Henriette Willebeek Le Mair
(1889–1966)
Although Henriette Willebeek Le Mair illustrated relatively few books, her delicate watercolors have become classics and are still in print today.

Childhood

Henriette was born in Rotterdam, Holland, on April 23,1889 into a very old Dutch family. She was surrounded by creativitiy from the beginning . Her father enjoyed sketching and would often draw pictures for the children while he told them stories at night. Her mother also painted and wrote verse.

Education & Influences

Le Mair appreciated the illustrations 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 children’s 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.

Professional Career

Her first book, Premières Rondes Enfantines, was published in France in 1904 when she was only fifteen years old. She and her mother collaborated on three books together when she was sixteen years old. Her mother wrote the verse and she illustrated them. Like other artists of the time, her work also appeared on sets of postcards and children’s china.

Le Mair had visited Arabia with her parents for eighteen months as a youngster. She was deeply impressed by the religious beliefs expressed in the region’s art, which led to a great interest in Eastern philosophy. She adopted the name ‘Saida’ when she  married H. P. Baron van Tuyll van Serooskerken in 1920. They both converted to the beliefs of the cult of Sufism, a religion of universal brotherhood and love, as taught by Murshid Inayat Khan and spent their lives helping the poor and charitable causes. They eventually settle in The Hague, Netherlands.

In her early twenties she ran a 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.

Between 1911 and 1917, Le Mair was the pre-eminent illustrator of her time although she only illustrated fourteen books in all. After her marriage in 1920 she joined the Sufi movement and became more and more interested in Eastern culture, concentrating less on her illustration. She also designed children's breakfast sets for the Gouda pottery from about 1923. She died 15 March 1966. An exhibition of her books and drawings was held at Bethnal Green Museum in London, England, in 1975.

Style & Technique

Her delicate watercolor paintings show ideal children in beautiful surroundings with a painstaking 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.”
 

Children’s Books Illustrated

  • Premières Rondes Enfantines, France, 1904.

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  • Our Old Nursery Rhymes, London, Augener,1911, McKay, 1911.

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  • Little Songs of Long Ago, London, Augener,1912, McKay, 1912, Putnam, 1988.

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  • Schumann’s Piano Album of Children’s Pieces, London, Augener (1913).

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  • Grannie’s Little Rhyme Book, London, Augener (1913).

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  • Mother’s Little Rhyme Book, London, Augener (1913).

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  • Auntie’s Little Rhyme Book, London, Augener (1913).

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  • Nursie’s Little Rhyme Book, London, Augener (1913).

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  • Daddy’s Little Rhyme Book, London, Augener (1913).

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  • Baby’s Little Rhyme Book, London, Augener (1913).

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  • Elkin, R. H., The Children’s Corner, London, Augener, 1914, David McKay, 1914.

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  • What the Children Sing, 1915.

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  • Little People, London, Augener, 1915.

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  • Elkin, R. H., Old Dutch Nursery Rhymes, London, Augener,1917, McKay, 1917.

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  • Baby’s Diary, London, Augener.

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  • Milne, A. A., A Gallery of Children, Stanley Paul, 1925, McKay, 1925.

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  • Stevenson, Robert Louis, A Child’s Garden of Verses, 1926, Harrap, 1931.

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  • Khan, Noor Inayat, Twenty Jakarta Tales, 1939.

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  • Christmas Carols for Young Children, 1946.
A Child's Garden of Verses illustrated by Henriette Willebeek Le Mair
 
 

 

R.H. Elkin, The Children's
Corner, David McKay,
1914.
Little Songs of Long Ago,
Putnam, 1988 (1912). 
Little Songs of Long Ago,
Putnam, 1988 (1912). 
Milne, A. A., A Gallery of
Children, 1924.
Milne, A. A., A Gallery of
Children, 1924.
Milne, A. A., A Gallery of
Children, 1924.
Little Songs of Long Ago, Putnam, 1988 (1912).

Sources

Dalby, Richard, The Golden Age of Children's Book Illustration, New York, Gallery, 1991.
Edens, Cooper, The Glorious ABC, New York, Atheneum, 1990.
Houfe, Simon, The Dictionary of 19th Century British Book Illustrators, Suffolk, Antique Collector's Club, 1996.
Mahoney, Bertha E. , Latimer, Louise Payson and Folsmbee, Beulah, Illustrators of Children's Books 1744-1945, Boston, The Horn Book Inc., 1947.
Commire, Anne, Something About the Author, volume 29, Detroit, Gale Research, 1982.
© 1999–2002 Denise Ortakales
All Illustrations are copyright by their respective owners.
This page last updated on 24 August 2002.

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