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Willem Nijs (1902-1961)

A great find from a fellow Farwerck investigator.

Farwerck had al least two ex-libris bookplates, a Masonic one and one that is often called “alchemical”. In the biography I refer to a Facebook post of the Ritman Library who had the “alchemical” ex-libris in an exhibition in 2015 (1). The post says: “The designer of the present bookplate, who signed with the initials ‘W.F.N.’, is unknown (suggestions are welcome).

Here is the plate:

“Alchemical” because the dragon suggests being an ourobouros? In any case, the initial of the maker can be seen on the left below the paw of the dragon. Does it say ‘W.F.N.,’ as the Ritman library suggests? Maybe not!

That looks more like a “wolfsangel” (‘wolf trap’ (2)). “Wolfsangel” was the name of a periodical that Farwerck cooperated with during his national socialist membership. It also functioned as logo for the Dutch National Socialist party and some say that it was Farwerck who came up with it. That makes it even more interesting to find it on his ex-libris that doesn’t look very political outside that. Also, the initials of the maker would, if the former is true, not be W.F.N., but W.N.

Finding things online is an art, but I didn’t even have to test my abilities, as I was not only presented with: “He, did you see that the initials are actually W.N.?” but also with a name and an image that makes it very likely that the name is correct:

Wilhelmus Johannes Hyacinthus Nijs

Dutchmen often have birthnames and a surname. Nijs is sometimes called “Wim”, sometimes “Willem”. He was born in 1902 and passed away in 1961, so he didn’t become very old.

Nijs was an artist, originally sculptor, but he also painted, etched and printed clothing. A large part of his work is religious. He worked for churches often.

In 1940 Nijs joined the Dutch National Socialist Movement, the year that Farwerck was forced to resign. Biographers are somewhat confused over his actual politics. When drunk, Nijs would rant about the occupiers for example. Then again, Farwerck himself may have seen things in National Socialist thinking, but also he was against the German occupation.

That said, Nijs had some commissions for the Dutch N.S. movement, such as a bust of N.S. main man Mussert, but also stamps. Some of these stamps are relatively famous, one is not, but this one is very interesting (source (3)):

The semblances with the dragon on Farwerck’s ex-libris are striking. According to the source of the image, this design is from 1942. Would Farwerck have known this design and requested it to be reworked into his second ex-libris, or would Nijs have used a design very similar to something he had created before, being Farwerck’s ex-libris? In either case, it would be surprising if Farwerck’s ex-libris is much older than the stamp design above, but I have to find a way to ‘date’ the ex-libris. I have not seen books with this ex-libris that were recent at the time. I have a book with it, published in 1910, the Ritman Library has a book with it printed in 1781, so it is impossible to say when Farwerck obtained them.

That said, the initials and the similarities of the dragon, make it very likely that we have identified the designer of Farwerck’s second ex-libris.

I have been looking around online a bit. Nijs used dragons more often (never it looks very “alchemical”). There is at least one other artwork in which he used the Wolfsangel to sign (he usually he just writes his name). See here (bottom left).

Both of Farwerck’s ex-libris were designed by actual designers. He must have wanted to invest into quality or he was on such good terms with both artists that things came about along these lines.

Nijs and Farwerck were politically similar, but -as we saw- Farwerck has been pushed off the stage by the time Nijs joined the Movement. Nijs was born in Rotterdam and died in Amsterdam, two cities that can be connected to Farwerck. Nijs was somewhat younger, but who knows what (other) similar circles they frequented. Perhaps an investigation for another time.

(1) See here, available at time of writing 21 September 2020

(2) See Wikipedia

(3) In De Voetsporen Van Fout (accessed 21 September 2020)

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