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John Steen

(b Dordrecht, March 10, 1893; d The Hague, June 3, 1956).

Dutch painter and draughtsman. He first worked as a teacher in the Dutch East Indies (1916–38). Thereafter he lived in The Hague, where he taught drawing and history of art. He was self-taught and until 1930 painted primarily East Indian models and landscapes, in which Paul Cézanne’s influence is apparent. While on leave in Europe (1923–4 and 1931) and through reproductions, he came into contact with Surrealism, which was to have a crucial effect on his work. He had a one-man exhibition at the gallery J. H. de Bois in Haarlem in 1931. During his ‘blue period’ (1930–40) he painted his collection of East Indian masks and wajang puppets, often in close-up, as well as still-lifes. During his second Surrealist period (1940–45) the objects were placed in a fictive, external space. The works are full of theatrical elements and symbols of mortality, which are a response to the experience of World War II. After ...