It was 1889 when Herman Gorter wrote his magnificent poem ‘In den zwarten nacht is een mensch aangetreden’. It was written in response of the death of the young lady Anna Witsen. The general public was not aware of that fact, but her brother Willem Witsen knew it though, for Gorter donated him the handwritten poem clearly indicating the reason.
Exactly 100 years later this story came to me for the first time. Rein van der Wiel’s book ‘Ewijkshoeve, tuin van tachtig’ was launched and I read it cover to cover. I realized that the family estate where I grew up formed the backdrop for this tragic scene.
In the 1880s Ewijckshoeve was the country residence of the patron family Witsen and thanks to the generosity of painter Willem Witsen, became a gathering place for writers, musicians and painters. It was considered a breeding ground for young, talented artists. Works of art originated here, can now be found in leading museums like the Rijksmuseum or the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The formative days of experimenting with the medium of photography was explored in this place.
I got intrigued by this Anna. Who was she? What drove her? What was her role and how can that be seen in the time in which she lived? In this series ‘Songs for soprano’ my own memories and fantasies merge with the things I learned about Anna to create a portrait of her. I somehow feel connected to this woman who lived at the same spot on earth, a century distance away. Only how different was her life from mine?
It seems Anna had a melancholy character. She suffered from unrequited love and as a woman she believed she had failed by staying single. As a singer, she received little recognition. She felt as though her mere presence disturbed her own brother, she was burdened with fierce fears and life senselessly tormented her. She must have felt that nobody really saw her for who she was. Anna chose to extract herself from this lonely reality on March 5, 1889.
For this series I used various techniques inspired on Witsen’s work combined with techniques of today, like slow shutter speeds on digital cameras or contemporary etching techniques. The title ‘Songs for soprano’ refers to the soprano singer Anna always wanted to be.