In the recently published book ‘The Discovery of Holland‘, writer Jan Brokken brings to life an important, but unknown chapter of Dutch cultural heritage. Around 1900, Volendam was a vibrant, international artists’ colony, which attracted more than 1,800 artists to Volendam and became the symbol for the Netherlands. In the wake of the artists, famous musicians, writers and actors also followed to this colourful fishing village on the then Zuiderzee. Jan Brokken has devoted a chapter to the Jewish Zuelzer sisters from Berlin, a story that in itself is worth reading this book.

Gertrud Zuelzer's painting "Mother and Child in Traditional Volendam Costume," circa 1913, is a poignant representation of maternal affection and cultural heritage.

Gertrud (1873-1968) and Margarete Zuelzer (1877-1943) were very close sisters. Gertrud was trained as a landscape and portrait painter, Margarete was one of the first female PhD holders at the University of Heidelberg. A promising career at the famous Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry lay ahead. The sisters visited Volendam several times, in 1911, 1913 and 1925.

Jan Brokken describes how Gertrud expressed in her letters to friends how much she was inspired by Volendam, the surrounding area and the girls in traditional costumes. But there was no tangible evidence of what Gertrud painted in Volendam. With the arrival of the Nazis in 1934 it became virtually impossible for Jewish artists to practice their profession. The Reich Chamber of Fine Arts destroyed the lives and work of many Jewish artists and art dealers.

The sisters parted ways. Gertrud tried to escape to Switzerland but was captured. She was detained in Theresienstadt and managed to survive thanks to her drawing skills. In exchange for drawn portraits of her fellow prisoners, she received extra food. Margarete had moved to ‘safe’ Amsterdam. She sent her sister crayons and paper. Margarete was arrested by the Germans in 1942 and died a few months later in Westerbork camp.

Ontdekking van een vergeten meesterwerk van Gertrud Zuelzer in Middelburg
Jan Brokken (right) and André Romijn with ‘Mother and Child’ by Gertrud Zuelzer

But all is not lost! A long-lost work of art by Gertrud Zuelzer has been rediscovered by the Middelburg gallery owner and portrait painter André Romijn. Romijn’s art collection contains several works by artists who painted in Volendam. In addition to Ferdinand Schmutzer, Paul Berthon, Louis Soonius and others, André also has an authentic work signed by G. Zuelzer. The work of art, a touching portrait entitled “Mother and child in traditional Volendam costumes”, was until recently neglected and unknown to the general public. Romijn has carried out an initial restoration and will restore it to its former glory.

After reading ‘The Discovery of Holland’, André contacted Jan Brokken, who immediately expanded the chapter with this discovery in the next edition of this bestseller. The painting was shown to the general public for the first time on April 23 in the Dutch Reformed Church in Rhoon, where Jan Brokken was presented with the Medal of Honor of the municipality of Albrandswaard (Rhoon) by the mayor. On this special evening, in the place where Jan grew up, Jan read from his new book with a beautiful musical setting by pianist Jeroen van Veen and cellist Joachim Eijlander.

Back in Volendam

On April 24, Gertrud Zuelzer was back in Volendam. Her work ‘Mother and Child’ was exhibited during a special evening organized by B&W of the municipality of Edam-Volendam, as a starting signal to breathe new life into the rich cultural history of the Volendam artists’ colony.

The composition of ‘Mother and Child’ is intimate and the subjects take up most of the canvas, drawing the viewer’s attention directly to the interaction between the two figures. The mother’s position, leaning over the child, creates a protective arc, while the child’s focused attention on an object in the hand suggests learning or play. This interaction is central to the painting’s story and emphasizes the themes of nurturing and passing on traditions.

"Moeder en kind in traditionele Volendamse klederdracht", was tot voor kort verwaarloosd en onbekend bij het grote publiek
Before restoration

Gertrud Zuelzer’s rediscovered painting embodies an era and a community nearly erased by history. Fortunately, it is now in the loving hands of an admirer of Zuelzer’s talent. With the rediscovery of this work, Zuelzer receives posthumous recognition and, partly thanks to ‘The Discovery of Holland’, an almost forgotten part of our cultural history is revived.

The painting ‘Mother and Child’ can be viewed again from May 5 in Kunsthuis André, Segeersstraat 43 in Middelburg.

Signed copies of ‘The Discovery of Holland’ by Jan Brokken are also available!