'Spotprent Op De Plannen Tot De Oprichting Van Een Girobank' (1836).

Pieter van Loon was a 19th-century Dutch painter, graphic artist and engineer. Throughout his life, he made hundreds of realistically-drawn sketches of people, buildings and atmospheric scenery. Some of Van Loon's drawings are notable for their use of caricature and funny cartoon-like captions. He also made a couple of prototypical comics, such as the undated 'Beeldverhaal met Vogels' ('Picture Story with Birds') and illustrations for a seemingly unpublished novel, 'Historie van Jantje' ('The Story of Little John', 1862). The majority of Van Loon's drawings were never published during his lifetime, explaining why several of his comics have remained unfinished. Only 'Spotprent Op De Plannen Tot De Oprichting Van Een Girobank' ('Cartoon About The Plans To Establish a Transfer Bank', 1836) appears to have been in circulation, given that it was plagiarized by another artist later on.

Life and career
Pieter van Loon was born in 1801 in Amsterdam. He was one of nine children and of noble descent. His father Jan Willem van Loon (1767-1839) was a lawyer and a member of the Dutch parliament, who carried the honorary title esquire. His mother, Lady Philippina Constantia Isabella van Weede (1772-1842), was also of noble birth. Young Pieter studied engineering at the Artillerie- en Genieschool in Delft (since 1828 situated in Breda as the Royal Military Academy). After graduation, Van Loon worked as engineer with the Department of Waterways and Public Works, which is in charge of guarding the water levels in the coastal provinces. After marrying Lady Theodora Johanna Calkoen (1802-1879) in 1834, he settled in Utrecht. Pieter van Loon passed away in 1873 in Utrecht, at age 73.


Van Loon's sketch about the hot air balloon Le Géant of French photographer/cartoonist Nadar, which was on display at the "Paleis voor Volksvlijt" in Amsterdam (7 september 1865).

Graphic career
Around 1840, Pieter van Loon decided to fully dedicate his life to the arts and traveling. Little is known about his influences, but it is assumed that he had been a pupil of fine art painter Cornelis Kruseman. Van Loon sketched people and scenery in many Dutch towns and cities, but also travelled to Belgium, England and France. During his honeymoon he visited Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy, where he captured his impressions in pen and ink. Because, as he wrote in his letters, painting was too complex for him, he mostly concentrated on drawings. Van Loon's vivid drawings offer an insightful view of daily West European life in the early to mid-19th century, covering observations of both the rich and the poor. Van Loon was additionally a member of the art community Genootschap Kunstliefde in Utrecht. He served as its president twice, in 1842 and 1847.


'Tafereelen uit de Geschiedenis des Vaderlands' (1854).

During his graphic career, Van Loon barely sold his art. Coming from a wealthy family, there was never a direct financial need to make a living, so Van Loon hardly bothered to seek potential clients. He was content with keeping all his art to himself, or giving it to his friends and relatives. The only known published book he illustrated, 'Tafereelen uit de Geschiedenis des Vaderlands' (M.H. Binger, 1854), was written by famed poet and novelist Jacob van Lennep. Van Lennep's uncle was married to Van Loon's sister. The book ridiculed events from Dutch national history, which critics didn't take in good fun. They felt this mockery was highly disrespectful, which thwarted Van Loon's chances for a potential artistic breakthrough. As such, both alive and in death, he never rose above obscurity.


'Karikaturale Koppen en een Echtpaar met Zoontje' (1862).

Prototypical comics
Yet, precisely because Van Loon had no commercial or artistic ambitions, he didn't take his drawings all that seriously. This allowed him to take creative chances he possibly might have avoided, or would have been discouraged from taking, if his aim had been to sell his work or get it published. Some of his portraits are unflattering caricatures. 'Karikaturale Koppen en een Echtpaar met Zoontje' (1862), for instance, shows a married couple and their son, all with grotesque faces. Sometimes Van Loon added funny captions under his sketches, making them resemble one-panel cartoons. A 1873 solemn drawing of an old couple, for instance, has the following lines scribbled underneath: "Granny is certainly not drunk, but she sure wobbles an awful lot! Keep your rear straight, old hag!" Van Loon's handwritten descriptions are sometimes in Dutch, but also in French, since this was at the time the cultivated language spoken by upperclass people. It is unclear whether funny lines like these were dialogue Van Loon overheard while drawing these real-life people, or just witty punchlines that came to his mind while observing their behavior.

Most of all, Van Loon liked to draw picture stories, at the time still an uncommon practice, especially for serious artists. In 1836 Van Loon made 'Spotprent Op De Plannen Tot De Oprichting van een Girobank' (1836). This text comic, with text underneath the images, is a satire of the transfer bank system. It can be categorized as a so-called "centsprent", a type of educational comic strip popular from the Middle Ages until the early 20th century. These comics were typically printed on large canvases or boards, so that a large group of people could look at them. Sometimes a narrator explained the images to the illiterates in the audience. Van Loon's comic shows how many investors bring their monetary goods to the Girobank. They are told that they can loan on credit. But as the narrative unfolds, the naïve people never see their money back, while the market collapses in the final panel, with the shareholders literally crushed underneath the wreckage. Van Loon's drawings are notable for using caricatured characters and visualisations of idioms. The "credits" are presented as literal bags with the word "credit" and the financial amount written over them. The comic is additionally interesting for featuring an establishing shot of the bank in the first panel, before the narrative kicks off in the next panel. Van Loon's comic was popular enough to be plagiarized, panel by panel, by an anonymous, less skilled artist that same year.


'Beeldverhaal met Vogels'.

'Studies van een Vrouw die Water uit een Put Haalt en Een Kruik Uitschenkt' are preliminary sketches of a woman pulling water from a well and pouring a jug. Although Van Loon probably didn't intend this drawing as a narrative, it is still framed as a chronological succession of separate actions. A genuine comic strip is 'Beeldverhaal met Vogels', which shows a group of anthropomorphic birds, with a young chick as protagonist. By lack of descriptions underneath, the story or general context is unclear. The chick appears to be schooled by a teacher, or perhaps his own father, but starts an argument in the second panel. Afterwards the teacher writes a letter, presumably about the previous situation. The artwork suggests possible influence of French artist J.J Grandville, who also made stories with anthropomorphic animals. Since the story features a child character, it might be possible that Van Loon drew it with a young audience in mind. Though it should be pointed out that he and his wife never had children of their own.

'Souvenirs d'un Gamin' ("Memories/Souvenirs of a Street Kid", 1862) features several people and items a young boy remembers from childhood. The boy himself can be seen in the center of the drawing, while his memories are grouped around him, each with a description underneath or written vertically next to it. Among the people he describes are his parents, his little brother, their female servant and his teacher, while he also remembers his father's pipe and a box of sweets. In the same vein, 'Souvenirs d'une Vieille Fille' ("Souvenirs of an Old Girl") presents memories of an old woman. Again her mental recollections are grouped around her in the center of the page. Yet the drawing groups the images together with borderless panels. Another drawing, 'Souvenirs d'une Vieille Femme. Les Trois Plus Beaux Rêves de Sa Vie' ("Souvenirs of an Old Woman. The Three Most Beautiful Dreams of Her Life", 1839), continues the theme and shows four images without context, namely a cow, a man on a sofa, a woman with a basket and a landscape near a small bridge. While all three drawings appear to be related to each other, it is not clear whether they were intended as an illustration of somebody else's text, or a mere visualization of Van Loon's personal memories and those of his wife.


'Souvenirs d'un Gamin' (1862).

Another notable comic strip by Van Loon is 'Historie van Jantje, of hoe Jantje Reeds Vroeg Aan Verleiding is Blootgesteld Geweest' (1862). The images follow a young boy named Jantje, who is led into temptation, misbehaves at school and runs away from home. He is appointed a personal teacher, Mr. Floridor, but even he can't help the kid. Later images depict Jantje as a young adult, falling in love with an attractive woman. The images appear to have been intended for a picture book, but the story was apparently never finished. It's again a mystery whether Van Loon wrote the book himself or followed somebody else's text, let alone the question why this project was never finished.

Legacy and influence
It remains unclear why Van Loon made the previously mentioned prototypical cartoons and comics mentioned in this article. Perhaps purely for his own amusement, or that of his family, comparable to his contemporary Willem Bilderdijk, who made the comic strip 'Hanepoot' (1803) for his son. Some of Van Loon's drawings look like sketches for some never-finalized book publication. Either way, nowadays a large part of Van Loon's art, including memorabilia of other members of his family, is part of the permanent collection of the Museum Van Loon in Amsterdam. In 2001, Pieter van Loon's art was exhibited in the museum under the title 'Reizen met Pieter van Loon (1801-1873)'. Between 15 February up until 13 May 2019, the expo 'Pieter van Loon: Tekenaar in het Hart van de 19e eeuw' was on display in the Museum Van Loon. The Amsterdam Rijksmuseum also has many works of art by Pieter van Loon in its collection.


From: 'Historie van Jantje, of hoe Jantje Reeds Vroeg Aan Verleiding is Blootgesteld Geweest' (1862).

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