Christoffel Bisschop (1828-1904),
Christoffel Bisschop (1828-1904), "Winter in Friesland," c. 1876, oil on canvas, 31 4/5 x 53 in., Fries Museum

At the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands:
“Christoffel & Kate Bisschop: Longing for the Past”
through January 7, 2024

Located in the northern Dutch province of Friesland, the Fries Museum has long highlighted local artists, including the great classicist Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912), who found huge success after he moved to London.

A talented contemporary who also moved away — though only as far as The Hague — was Christoffel Bisschop (1828–1904). Now quite forgotten, he and his London-born artist wife, Kate Bisschop-Swift (1834–1928), once enjoyed both commercial success and close relationships with the Dutch elite, including the royal family.

Now the Fries Museum has organized an exhibition, “Christoffel & Kate Bisschop: Longing for the Past,” that explores their achievements in unprecedented depth. The childless couple filled Villa Frisia, their mansion in the fashionable seaside resort of Scheveningen, with antiques that regularly appeared in their well-composed, somewhat sentimental scenes of daily life in the past.

Christoffel was particularly enchanted with the Frisian town of Hindeloopen; in the 17th and 18th centuries, ship captains returning home there had brought luxurious Asian porcelains and textiles to adorn their mansions. Frozen in appearance since the town’s economic collapse, those houses inspired both Bisschops, not only in their art, but also to evoke such interiors at home.

The Fries Museum recently acquired a once-famous painting by Christoffel, “Winter in Friesland” (c. 1876), which portrays a couple from Hindeloopen waiting for their skates to be sharpened so they can finally take to the ice.

The Bisschops helped make this style so familiar that soon it became equated worldwide with the Netherlands itself, thanks in part to a popular Hinderlooper Room at the 1878 world’s fair in Paris. After her husband’s death, Kate developed several similar rooms for the Fries Museum, one reason this year’s retrospective is so appropriate.

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