Born in Rotterdam Holland in 1889, Henriette Willebeek Le Mair was always destined to be imaginative and artistic. From birth she was immersed in a stimulating and creative environment. Her father would tell stories and create sketches and pictures of the children and her mother was a keen painter and writer of poetry and verse.
Le Mair appreciated the work of Maurice Boutet de Monvel, the most successful illustrator in France at that time. At fifteen years old, her parents took her to see him in Paris to ask his advice. He told her to study anatomy and gave her advice on painting childrens’ portraits. Every year she would return to him to show him her progress. De Monvel also convinced her to study at the Rotterdam Academy from 1909 to 1911. She also studied under a drawing-master in Holland. He required her to draw the model while it danced in circles, first at a slow speed, then at increased speeds.
Her first book “Premieres Rondes Enfantines” was published in France in 1904 when she was just 15 years old. One year later Henriette collaborated with her mother on a series of three books containing her mothers verse with Henriette providing the illustrations. Her most prolific period of work was between the years of 1911 to 1917. Like many other artists of the time, her work also appeared on sets of postcards and children’s china.
In her early twenties she ran an exclusive nursery school in her home and drew from this experience for much of her work, using her pupils as her models just as Cicely Mary Barker did. In 1920 Le Mair married H.P. Baron van Tuyll van Serooskerkenand and adopted the name “Saida”. They both converted to the beliefs of Sufism, a religion of universal brotherhood and love, as taught by Murshid Inayat Khan, and spent their lives helping the poor and other charitable causes. They eventually settled in The Hague, Netherlands.
Her delicate style of painting and the medium of watercolor were ideal for showing children in beautiful surroundings. Her illustrations show painstaking and minute attention to detail. Her drawing style was flat with muted colors and decorative borders. One critic from The Studio wrote; “Since the days of Kate Greenaway I know of no one who has caught so well the spirit of childhood as Miss Willebeek Le Mair.”
Henriette Willebeek Le Mair died on the 15th of March 1966 aged 77.
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