Concert in the Amsterdam Vondelpark and in the Royal Concertgebouw (From: 'Teekeningen', 1933).

Jo Spier was a Dutch journalist-cartoonist and one of the most notable book and advertising illustrators of his generation. During the 1920s and 1930s his humorous drawings and reports appeared in the newspaper De Telegraaf, while he also illustrated campaigns and folders for Dutch companies and local entrepreneurs. His designs were characterized by their mild but clever humor, subtle observations and inventive play with letters and symbols. In the post-war years he was one of the early artists for Elseviers Weekblad, before emigrating to the United States in 1951. There he had an equally succesful career in commercial art, with prominent clients like Shell, Esso, Mobil Oil, Ford and Philips, while maintaining his recognizable personal touch.

Early years
Joseph Eduard Adolf Spier was born in 1900 in Zutphen, in the province Gelderland, as the eldest of three brothers. His father ran a popular shop in fabrics and ladies' fashion, while his mother's family owned a prominent textile factory in Eindhoven. It probably shaped the boy's business sense. Throughout his later career, he never worked with an agent, but always managed his affairs directly with his clients. Spier was, on the other hand, not that interested in school work, and instead used his notebooks for doodling. In fourth grade he decided he was educated enough. Eagerly, he wrote to Het Volk's Albert Hahn, one of his favorite cartoonists, to talk about his new ambitions. Hahn gave him a firm reply: he didn't want to have anything to do with a young boy stupid enough to go against his father's wishes. Yet he concluded his letter by saying he liked Spier's drawings and invited him to visit him after graduation. Spier made his first published drawings in 1916, for the paper of the local soccer club Be Quick.

Intending to become a painter, Jo Spier headed for Amsterdam in 1919 to enroll at the Amsterdam Academy of Fine Arts. Among his fellow students were Elie Smalhout and Jan Rot. Spier's first illustrations were edified regional novels, published by the Kampen-based publishing house Kok. After fulfilling his military service, he was the second Dutchman after Vincent van Gogh to attend the famous Atelier Cormon in Paris. There, in the period 1922-1923, he learned to draw cityscapes, focusing on traffic and street population.

Impression of the Amsterdam Leidseplein (1932).

De Telegraaf
While in Paris, Jo Spier received his first press assignment from the sports correspondent of Algemeen Handelsblad. He was commisioned to sketch the Swedish cyclist Thorvald Ellegaard. Only after publication did the young illustrator understand that he had sketched the man sitting next to Ellegaard by mistake! Nonetheless, the sports editors of Paris Soir also hired him. When he returned to the Netherlands, Spier became a reporter-illustrator with newspaper De Telegraaf, an occupation he held from December 1924 until October 1940. The paper sent him on reports to the Dutch Indies (Indonesia), and assigned him to make drawings for theater reviews and court cases. One of the trials Spier covered was against Marinus van der Lubbe, the Dutch activist who allegedly started the 1933 fire in the German Reichstag parliament. From 1930 onwards, Jo Spier became more of a cartoonist than an illustrator. For the paper's Sunday morning editions, he sketched scenes of everyday life or commented on current affairs, spiced with the author's sense of humor and irony. Spier also made editorial illustrations, for instance for the "wanted ads" pages.

Women: "Well, then I'll get dressed for diner" and "Well, then I'll get undressed for swimming". (De Telegraaf, 24 July 1938).

Advertising illustrator
In 1919 Spier had made his first commercial artwork for local companies in his birth town Zutphen. His advertising assignments intensified after 1924, when his star rose through his drawings for De Telegraaf and its companion paper Het Nieuws van de Dag. In these early days of professional advertising, campaigns were not yet directed by marketing plans and reports, and artists had much creative freedom. Spier took great effort in translating his clients' wishes to not only well-documented illustrations, but also full campaigns and promotional booklets and calendars. He counted a variety of companies and institutions among his regular clients. Beer brands like Heineken and Amstel, Douwe Egberts coffee and the wine companies Ferwerda & Tieleman and W.G. Oud PZN & Co. required his services, but also the KLM, Standard Oil, Johnson outboard motors and insurance companies like ASR, Nationale Nederlanden and Centraal Beheer. Besides corporations, Spier made numerous drawings for the Amsterdam catering industry. He designed menu cards for the trendy restaurant Die Port van Cleve and advertisements for the Victoria Hotel, among other things. Jo Spier also assisted the pioneering moviemaker Jan Theunissen with the early Dutch sound-films 'Pierement' (1931) and 'Sjabbos' (1931).

Newspaper clipping on the Dutch mobilization in 1939
Newspaper clipping from Het Nieuws van den Dag of 21 October 1939 about the mobilization of artists: the writer Melis Stoke, illustrator Jo Spier and pianist Cor de Groot.

World War II
In 1939 Spier had the honor of illustrating a new edition of Hildebrand's 'Camera Obscura' by the Erven F. Bohn in Haarlem, on the occasion of this classic novel's 100th anniversary. It was the final highlight in a period of good fortune. As World War II started looming in September 1939, Spier was mobilized, like many Dutch servicemen. He was assigned to the department which provided the education and recreation of soldiers. The recruit  illustrated pamphlets, posters and billboards, and edited the military weekly De Wacht. After Hitler invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, Spier was able to continue his work for De Telegraaf for another half year, albeit without signing his drawings. He was eventually fired in October of that same year, when the Nazis forced all Jewish employees to instantly retire. The artist later stated that paper's owner, H.A.K. Holdert, continued to support his family financially throughout the war years. By that time Spier's work had become more and more political. He was imprisoned on three occasions, allegedly for making an offensive caricature of Hitler.

Spier eventually ended up in the transit camp Westerbork. Anton Mussert, leader of the Dutch Nazi party NSB, was however an admirer of Spier's work. Mussert arranged for the Spier family to reside in Villa Bouchina, a small camp for more prominent Jewish families in Doetinchem. By April 1943 the family was transported to the Czech camp Theresienstadt, where they managed to survive the war. During his stay, Spier painted murals in the children's barracks, but was also forced to participate in the creation of the propaganda film 'Der Führer schenkt den Juden eine Stadt', which presented the camp as a comfortable holiday resort. His somewhat privileged position during the later war years subjected Spier to much criticism in the emotional post-war period. Especially the communist daily De Waarheid wrote viciously about this "weakling" who had "made common cause with the Germans". Spier never openly responded to the accusations, but he managed to straighten things out with the National Institute for War Documentation. His experiences in Theresienstadt were chronicled in the booklet 'Jo Spier: Dat Alles Heeft Mijn Oog Gezien. Herinneringen Aan Het Concentratiekamp Theresienstadt 1942-1945' (1978), published in the year of his death.

'Without Marshall Help, all these people (and you!) would look like this...' (from: 'Het Marshall Plan en U', 1949)

Elseviers Weekblad
After his repatriation, Spier resumed his artistic career. In late October 1945 he was part of the original team of the liberal news weekly Elseviers Weekblad. He continued to give his humorous views on life, but he and editor Piet Bakker were also sent on trips to all corners of the earth, as well as his own country. Spier was commissioned to more advertising assignments as well, most notably the booklet 'Het Marshall Plan en U' (1949), about the US program of economic assistance to war-ridden Europe. However, to many people he was still seen as a war-time collaborator. Spier eventually decided to leave his home country and move to the United States in 1951. His family joined him the following year.

Life in the U.S.A.
First settling in Houston, Texas, and then on Long Island, New York, Spier gradually built a new clientele. He continued to work on Dutch commissions, among others from the Elsevier publishing house, but also made headway with American companies. Regular customers were Mobil Oil, drilling company Schlumberger, Macy's Warehouse and Seagram's Whiskey, for whom he illustrated and designed advertisements, promotional booklets and annual reports. He became an illustrator for several New York-based publishing houses. Spier additionally made drawings of the American coastal views for the book 'Waters of the New World: Houston to Nantucket' (1961) by Jan de Hartog, and for children's audiences he illustrated Lillian Morrison's riddle book 'Black Within and Red Without' (1953), David DeJong's 'The Squirrel and the Harp' and biographical books about Louis Pasteur (1952) and Peter Stuyvesant (1954). Another successful book illustrated by Spier was 'The Spice Cookbook' (1964) by Avanelle Day and Lillie Stuckey. He designed Christmas postcards for companies like the American Artist Group and Hallmark, and also for more commercial clients.

From an advertisement for Seagram's whiskey.

Final work and death
From 1965 on Jo Spier also returned in the pages of Elseviers Weekblad with his observations of the changing Dutch society. Later Dutch books compiled and drawn by him were 'Zwanezang' (1973), 'Bij 't Scheiden van de Markt' (1975) and 'Op De Valreep' (1976). In his spare time, he made nostalgic drawings of the landscapes along the Dutch IJssel river. He continued to work until his death. During a visit to his son Peter Spier, Jo Spier suddenly passed away in Santa Fe, New Mexico on 21 May 1978. His final assignment were illustrations for a tale in the staff magazine of the Heineken Company, which were published posthumously in August 1978.

Jo Spier was a clever observer of mankind and all its quirks. With a few lines, he managed to capture different types of people in his artwork, but never in an offensive way. He was able to use this mild satire and irony in both his newspaper and his commercial artwork. Spier once had to illustrate a page announcing the winner of a contest. Instead of making it a festive drawing, Spier presented different possible caricatures of the winner, and guessed what all these different personalities would do with the prize? Spier's work is recognizable for its use of the author's handwriting instead of typed text. His inventive use of incorporating letters and symbols in the drawings was also highly praised. His Marshall Plan advertising illustration has become iconic: a Dutch worker on clogs ascends a ladder, which forms the two vertical strokes of the dollar sign. The cover of Spier's often reprinted booklet about the activities of Dutch postal services PTT, 'Drie Letters PTT' (1948), showed the three letters as the horse of a stagecoach. His drawings for the Amsterdam shopping street Kalverstraat (1950) transformed two K's into calves pulling a golden coach, referring to the expression that the "client is always king".

Clever use of typography in advertisements for the PTT and the KLM.

Multi-panel art
Jo Spier often used multiple panels in his drawings, but not in the traditional sense of sequential storytelling. They generally offered alternative visions of either the future, usages of a product, or different types of people reacting to situations or products. One of Spier's cartoons presented the ponderings of a Dutch chicken over its further life. Will she be served on a plate in Noordwijk, The Hague, Amersfoort, Vorden or Hummelo? A 1938 advertisement depicted how coffee could be served in several extravagant European hotspots, but in the end, a cosy Dutch kitchen table with Douwe Egberts coffee was the preferred spot. His 1960 advertisement for Seagram's whiskey, on the other hand, presented people enjoying the brand all over the world. Sometimes Spier filled entire booklets for his clients. 'Daar Zit 10 Tegen 1 Een Ford-Dealer' (1949) summed up all the advantages of driving a Ford car. His clever humor was never far away. A 1939 campaign for road safety presented the mythological Achilles in all kinds of dangerous traffic situations: "He Would Survive... But YOU Won't!". Spier's booklet for department store De Bijenkorf, 'Het Tweede Leven' (1958), showed what people from certain professions do in their spare time: the geography teacher studies a world map in the first panel, and then a cow with a similar pattern in the second. A window dresser carefully carries a mannequin into a shop window and then, in a more playful manner, a charming real-life lady into the sea...

From: 'Het Tweede Leven'.

Throughout most of his career, Jo Spier was widely recognized as a talented and original artist. Graphic artist and Academy teacher Richard Roland Holst highly recommended him to book publishers when Spier was still in his early twenties. By 1926, two years after his employment by De Telegraaf, his work was subjected to a positive consideration by the essayist Joseph Gompers in the weekly De Vrijdagavond. Other reviewers with autority also praised his work, such as Cornelis Veth, Jan Greshoff and Menno ter Braak. All in all, his newspaper work made him a true celebrity in his home country. In 1937 he was even chosen as one of the ten most popular Dutchmen, and on 9 October of that year Leendert Jordaan caricatured him among other celebrities on the cover of De Groene Amsterdammer. His Telegraaf illustrations were collected in books like 'Teekeningen' (1933), 'Per Potlood Door Nederland' (1934) and 'Uit en Thuis. Reisschetsen' (1936). His work for Elsevier appeared in the books 'Pennevruchten' (with A. Glavimans, 1947), 'Kopstukken' (illustrations for the columns of Godfried Bomans, 1947) and the travelogue series 'Oost' (1948), 'West' (1950) and 'Thuis Best' (1951).

"Grandpa, the paper says you have so much promises for the future..." (1924 cartoon from De Telegraaf, foretelling Spier's later influence on Peter van Straaten).

Legacy and influence
In 1975 Jo Spier donated his archives to the municipal museum of his birthtown Zutphen, which has regularly organized exhibitions of his work since. To catalogue and preserve his body of work, the Jo Spier Foundation was founded in 1992, with former comic artist and AVRO TV producer Flip van der Schalie as vice president. Gerard van Baarsel served as Spier's biographer for the publications 'Jo Spier. Tekenaar van een tijdperk' (2000) and 'Jo Spier. Verleiden met een Glimlach' (2019), which accompanied expositions at the Stedelijk Museum Zutphen. The oeuvres of both Jo Spier and Peter van Straaten were subject of an exhibition organized by the Stedelijk Museum Zutphen in cooperation with the Amsterdam Press Museum in 2012.

With Eppo Doeve and Cees Bantzinger, Spier ranks as one of the top illustrators of his generation. He has influenced several later cartoonists and (advertising) illustrators, most notably Peter van Straaten and Dick Bruna. But perhaps his main successor was his son Peter Spier (1927-2017), who became a prominent illustrator and author of picture books in the United States.

Spier's impression of the different ways several Dutch artists would execute the same assignment: a mother receiving her son after his release from prison: sculptor Hildo Krop, illustrator Rie Cramer, Spier himself, cartoonist Eppo Doeve, actrice Charlotte Köhler and actor Albert van Dalsum, composer Willem Pijper and performers Heintje Davids and Buziau.

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