interested in a painting with a haystack next to it. It sold recently for 2.5 million dollars, the most expensive send-up cartoon in history and is in the New York Metropolitan Museum. Yet, Scheltema will have realized that the Potter painting shows that bringing the animals further forward, makes them better connect with the viewer, who would see them as living in an environment, rather than just being part of the landscape. JHS had a narrative bend as he showed what the animals were doing: crossing a stream, being startled, milked, rounded up by a horseman, etc. or just resting.
Was Potter, like Scheltema, just an animal lover, so giving them some character? Or was Potter perhaps even an animal activist if we look at his painting "the Punishment of the Hunter", which tells a story in 14 attached canvasses, where the two in the middle show how the hunter gets killed in the end by animals? All in the net.
Peter Reynders

PBR said...

The basic reason why JHS was 'lost' is that he disappeared to Queensland. Even today, if in old age one decides to move to a small hamlet in Queensland that nobody has ever heard of, one virtually disappears.... In those days that was another colony, another world...

Hels said...


Thank you for your detailed responses.

Before I retired, I used to greatly value detailed writing about artists and art works I had been interested in. All these years later, I still use my lecture notes for my blog posts, but I only check modern journal articles, briefly and on line, to make sure the material hasn't been updated beyond anything I once knew.

The other old age problem is my dodgy memory these days *cough*

Anonymous said...
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Hels said...


thanks for reading the post, but no advertising please

Hels said...

Dear Hels, I trust you are well. Perhaps postpone reading all of this for when you have nothing better to do. Now I begin to understand even better why so many art buffs in Australia for the last 135 years were rather oblivious of the background of J.H.Scheltema, indeed some complained about it. Some additional evidence explaining WHY, is here, suggesting it wasn't all their fault...so not yours either.

After arriving in Melbourne in 1888, he had written to his father: Hereby the news of the Argus (5th column of page 11 of the paper I will perhaps send also.) At the same time, I received a little letter from the editor of Table Talk, a weekly paper, asking for some particulars, of a chatty nature if possible, or anecdotal, which I supplied by letter.

The result of that 'supply' of 'particulars' was rather informative if not comprehensive and was indeed published in the 'chatty' Table Talk as far as included by the editor, but perhaps not double checked in the end... It was apparently, indeed evidently, largely overlooked by readers of art news in 1888 and later by researchers, because no text has been noted quoting from it, while there have long been concerns that not much was known about the artist, (apart from what he painted in Australia etc.). As a result some speculation-assumptions was/were written about him, including by me. Annoyingly, the information was there for all those years. That's a story by itself, that few would like to read, I'd say. This could happen because the original article was printed between other texts or inside another, without having its own heading, which almost 'hid' it, and made overlooking it understandable and likely.

“Few things indicate more truly the progress of a country than its growing approbation of the fine arts etc etc". See Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic: 1885-1939), p2-3. Retrieved February 17, 2023, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146022559

This article I first found and assessed on TROVE (NLA) following JHS' statement in a letter that he supplied the information to Table Talk in 1888. I found it, after overcoming the problem of it not having its own heading, I discovered that the scan or microfilm it was shown on, also hid several words or showed them illegible hidden in the binding because the the article appeared on subsequent pages. So it became less attractive to quote from it even for the lucky soul who found it. The NLA advised, when I requested it, that the hard copy original could not be checked to correct the Trove version. (Was it disposed of and the scans had to carry the record into the future on their own?). I needed that text to be correct as I am writing about the artist. A brainwave made me contact the SLV about it.

The librarian of the SLV in Melbourne was kind and professional enough to look for and find! the old newspaper copy in their off-site storage and improved the TROVE entry. It took a while, but bingo! It was still not perfect, but it was merely a matter of correcting a few typos from there on. SLV is Great! So in summary, there were some bad luck circumstances causing this text NOT to become properly accessible for so long and a new few, including the hints and assessment in the letters, that now make it viewable and understandable.

Many of the letters have information that support the information in this 1888 article. The article in the Argus (which he wrote was after an interview with James Smith), was just two long sentences, but it at least mentioned him being with Verlat, perhaps the best Belgian animal painter since Rubens, for 5 years.

I thought you could find this interesting.
Kind regards, Peter Reynders, Canberra

hels said...


The State Library of Victoria is great, I certainly agree. But so are the treasures we find in blog, thank you!

Where are you publishing your writing about the artist?