(from the book “De geschiedenis van de familie Noyon, Utrecht – Sneek, 1668 – 1856”, written by Tjerk Frederik Noyon, chapter 2)
When my mother died in 1959 I received from my father the 19th century oil portraits that represented Isaac Beerents Wouters and his wife Catharina Hesselink. As a boy I had seen them hanging at my grandparents in their heavy gold frames and later at my parents.
They were the grandparents on the maternal side of my grandfather Noyon, whose father was married to their daughter Johanna Wouters. They were beautiful, stately portraits, which, however, were needing a severe facelift. Since we lived in Luxembourg and my brother-in-law Maarten Cieremans was familiar with the Hague painter’s world, the paintings were temporarily stored with him, until a suitable restorer would be found. However, they fell victim to the mischief of the cousins, as they found them suitable for target practice for their darts, so they had to eventually to be completely relined!
Since then they are fully restored, the first of the constantly growing range of family portraits, which are now in my possession.
With the Wouters, I received also four framed photographic portrait reproductions of two couples Noyon, which I also remembered from my grandfatherly and fatherly home. The men, one old and ugly and the other young and handsome, wearing late 18th century powdered wigs and the women, also old and young, a curious splayed laced headgear. I later discovered it was called a “German hat”, which was generally worn in Friesland in the last half of the 18th century.
According to the note on the back they were Joseph Noyon (1737-1796), once mayor of Sneek, his spouse Geertruida Munniks (1732-1806) and their son Petrus Simeon (1761-1848) and daughter-in-law Remelia Terpstra (1760-1814). The photos did presume that they were painted by the same painter and at about the same time, late in 1700.
But where were the originals? My mother had once told me that they “had been sold to America” by previous generations where, after all, wealthy Americans were not as particular as to the authenticity of their ancestors.
In that case, of course, looking for them had not much sense anymore. However, I could not let go of the issue: the same photographs were or had been also in the possession of other contemporaries of my grandfather: his brother Isaac and his cousin Tarquinius Terpstra Noyon, while none of these three men could be suspected to have squandered their ancestors to America.
Sybrand my cousin (son of Isaac), who gave me in 1964 – a rather clumsily painted – portrait of “Petrus Simeon aging” did finally put me on the right track. His brother Piet having died in 1962 would have gotten this portrait as a gift from a relationship of his, a certain Mr. Van der Veen from Wassenaar.
The family Van der Veen-Vonk
On a return visit to The Hague in February 1964, I managed to find the original donor. It turned out to be the then 60-year-old Mr Johannes van der Veen Vonk, who received us very kindly at his home in Duinrell. His grandfather, the notary Arnoldus Vonk (1842-1891) was at that time married with a girl Van der Veen and his father, after the extinction of the male Van der Veens, added the name to his own. Our host did not know our Noyon Portraits but was in possession of a number of other portraits originating from this family, among others Aaltje van der Veen-Noyon (1783-1853), her husband Johannes Martinus van der Veen (1770-1850) and their son Petrus van der Veen (1809-1879). Since my host by inheritance had two portraits of Petrus Simeon Noyon “aging” in his possession, he had given one to my cousin Piet.
He told us that the family Van der Veen had lived in a big state and that even a wing was built to their country house, to accommodate the collection of portraits. Given the large number of daughters were copies made while the originals were intended for the heir. Around the turn of the century the heir had immigrated to Argentina, where his descendants still lived.
The issue of the disappeared Noyon Portraits seemed to be resolved: they were, after the death of Petrus Simeon in 1848, passed on to Aaltje where they ended up in the portrait collection of the Van der Veen and finally immigrated completely legally to Argentina with the heir Van der Veen! Before their departure, they were even photographed for the benefit of my family.
Mr Van der Veen Vonk had more in store for me. He gave me a printed pedigree chart on gray cardboard (40 x 64 cm) by the hand of his father which represented the entanglement of the family Van der Veen with Noyons and that has often been very useful for me. He was also in possession of a picture of a double alliance coat of arms Noyon-Terpstra which depicted the coat of arms of Simeon Petrus and his wife.
He lent me a letter from Petrus Simeon to his granddaughter Lemke Boelens, born Bokma, dated August 31, 1839, which I photocopied as well as the alliance coat of arms. I got a lacquer print of a seal in his possession, shared Van der Veen – Noyon, and his wife sent us later a piece of a cashmere scarf, that had been in their possession, which would have belonged to Aaltje, and which was called by them “the scarf of Aal”. They still had the long white glace gloves, with which Aal was portrayed. Apparently Aal played a major role since her appearance in the family Van der Veen, as her mementos were piously kept.
The register cards Moes
On the same day I made a visit to the Iconographic Office, a setting similar to the Central Bureau for Genealogy, but for portraits.
It was at that time housed in the same building on Nassaulaan in The Hague and was managed by the founder, Baronet van Kretschmar, who I had met as classmate of my brother Louis d’Aulnis.
They were in possession of the register cards by the curator Moes from Amsterdam, who, at the end of last century, had indexed all portraits in the Netherlands that he could find. However he had limited himself to the period before 1800. In this collection, three register cards were mentioning Noyon portraits:
Mayor of Sneek, 1737-1796
By an Italian painter
Madam widow Van der Veen – Kniphorst in Assen
Geertruida Munniks, wife of Joseph, with an identical inscription
Noyon-man portrait 18th century
Mr. J. T. Boelens, ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
The first two register cards concerned without a doubt of the two portraits of which I had the photos, which confirmed once again that they were in possession of daughter Aaltje at the time of her death in 1893.
For the moment I had no leads for the information of the third register card. Was this perhaps the portrait of Simeon Petrus, I was looking for? But why was it not better identified by the then owner, Mr. Jan Tarquinius Boelens (1844-1920), who had been a grandson of him? It is remarkable also, that here again the lead links to the family Van der Veen.
The Mother of Mr. Boelens was in fact none other than Lemke Bokma (1809-1881), who like her sister Remelia had become an orphan at a young age and had been hosted for years by the family of Johannes van der Veen and Aaltje Noyon.
After her marriage to the pastor Boelens they still maintained a close link with grandfather Petrus Simeon Noyon, as it turns out, nota bene, through the letter from Petrus to her which was in Van der Veen Vonk’s posession. It is possible that the man’s portrait Noyon (Petrus Simeon?) went to her directly, or via the Van der Veens, and thus ended up with her son.
The Frisian Maritime Museum and Sneek Antiquities Room
We were still in 1965, when a few months later, during the first archival research in Friesland, Willy and I also visited the Frisian Maritime Museum and Antiquities Room at the Kleinzand in Sneek to pick up the local atmosphere. When, after ringing the doorbell, we were admitted by an employee, she looked over our shoulder when we checked our names in the visitor’s book, and asked us with interest whether we came to admire the portraits of Mayor Joseph Noyon and his wife, now completely restored as a new addition to the museum and were now gracing the upstairs hallway!
And lo and behold, the long-sought portraits of Joseph and his wife Geertruijdt in beautiful black with gold “counting money” frames were found. It turned out that they had been purchased for 300 guilders, two years before, from a certain Mrs. Ehrens from Bentveld, who had offered them to the municipality of Sneek.
Had they not immigrated to Argentina? Or had they possibly come back? And who was Mrs Ehrens?
I got her address and went to see her on our next visit to the Netherlands. She was born a Hartogh Heys van Zouteveen, the granddaughter of Herman Hartogh Heys van Zouteveen, who was married in 1866 with one of the many daughters of Petrus van der Veen and Aleida Kniphorst.
The portraits had stood in poor condition in her attic and since she wanted to put her estate in order, she had looked for a right candidate. When she could not trace a Noyon in the telephone book of The Hague, she had addressed herself to the municipality of Sneek. Because of my move to Luxembourg the paintings of Joseph and Geertruida passed me by!
Herman Hartogh Heys of Zouteveen had bequeathed some genealogical notes and documents, of which Ms. Ehrens was so friendly to give me some.
There was a letter from my great-grandfather Petrus Simeon to his aunt Tetje van der Veen dated 1873, in which he made statements from memory about the first generations in Sneek. This remarkable letter turned out to be the key to the legend about Pierre who came from Lyon to Sneek after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and which was incorporated in their pedigree diagrams by both Hartogh Heys van Zouteveen and his father Petrus van der Veen.
In order to trace the missing portraits of Petrus Simeon and his wife Remelia the search had to be moved to Argentina. A letter addressed to the Dutch embassy for information about the descendants of the emigrant Van der Veen resulted after several months in a letter from the Consul General to Buenos Aires, dated May 21, 1965. He had made a big effort and informed me that I could make contact with Ernesto Juan Rudolph, a doctor who lived in the town of Baradero in the province of Buenos Aires on Calle Anchorena 748. Since he no longer had the Dutch nationality and no longer mastered that language, I would have to correspond with him in Spanish or in another language.
Since my Spanish had become to rusty to write long letters I addressed an English epistle to him on December 19, 1965, in which I asked about the Noyon-portraits, the alliance-weapon Noyon-Terpstra and genealogical register (1720-1816) of which a copy was held by the family.
Already on January 21 he wrote a friendly but short answer: he was indeed in possession of a large collection of portraits, documents and objects! In the next months we exchanged a few more letters, of which finally it appeared that he was willing to part with the collection that interested do to me if we could agree on the price. I never got an answer on my last letter of April 25, 1966, in which I wrote to him that the two portraits in Sneek were sold for 300, – guilders to the Sneek Museum and in which I asked him to make me a reasonable overall offer. I thought that I had insulted him, and did not quite know how pick up the case again. On top of things, my thoughts were elsewhere.
I worked for the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), and since the merger of the ECSC with other European Communities in Brussels was imminent my future was uncertain for many months.
Travel to South America in 1978
It was ten years later before I resumed the topic. Having moved to Brussels as responsible for the security of the European Commission, I conceived the plan to inspect our new office in Caracas, where a coded telex connection would be installed, myself for once instead of sending someone else, and add to that a holiday in Argentina with my wife Willy. I had always promised to show her the country and the estancia, where I as a young man had spent a year in 1938. I could combine that also with a visit to my correspondent remote-cousin Rudolph.
So I wrote him a letter and I soon received a reply in Spanish, but this time from his widow. Her husband had died the year before. She wrote that his last letter from Luxembourg had been returned undeliverable and declared herself ready to receive us in her home in Baradero.
When we knocked on her door a few weeks later (we had rented a car in Buenos Aires to make a great tour through central Argentina) we were welcomed by the entire family: mother Matilde, the resident son Ernesto and over from Buenos Aires daughter Ines with her husband, both doctors.
After long and difficult discussions in Spanish the portraits of Petrus and Simeon Remelia were fetched from the rear of the house, without frames and in a deplorable state, full of holes and abrasions. Besides the paintings there were, all without frame: half body Aaltje in large format, ditto portrait of a portly old gentleman, two portraits of an unknown couple, a smaller portrait of a young man in military uniform with glasses and, last but not least, a panel carved in wood with polychrome colours with the alliance coat of arms Noyon-Terpstra.
We were speechless, while disappointed by the lamentable state in which things were.
The next day I got to see the family archives, which included the Noyon-genealogy in the form of torn-out Bible pages, a notebook of Petrus Simeon and a collection of letters by Petrus van der Veen, who wrote to his parents at the time of the 10-day campaign. Among the many Van der Veen documents, there was one that after later study at home gave a clear insight in the portraits situation. It is a copy of the will of Aleida van der Veen, born Kniphorst, which stated on thirteen February 1893 that “as a result of the death of my son J.H.P.E. van der Veen, my plans about the family portraits have changed and I now whish that these family portraits will be divided under my remaining three children Eliza, Anna and Henriette, in pairs so that when they belong together. They will hold their portraits in usufruct while they live and later after their death, they must go to my grandson J.H.P.E. van der Veen”.
The mechanism is therefore clear. Three daughters, married respectively Hartogh Heys van Zouteveen, Hoogboom and Alma were benificiary. The son-in-law Arnoldus Vonk, widower since 1877, a son-in-law Willinga Gratama, widowed also since 1880, as well as the daughter-in-law born Parmentier, whose husband had died in 1892 but who was the mother of the nine year old grandson and heir Van der Veen, were passed. In the division on May 28, 1893 this daughter-in-law claimed over all rights to the family portraits, whereby she maintained that her minor children were already during the life of the testatrix, direct and full heirs. This was contested by the other heirs.
About how many portraits it concerned, we do not know. Many of the originals eventually ended up with the grandson in Argentina. A few were still with the family Hartogh Heys van Zouteveen. The Kniphorsten will have ended in the auction house in Amsterdam via the Alma’s or the Hoogebomen. And the Van der Veen Vonk preserve to this day some copies.
Further there was, in the opinion of the Rudolph family, the most valuable piece of the collection: a book in with one hundred twenty bound optics prints from the 18th century, with the corresponding device to view them.
Finally, two beautiful palm wooden pipe cases with copper fittings inscribed with the year 1782.
Since this was Petrus Simeon’s wedding date, they probably belonged to him and he might have received them from his wife.
The family Rudolph was apparently not in too best financial condition and daughter Ines was looking for an apartment. For the bound prints, they wished to sell for a lot of money: an expert from Christie had told them that they would fetch as much as $ 4000.
Since we did not want to seem too eager, negotiations dragged on for many weeks. Meanwhile, we continued our travels to north and south to always return to Buenos Aires. Finally the sale was sealed shortly before our departure. For $ 7000 we could take away everything. This amount may seem a bit high, especially since the value of the prints was grossly exaggerated, but I had finally fulfilled my dream: finding back Petrus Simeon and Remelia, after a seemingly hopeless quest. Also the other portraits, completely restored and identified have since given us great pleasure. We had just arrived in time: it would most likely have ended up on the garbage heap in a few years later.
Payment and shipping gave us still a lot of headaches. Matilde wanted cash, but we did not have such a large sum with us and we could not have it transferred to us, so few days before our departure. Fortunately, the young German-Argentinean Haigis, who we had met on our arrival at the airport, was so kind to lend the amount to us!
Furthermore it appeared that export of paintings and artefacts from Argentina was prohibited without special permission. We did not have the time to wait for it and did not want to take the risk of refusal. After an initial half commitment the Dutch embassy was not be able to us help either.
Ultimately, our acquisitions were smuggled out of the country in various ways. We took Petrus and Simeon Remelia ourselves as hand luggage on the plane. Further shipments were organized by our Dutch friend Isabel, owner of the travel agency in Buenos Aires, who had also organized our travels by car and plane. One part was transported by a passenger from a ship who travelled to the Netherlands, and another part was moved by Haigis to Germany, where we could go and pick the items up at his parents-in-laws. It turned out that he had married with a girl Hohner which enabled us to also meet with this family, owners of the famous harmonica factory. This operation was brought to a successful conclusion with the disinterested help of so many.
The Iconographic Bureau showed great interest in the portraits, all of which were photographed and recorded. The unknown couple could be identified as Gerrit Kniphorst (1790-1850) Mayor of Assen and his wife, the in-laws of Petrus van der Veen, so that this piece of the puzzle also fell into place.
The military portrait of Petrus van der Veen was attributed by van Kretschmar to Otto de Boer, a pupil of Willem van der Kooy Bartels. Mr. Boschma Director of the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden, who had just completed a monumental book about the work of this famous Frisian portrait painter assured us that the half-body Aaltje of was also of the hand of this painter and was of excellent quality.
His initials emerged incidentally during the restoration of the painting. According to the inscription on the back, the rather stiff portrait of Johannes van der Veen (“Grandpa Quiet” from Wassenaar) had been painted only days before his death, which does explain why his image is so strange.
Mr. Ten Hoeve, curator of the museum in Sneek, to whom we showed our acquisitions, pointed out that the portraits of Petrus Simeon and Remelia were of a different hand than those of Joseph and Geertruijdt, present in his museum, and that between them both they were different also: Petrus Simeon has a pink complexion, which does not exist in 18th century portraits. The portrait of Simeon would therefore have been painted after 1800, unlike the rather pale Remelia. Given his age, his clothes and his powdered wig, which all belong to the Ancien Regime, this must have been therefore a copy of an earlier portrait. Perhaps a copie of the portrait, which Mr. Moes saw at Boelens in ‘s-Hertogenbosch? We will probably never know.
The Iconographic Office directed us to a good restorer Mr Vercouteren in Scheveningen. He successively restored all portraits, which given their poor condition and past improper restoration in Argentina was a hell of a job. Late 1978′s they were ready and when the famous Brussels framer Schleiper had provided appropriate frames, the collection could find a place on the walls of Overveld.
Another remarkable incident occurred when an employee of the Iconographic desk informed us that two portraits which were identical to the Kniphorsten we had shown them several months earlier, were presented in the auction house of Mak van Waay in Amsterdam. Since the auction portraits were still in their original frames it was probable that these were the originals.
A phone bid by us to the auctioneer proved to be too low and another buyer won the auction. We could not find out the name of the seller, but that of the buyer. It turned out to be the owner of a second-hand dolls shop, who had wanted to hang something on the wall. He heard my statements about the identity of the couple with moderate interest, but noted down my name and address in case he would like to sell them again later.
End of 1980 he was ready to sell. His store had burned down and he needed money. Rather unceremoniously the Kniphorsten exchanged hands for 3000 guilders. The portraits bacillus had bitten me! I was now the owner of a double set Kniphorsten, who were not even among my own ancestors!