Edifying Hour in the Achterhoek by Hendrik Valkenburg

Hendrik Valkenburg

Edifying Hour in the Achterhoek , 1883, Oil on canvas, 133.5 x 204 cm, Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht, RMCC s370, Courtesy of the Museum Catharijneconvent

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The Right Inheritance

Commentary by

In the nineteenth century, barn services were a frequent phenomenon in the Dutch countryside. Taking place in either the barn or another part of a farm building, the painter Hendrik Valkenburg (1826–96) harboured a longstanding wish to paint one.

It is likely that the group we see gathered in Edifying Hour in the Achterhoek is listening to a practitioner, who, walking a separate path from the official Protestant church, had a strict focus on—and an exemplary knowledge of—the Word (Kootte 2019). The practitioner is the Christian embodiment of the first verses of Proverbs 4, demanding attention for his teachings: ‘Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight; for I give you good precepts: do not forsake my teaching’ (vv.1–2).

Traditional settings for worship (framed by solemn but grand church architecture) have been replaced here by what seems to be the kitchen area in a modest farm house, with hay on the floor and smells that can only be imagined. Several elderly and young mothers are seated, while other participants in this service are standing at the back or leaning on the furnace. Instead of a psalm board (frequently hung at the front of a church to display the psalms that would be sung or recited by the congregation), a similarly shaped wooden board with a display of spoons hangs on the wall, underscoring the homely character of the scene.

One of this work’s concerns is the honouring of tradition, and a very particular idea of what this tradition entails is evident here. For this particular religious congregation, it means valuing the fundamental role of Scripture in their lives.

It may seem remarkable, then, that the painting won a gold medal in that showcase of progress, the World Exhibition of 1883 in Amsterdam. At such exhibitions, participating nations tended to display their most state-of-the-art technology and their most innovative art and design. At the Amsterdam World Exhibition, The Netherlands presented amongst other things this prize-winning painting, and it was immediately sold to a collector.

Whereas elsewhere in Europe, and particularly in France, the Impressionist style of painting was trending, this work embodies a wholehearted appreciation of a distinctly traditional approach to Protestantism. In the context of an international occasion of nationalist display, the Dutch publicly self-identified with a God-fearing, instruction-taking group of people—like the addressees of Proverbs 4.

 

References

Kootte, Tanja. 2019. ‘Een Stichtelijk Uurtje, 6 January 2019’, www.artway.eu [accessed 24 January 2020]


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