A Century of Fiep Westendorp
If you grew up in The Netherlands, it’s more than likely you’ve spent more time with the artwork of Fiep Westendorp than you did with your brothers and sisters. With 2016 being the 100th anniversary of her birth, it’s well worth celebrating a woman whose work that has influenced so many Dutch children with her work on classics like Jip & Janneke. And it’s being celebrated with expositions, theater, educational packages and many more initiatives.
Originally a student at the Academy for Visual Arts in Rotterdam, she leaves the school and the city after it was bombed in 1940. She then spends the first few years of the war living with poets Clara Eggink and J.C. Bloem, illustrating for several magazines, as well as the publications by the poets. By 1942, it becomes clear Fiep is highly opposed to the German occupants, and is forced to leave. She moves back to her parent’s home in Zaltbommel, where she falsifies personal documents and draws location plans for the Allied soldiers.
After the war she decides to move to Amsterdam, and the city will remain her home. Here she works for Vrij Nederland and publishers like De Bezige Bij. One year later Fiep joins Het Parool, and in 1949 gets the opportunity to illustrate the Children’s page. It’s also here where she meets her life-long friend Annie M.G. Schmidt. However, it will take until 1952 before the pair publish their first Jip & Janneke story within the pages of Het Parool.
This friendship would prove prolific, beginning with the 5 years of weekly stories in the newspaper. And Jip & Janneke turn out to be perhaps the most iconic illustrated characters of The Netherlands. All the stories are bundled, and can be found in pretty much every kindergarten, and most children’s bedrooms across the nation. But their status as national icon does not keep them safe from criticism. Russian, Mandarin and even Latin translations are available, but publishers in the UK are hesitant to publish the books. Due to their origin in newspapers, Fiep Westendorp made the decision to draw the characters as silhouettes. However, according to the publishers this might have discriminatory implications.
Eventually in 2013, Dutch publisher Querido translates the original book in English and makes it widely available.
Jip and Janneke will prove to be the first of a long collaboration between Westendorp and Schmidt. In 1968 they create the character Floddertje, whose stories are originally packaged with baby food. Other characters like Otje and Pluk van de Petteflat follow in the years after, and gain their own iconic status. (Floddertje and Pluk van de Petteflat are also available in English, known as Scrumple and Tow-Truck Pluck)
Next to her work with Annie M.G. Schmidt, the prolific illustrator paves her way through several different types of publication. She illustrates several poetry books, and does promotional work for businesses like KLM and Vrij Nederland. Together with Mies Bouhuys she creates the cats Pim & Pom, who succeed Jip & Janneke on the pages of Het Parool.
Within the offices of Het Parool she also finds allies for one of her other passions. She works on the Women’s Page, which was an initiative of Wim Hora Adema. Together with Annie M.G. Schmidt and Jeanne Roos, they publish critical articles on society and the role of women within it, while claiming their own way within the offices of the paper. Instead of coming into the office, they gather in hotels or at Wim’s huis, combining their meetings with High Tea or cheese and wine.
Because of the succes of the page, the women can keep this up until 1968. By then the editor in chief Herman Sandberg has had enough and refuses to pay for their meetings, because Hora Adema doesn’t show up to meetings, and doesn’t allow anyone to edit her page. She is fired, and both Fiep Westendorp and Annie M.G. Schmidt leave with her.
Wim Hora Adema starts her own feminist magazine, Opzij, a few years later. Fiep becomes a consistent contributor.
In 1992 a statue of Jip & Janneke is revealed in her hometown of Zaltbommel. This being the first of many accolades given to her later in life. Having never received the “Gouden Penseel” award throughout her career, she is given the Oeuvre Penseel by the CPNB in 1997. That same year is also the last she publishes work. Querido posthomously releases a book of fairytales by Annie M.G. Schmidt by the name of “Misschien Wel Echt Gebeurd”, and Fiep Westendorp provides the cover.
Fiep Westendorp passes away in 2004, in her adopted hometown of Amsterdam. Leaving all her rights and her wealth in hands of the Fiep Westendorp Foundation, which focuses on projects for less fortunate children, and promoting, stimulating, and educating the art of illustration.
And now, a century after her birth celebrations have been set up all across the country. You can find her work in museums, the theater, and in schools. These efforts maintain her legacy, and pave the the way for the next century of Dutch children to grow up, love and be inspired by her work.