Dutch Avant Garde Artist Jacqueline de Jong Dies at Age 85

The artist was recently the subject of a rediscovery, as galleries Ortuzar Projects in New York, Chateau Shatto in L.A. and London's Pippy Houldsworth began presenting her work at international shows and fairs. 

Jacqueline de Jong, painting in front of two canvas in her studio in Amsterdam.
Jacqueline de Jong in her studio as photographed by Gert Jan van Rooij. Image courtesy of Pippy Houldsworth Gallery

Over her six-decade career, Duch artist Jacqueline de Jong has completely dedicated herself to exploring the narrative possibilities of figuration through her raw, surrealistic and extremely vivid representations of contemporary life. She traversed many different styles and dealt with various subjects, from more mundane scenes to sentimental ones and deeply political themes, such as the war in Gaza, never imposing any limits to her medium’s narrative potential.

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Her experiments with figuration and narrative mythologies condensed and problematized geographical and historical timelines. Drawing upon her own biography as a World War II émigrée forced to an itinerant life in her childhood, de Jong evoked a sense of profound trauma of displacing, dispossession and political powerlessness in work that characterized an entire century while providing revealing archetypal depictions of human suffering and strife.

Jacqueline de Jong originally studied art history in the late 1950s, later becoming curator Willem Sandberg’s assistant and the director of the Stedelijk Museum. In the 1960s, she became close to the CoBrA movement thanks to her two-decade love relationship with artist Asger Jorn, one of its founders. They met in Paris when de Jong moved from her native Amsterdam to the 11th arrondissement of Paris in 1961, and it was Jorn who connected her with Guy Debord, a founding member of the Situationist International. The CoBrA reactionary sentiment combined with the Situationist disruptive reimagining of the systems encouraging more spontaneous expression deeply nourished de Jong’s sanguine and vehement painting strokes and filterless choice of subjects.

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Yet while she’s often associated with the Situationist movement, pigeonholing her art in a single movement feels way too limiting for the inherently expansive nature of her painterly expressions characterized by endless experimentation and omnivorous creativity, which took her to multiple twists and turns through various avant-garde tendencies, from informal art to feminist Pop. Nevertheless, she always chose figuration even though she started her journey in the art world when abstraction was the thing. As she explained in a recent interview, “People like images, and people like to make images. That means artists like to make images. Which means figuration was lacking.” With this personal approach, de Jong was able to provide a pioneering cultural contribution to an almost exclusively male international and intercultural avant-garde.

A witty feminist critique of social dynamics frequently animated her work, though she made an anti-war sentiment much more explicit. Between humor and dare sarcasm, joie de vivre and erotic tensions, her paintings staged a pantomime of contemporary human existence. Often drawing from and referencing cinematic techniques of close-ups and montage, de Jong mixed logical time and space to transcend traditional narrative structures and expand the story.

Against a backdrop of fast-moving political and social change in the postwar period, the artist’s works proved an active engagement with sociopolitical events and with the ascent of mass media and its impact on day-to-day. Her active reactionary spirit and political involvement also translated into the publication Situationist Times (1962-1967), but her participation in the Atelier Populaire during the tumultuous events of May ’68 in Paris led to her being eventually banned from France. She was forced to move back to Amsterdam, where she continued to paint vigorously until her last day.

Painting with a red air woman standing fercely in front of a defeated man on an armchair.
Jacqueline de Jong, Rhapsodie en Rousse, 1981, Oil on canvas, 45 5/8 x 35 1/8 inches (115.8 x 89.2 cm). Courtesy Ortuzar Projects, New York. © Jacqueline de Jong

Just this past March, she had a show at Ortuzar Project in New York under the telling title “Narrative /No Narrative.” Marking the gallery’s second solo exhibition with the artist, it presented paintings from two historical bodies of work, Billiards (1976–78) and Série Noire (1980–81). The exhibition highlighted de Jong’s forays into nouvelle figuration as pivotal moments for her research into, in the artist’s words, the “hideous circumstances” of our collective humanity.

In a statement, Ortuzar Project commented: “We are saddened to announce the peaceful passing of our beloved friend Jacqueline de Jong on Saturday, June 29, in Amsterdam. While working together, she was a constant source of good humor and cutting brilliance. Her spirit and influence will live on through her peers, friends and family, of which we are honored to be a part.”

London’s Pippy Houldsworth Gallery dedicated a solo booth to the artist at Art Basel in 2023, focusing on a series of more provocative Jacqueline de Jong works from the 1960s, a formative decade in the artist’s development that saw her splinter from the radical Situationist International (SI), which contributed to growing interest in the artist. The gallery is hosting a solo exhibition of her work, “La petite mort,” running through July 10.

Jacqueline de Jong’s extensive body of work over six decades bore an energetic witness to the entire postwar sentiment as humanity grappled with epochal shifts in collective consciousness. Holding a clear historical and cultural value, her work has attracted increasing attention in institutional settings, resulting in various retrospective and surveys at WIELS Centre d’Art Contemporain, Brussel, MOSTYN, Wales and Kunstmuseum Ravensburg (2021–2022); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2019) and Musée Les Abattoirs, Toulouse (2018). The NSU Art Museum in Fort Lauderdale has a major solo exhibition of de Jong’s art in the works.

Dutch Avant Garde Artist Jacqueline de Jong Dies at Age 85