Tray for laundry
The Dutch Folk Art Of Tole Painting
On The Island Of Ameland
Amsterdam in the year 1602 merchants with seafaring and trading interests founded the VOC
(Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie - The Dutch-East Indian Company).
The headquarters of the Company was located in Amsterdam and because of its excellent
strategical position it became the centre of the world and a depot for all manner of
commodities. From "the West" came wine, salt, food, textiles, but also raw materials
such as chalk, slate and dyes. These basic materials were refined by means of windmills
and resold. To 'the East" commodities like textiles, salt, wine and herring were sent as
well as such luxury articles as merchandise from the colonies and tole-painted pieces of
At that particular time more than half of the population of the Dutch Republic
was active in the non-agrarian sector. In the surrounding countries that ratio
was only a quarter. There was a flourishing economy and instead of the church,
the middle class became the major group that commissioned work from artists and craftsmen.
Not only did wooden panels and linen form the basis for paintings, this art form was also
applied to tea trays, cabinets and tables. In 1744 a German painting guild even complained
about the import of decorated furniture from Holland.
The role of the Dutch Republic in the international trade decreased significantly in the 18th century.
The merchant fleet from Ameland was able to develop in size due to its independence from the Dutch Republic.
Merchandise was transported between the Zaanstreek in the West of Holland and the Baltic countries.
This merchandise consisted of tole-painted furniture. In Sweden one can find decorated furniture that
is said to be of Amelander origin and on Ameland in turn decorated wooden utensils from the Baltic countries can be found.
As a result of the increasing wealth on Ameland a demand for tole-painted articles
also developed on the island itself. The most popular ones were the bedside benches.
They could be found in each house in front of the bedstead.
The decorations on the front and the sides mainly had as subject
"the five wise and the five foolish virgins", but also "the deer hunt" or "whaling"
are featured on many bedside benches. The grey-blue paint layer on the legs is a mixture of chalk, slate,
smalt and bone glue. It is decorated with a festoon, a red or yellow knot of flowers.
At the end of the 18th century the production of and trade in these decorated articles
came to a stop as a result of a decline in the general economy. The island of Ameland
is quite isolated and due to the diminishing state of prosperity the existing pieces
of furniture were used for an extended period of time and, when needed, restored and
repainted with a different theme with, for instance, ships.
New, simple bedside benches were made after the old example.
Similar developments took place elsewhere as in Hindeloopen and to a lesser degree on Terschelling,
in Workum and other coastal places.
In 1978, being curious about the origin of bedside benches
started to take inventory, catalogue and study these special pieces of furniture.
Using the traditional means of fabrication, that is the lathe, wood carving, the use of wooden
pegs and bone glue as well as the various types of paint for which the original raw materials are used,
Klaas Nobel is now making these bedside benches.
The benches are individually numbered and are about W90 x D37 x H46 cm in size.
They are painted with one of the three decorations mentioned before.
A CD on the Amelander folk art of tole painting is available in De Mispel. On this CD the development of this art form and its application to corner cabinets, folding tables and cradles is discussed by means of text (in Dutch) and pictures. Especially bedside benches are shown, more than 70 antique Amelander bedside benches are described and/or displayed.
For more information send an e-mail
(Translation: G. J. 't Hart-de Boer, Canada)