Cecilia, de Circuspop (Kabouterboekje, 1943)
Cecilia, de Circuspop (Kabouterboekje, 1943)

Jaap Beckmann (also written as Jaap Beckman) was a Dutch illustrator of mainly children's books as well as an illustrator and art critic for local newspapers from his hometown Dordrecht.

He was born as Jacob Jan Beckmann in 1914 in The Hague, and attended the city's Academy of Fine Arts. He began his career in the 1930s. His personal and satirical works caught the attention of critic Menno ter Braak, who devoted an article to the young artist in a 1935 issue of his literary magazine Forum, in which he compared Beckmann to Jo Spier. There were expositions of Beckmann's work in Rotterdam and The Hague as early as 1937, according to news articles in De Maasbode (3 March 1937) and Het Vaderland (28 October 1937).


Early cartoon for Dordrechts Nieuwsblad, as a protest against canned food (7 July 1937)

Among his early commercial work are illustrations for a couple of books published by A. Voorhoeve in Rotterdam. These included an updated edition of J. Irwin Brown's 'An Irishman's Difficulties with Dutch Language' (1937) and Nel den Hollander's children's book 'Jan Kwak en Bertie Kwek' (1937). Beckmann made the illustrations for an untranslated publication of Heinrich Heine's book 'Aus den Memoiren des Herrn Von Schnabelewopski', the first book released by publisher Ad Donker in Rotterdam.

Op het poolijs by Jaap Beckmann
Op het poolijs

During World War II, Beckmann was one of the illustrators for the Kabouterboekjes ("Gnome booklets"), a series of small-format children's picture books (12x8 cm) published by department store De Bijenkorf around 1943. Most of the booklets were based on existing (fairy) tales. The texts were written by Sjoert Schwitters (who was executed by the German oppressor on suspicion of communism in early 1945) and among the other illustrators of the series were Henk Kabos, Hans Brouwer, Lex Metz and Toby Vos. Beckmann was responsible for the illustrations of 'Roeland, het lelijke rupsje' ("Roeland, the ugly caterpillar", booklet #4), 'Cecilia, de circuspop' ("Cecilia, the circus doll", booklet #10) and 'In het poolijs' ("In the polar ice", booklet #14). Notable about the collection is that the stories are told in the comics format, and even feature balloons. Another comic strip by Beckmann was 'Kleine Li gaat naar de maan', about a little Chinese kid who wants to fly to the moon. It is unknown in which Dutch newspaper this text comic ran, but it was serialized in the Flemish comics magazine Kleine Zondagsvriend in 1950.

Kleine Li by Jaap Beckmann

Beckmann became a member of the Dordrecht artists' society Pictura in 1946. In that same year he also began his association with the local newspaper De Dordtenaar. He was especially known for his ability to translate new developments in the city from official papers to readable drawings in the newspaper, such as detailed maps and visualizations of building plans. In 1962, Beckmann was a fierce agitator against the municipal redevelopment and demolition plans. He also served as an art critic for both De Dordtenaar and Dordrechts Nieuwsblad.

Beckmann illustrated a great many children's books from the 1940s throughout the 1980s for publishers like J.N. Voorhoeve (The Hague), Het Boekhuis (Antwerp), J.P. van den Tol (Dordrecht) and Den Hertog (Houten). These included Margaret Dickson's 'Een Jongen uit Thailand', Tine Brinkgreve-Wicherink's 'De Meiclub uit Kamperen', Angela Brazil's 'De meisjes van de derde klas' (1949), Johanna Spyri's 'De dochter van de ketellapper' (1950), Rik Valkenburg's 'Walther en Billy op de Titanic' (1986) and several so-called "rhyme pictures" and Sunday school books. His own children's book 'Bambo is niet bang' was published by Novitas around 1955. He also made many drawings for postcards. Jaap Beckmann passed away in Dordrecht in 1992.

Illustration from Jan Kwak en Bertie Kwek
Illustration from Jan Kwak en Bertie Kwek

Dutch biography in Lambiek's Nederlandse Stripgeschiedenis

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