[expositie] Fiep Westendorp – Woman in a Cage

Fiep Westendorp: Woman in a Cage
by Eike Abbo

Sophia Maria Westendorp, better known as Fiep Westendorp, was a beloved Dutch illustrator, who has made thousands of drawings over the course of her career. Born in Zaltbommel in December 1916, she always had a passion for drawing. Westendorp attended the Royal College of Arts and Crafts in ‘s-Hertogenbosch as the only woman in her class, and later studied at the Art Academy in Rotterdam. Westendorp chose not to get married, as at the time it was not possible to be married and have an artistic career. During WWII, Westendorp assisted the allied war effort by using her art training to make fake ID documents and providing maps of certain locations. 

For years, Westendorp illustrated for the national magazine Het Parool, as part of the early feminist column “For women (but not only her…),” as well as the children’s page. Westendorp’s work defined the woman’s page for years, often taking a small fragment of text and turning it into a humorous cartoon. 

The women’s page of Het Parool was pioneering compared to similar sections in other newspapers during the 1950s because it addressed feminist issues. The illustrations Fiep Westendorp made to accompany the articles on women’s emancipation gave the sometimes dramatic texts a cheerful humorous twist. For that reason, we still find her drawings relevant today. Because even though much has changed since the second half of the last century, the illustrations still show very familiar situations. The drawings need no caption to speak entirely for themselves.

Fiep also enjoyed making work for children, imagining her own happy but nonsensical world. She is known for her illustrations of Jip and Janneke, two black and white silhouettes, in a series of stories written by her long-time collaborator Annie M.G. Schmidt, as well as illustrations of Otje, Pim and Pom, Tow-truck Pluck, and more. 

Westendorp’s illustrations have a distinct style, with defined characters that had pointy noses and caricatured poses. She made them have “Fiep-faces,” with small, round eyes, and noses on the forehead of the character. Using the simplest lines, Westendorp’s characters were able to express great emotions and tell stories. Audiences were able to connect with her simple-yet-humorous cartoons, while also learning from them.

Fiep Westendorp dedicated her life to illustration and decided to use her royalties to support illustration as a profession and as a serious art form. She founded the Fiep Westendorp Foundation. This foundation supports young illustrators through the Fiep Westendorp Incentive Prize. The foundation was also instrumental in the establishment of the Illustration Embassy. The special professor of illustration at the University of Amsterdam, also funded by the foundation, contributes to the recognition of the importance of illustration as an art form. Something Fiep herself fought for and was able to contribute so much to with her talent and unique view of the world around her.