Blue Flower

Vintage calendars by Theo van Hoytema



Theodorus van Hoytema (with surname sometimes spelled as Hoijtema) was Dutch aquarellist, designer, illustrator, and lithographer active at the end of 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Born in 1863 as the youngest of eight children didn't enjoy long in good life provided by his father's position at the Department of Finance. Both parents died when he was still a teenager and kids move to different locations. Frequent relocations were an important part of his life right to the end.


Theo, as he signed himself, finished Gymnasium and landed a position n a financial company. Such job didn't satisfy him. He decided to leave the security of regular payments mixed with boring office work and focus on his true love - drawing and painting. He received his first lessons from his eldest sister when he was still a child, but this time decided to enroll in the Royal Academy of Art. His favorite exercise was drawing of stuffed animals in Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie in Leiden.

Drawings and paintings from the museum got him his first commission - scientific illustrations at Koninklijke Brill (Brill Publishers) where his uncle occupied the position of a Director. Pictures of animals, especially birds, soon became one of his signature characteristics. If we were forced to expose only one area of his creative life, this would be drawings of birds for sure.

His first success was a picture book about birds (How the Birds Came to a King). He earned some money and got married. But the marriage didn't last long and first health issues occurred. He moved from town to town, was hospitalized, went for some time in a psychiatric sanatorium, and finally calmed down at his sister's home where he stayed to his death in 1917. This time was actually the most productive of his life. His calendars which made him famous done in Art Nouveau style are very popular among collectors.

We have a pleasure to admire Leo van Hoytema's calendar for 1903:




We are actually dealing with a booklet with fourteen sheets. This was the cover with just a hint of graphics, serving only for informational purposes. But it already introduces van Hoytema's great love if not obsession - birds.




January already presents a bird - peacock. Decorative border, one of the characteristics of Art Nouveau, is almost invisible in this case, made of abstract curves, colors are pale, natural, with dominating greenish and brownish tones. Days in the week are marked only by initials, empty spaces in calendar template decorated with small silhouettes of birds (surprise, surprise).




Another month, another opportunity to present a lovely picture of birds. This time we can enjoy in the company of ducks. Van Hoytema illustrated The Ugly Duckling by H. C. Andersen in 1892. Decorative elements for the calendar of February are much richer than in January. We can see flowers, grass, and, of course, more birds.




Storks are in the leading role for March. We see a pair in the nest on the chimney in the central picture, there's also a couple in the upper part of the border, one for each corner. Theo van Hoytema also included two frogs and a couple of insects, typical food of storks and another creation area where he excelled. Some plants are added as well.




We have only one bird in this picture. It looks it's singing or making an important call. It's spring after all. The rest of the calendar sheet is covered with daisies. A lot of daisies. Did you know April very likely got its name after Aphrodite (like March after Mars, May after Maia and June after Juno), although some historians prefer the interpretation with the Latin word aprire (to open), explaining the opening of flowers in this month?




Believe it or not, flowers dislodged the birds from the picture (well, some silhouettes are still in the blank places of the calendar template). The month of May is blooming indeed. Its goddess is in charge of growing plants and van Hoytema definitely paid proper respect to her.




More flowers are drawn in the calendar of June 1903. Birds are not seen anywhere in the sheet. Butterflies replaced them even in the blanks of the table with dates. A decorative border is constructed these colorful insects. Van Hoytema used them in all sizes, shapes, and patterns.




In the month of July, we finally see a four-legged warm-blooded animal. It's a squirrel on a conifer in the main image. Both elements are used to form decorative border as well and the artist draws a few squirrels to fill the table with numbers. Less noticeable but very imaginative are stylized squirrels inside and around the capital letters for the names of the week. By the way, most of them were named after gods too. But the month of July didn't. It is named after Gaius Julius Cesar, famous Roman general and politician who, among other things, reforming the calendar. Julian calendar was gradually replaced by the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century but is still used in some parts of the world lagging 13 days behind the Gregorian.




Sunflowers dominate in central design for the month of August. Theo van Hoytema decided to make a decorative border of bees in the upper and snails in the lower half. This is also one of the best designs in this calendar where his initials (T, V, and H overlapped) are clearly seen. He signed other pictures too, but for the lack of contrast and loss at reproduction, exposition of paper to air pollutants (including oxygen, of course), they may be harder to find. But they are there, don't worry.




September brings as back to birds. They look like partridge, but they may be some kind of similar species. We can see a few rabbits beyond the central image. There are some mushrooms on the scene as well. Brownish and cream, almost sepia tones demonstrate the turn of the seasons, from summer to fall. Orange color, the color of fall leaves, used in the table with letters and numbers, is another dominant tone in the calendar page.




The colors of October are significantly darker. The summer is over. Sun became a scarce commodity. Birds are an important part of the message. A few are going to stay. They don't look very happy. We could even say they seem worried. Majority of birds in the design is in flight. They are turned away from the observer. They are leaving the country, looking for better conditions in warmer areas of the world.




November is a dark and cold month. Pessimism is presented in several ways. We can see an owl, an ancient messenger of death, one of the most symbolical creatures of the night, with its prey in the beak. Brown colors are gone. Different shades of gray cover most of the picture. A pair of yellow eyes are looking out from the foggy background. According to van Hoytema's design November is not a very nice month.




A rooster is a central figure of the last month of the year. Several other birds are forming a decorative border. While dark gray still persists in the picture, a few signs of optimism are clearly visible. There's a Christmas related plant with berries, some lively orange and almost red tones of details in the picture, and, of course, the position of the rooster - it is facing the observer, obviously looking forward. The old year is going away. It's time for new beginnings.




Endpaper in appropriate yellowish cream color is the last, fourteenth page in this calendar booklet illustrated and designed by Theo van Hoytema. The same color was used as the base for all calendar sheets and can be seen on the back of each individual page. For everybody interested in the process of printing we can add another tidbit - a sheet with three designs on the same page as it was printed before the workers cut it to final dimension and bind them in the right order. The banner-like design with two salamanders for the top of calendar is there too.




With this, we conclude our journey to the past. Exactly the same calendar could be used for 2015. If you missed it, the year of 2037 is your next chance!


For all the facts behind calendars, the history of their names and other amusing facts we need to thank