BIOGRAPHY: Johannes Josephus Aarts

Johannes Josephus Aarts was born in The Hague, the Netherlands, on 18 August 1871. He studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Amsterdam.

Aarts’ first engravings show how he tried to move away from his work as a painter and search for tighter control of forms and decorative solutions to problems. As an intermediate step away from painting, Aarts started drawing in black and white and it is this work that made other artists suggest he should take up engraving. Wood engraving was yet another step towards the ultimate goal of copper engraving. During this time he moved more and more towards a realistic approach, both in subject matter and style. Elementary is another word often used for his engraved art. He took the farmer, the polder boy, the fisherman, the beggars family and other lifelike figures central and even though he placed them in elementary surroundings, symbolised by the earth, a tree, or what not, it was still the figure which remained central, and as such Aarts’ work was a vital link in the development of subject matter for the 19th century engraver.

Aarts had imposed himself on the Dutch postal authorities as being the best choice for engraving the upcoming 1913 Dutch Independence issue. However, his work was not highly thought of by everyone, with his contemporary engraving for a new banknote, the ‘Labour and Welfare’ 10 guilder banknote (P34), which would be issued in 1917, being criticised.

In the end, the designer of the set, Mr de Bazel, was given the choice of engraver and he chose Aarts. Aarts started in December 1912 but it took him to mid September 1913 to finish the twelve dies. This was mainly due to circumstances beyond his control, such as delays caused by the postal authorities and badly worked out reference and design material. The original date of issue, in September 1913, could no longer be realised and the stamps would eventually not appear until the end of the year.

In 1923, Aarts was asked to engrave the high values of the forthcoming Dutch Silver Jubilee set, depicting a throned figure. Aarts did not know that the printers Enschedé had asked their in-house engraver Jan Warnaar as well to make a die. Aarts nearly exploded when he found out, and more so when he heard that Warnaar's die was thought to be superior to his own work. He immediately wrote in to resign the assignment but the postal authorities managed to calm him down and in the end a compromise was reached by having Aarts engrave the throned figure design and Warnaar the design for the low values, a portait of Queen Wilhelmina. Aarts had already made a die for that design as well, and it is with that unaccepted die that colour proofs were made for the set.  

Aarts was a Professor at the Dutch Royal Academy of Visual Arts. In that capacity he taught a good number of future stamp engravers, such as Debora DuyvisSem HartzHubert Levigne and E. Reitsma-Valença.

Aarts died in Amsterdam in 1934.

You will find J J Aarts' database HERE.