Saturday, April 2, 2016

WOMEN ARTISTS: Alida Withoos

Aquilegia with Butterflies and a Salamander", oil on canvas, by Alida Withoos

A Dutch painter and botanical illustrator, Alida Withoos is the featured artist for March, in my Woman Artist Series.  

ALIDA WITHOOS (1661-1730)

Here are 10 things to know about Alida Withoos, along with images of her lovely botanical still-life drawings and paintings:

1.  Alida was born in Amersfoort, in 1661 -- the daughter of two painters, Matthias Withoos and Wendelina van Hoorn.  Because of the invasion of Utrecht by the French, the family moved to Hoorn, in 1672.  She had three brothers and a sister, who all became painters, like their parents.

Rosa Mundi, watercolor on paper, by Alida Withoos

2.  She was trained by her father, Matthias, in painting still lifes and botanical illustrations -- along with her siblings, Johannes, Pieter, Frans, and Maria.  Painting tuition was expensive at that time, so they trained with him in his studio.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, daughters in particular benefitted from their fathers' botanical interests and work.  Many assisted their fathers and were required to create botanical illustrations and flower paintings.  

Untitled, oil on canvas, 27 x 22 in, by Alida Withoos

3.  Unlike her brothers and sister, Alida acquired a certain reputation painting under her own name, principally due to her botanical images.  

In Hoorn, a number of the Withoos children, working in their father's studio, were active as artists of flowers, birds, butterflies, and insects.  But, in inventories, these images were regularly called "Withoosjes", and were not attributed to any one of them, individually.

4.  As with most of the rare female artists of the 17th and 18th centuries, Alida Withoos' works consisted almost solely of still life paintings and a series of studies of plants (on paper), that presumably once formed part of a sketchbook.  Several of these sketchbook studies are now in museums.

She focused mainly on the lifelike representation of flowers, birds, butterflies, and insects.  

A study of Aconitum, or monkshood, watercolor on paper, by Alida Withoos

In this study of Aconitum, or monkshood -- a highly poisonous plant that can be found almost everywhere in moderate areas of the northern hemisphere -- Withoos has depicted the delicate flower petals and leaves with great care and accuracy.

Persian Buttercups, watercolor on paper, by Alida Withoos

5.  In the years around 1690, Alida worked in the service of the collector and botanist Agnes Block, at her country estate, Vijverhof.

While there, Alida -- along with her brother, Pieter, and other botanical artists -- depicted the exotic plants in Block's garden, brought to Holland by the Dutch East India Company.

She had the opportunity there, to draw and paint rare animals and plants.  Alida Withoos depicted the first pineapple to be bred in Europe, in 1687 -- but that image is considered lost.

6.  In 1694, Alida Withoos assisted Jan Moninckx with his Moninckx Atlas, which depicted over 400 plants from the Hortus Medicus garden in Amsterdam.  

Mesembryanthemum, watercolor on paper, by Alida Withoos

Alida drew and painted several watercolors of exotic plants for this Moninckx Atlas, a monumental work of botany, with over 400 plant descriptions and illustrations.  

Nasturtium, opaque and transparent watercolor, over black chalk, on paper

Thirteen watercolors by Alida Withoos, for this book, have survived.  These images were of plants brought back in the ships of the Dutch East India Company.

7.  Alida worked for some time in Hoorn, where her father, Mathias Withoos, also spent his last years.  After his death in 1703, Alida moved to Amsterdam.

Untitled, oil on canvas, 27x22 inches

8.  In 1701, Alida Withoos married the painter, Andries Cornelisz van Dalen -- a typical example of relations between artistic and painterly families in 17th and 18th century Holland.  Unfortunately, after her marriage, she apparently ended her painting career.  

Tak aalbessen, watercolor on paper, by Alida Withoos

9.  The Hague has several of Alida Withoos' signed works.  And, the Library of Wageningen University owns a book of drawings, bought by the collector Simon Schijnvoet, that includes seven by Alida -- perhaps made for Agnes Block.  These all give a good idea of the high quality of her work.

10.  Alida Withoos died in 1730, and was buried in the Western Church in Amsterdam.


  1. Hello Pat, it might be approriated to mention some sources. The first portrait that you show in from Agnes Block. But who is the women at the end, who painted it and were is the painting housed? It looks like a 19th century work to me.

  2. Yes, Liesbeth, there is some confusion here. The first portrait is not of Alida Withoos, nor by her. As you suggest, it is a detail from the portrait by Jan Weenix of Agnes (Agneta) Block, with her second husband and possibly two nieces. See

    The portrait at the end is a mystery to me. It could possibly be a portrait of Alida Withoos in old age, but as you say we really do need more information and source details if we are to accept that it is. I don't think the portrait is C19th, I think it's probably 18th. But my initial instinct is that it was painted later in the century, and therefore unlikely to be of Withoos. I'm very happy to be proved wrong, though!

    Pat, could you tell us more, please? There seems little point in an art blog celebrating women artists if the information in it is incomplete or misleading!?