Dutch designer and illustrator who made a home in Ireland

Jan de Fouw: July 15th, 1929 - February 1st, 2015

 

When the graphic designer and artist Jan de Fouw, who has died aged 85, first arrived in Dublin from his native Netherlands in 1951, his skills were immediately noticed.

The late typographer and book designer Jarlath Hayes, writing in Ireland of the Welcomes (IOW) magazine in 1988, described de Fouw’s portfolio as having “the assurance and unmistakeable stamp of a sound art training, something lamentably lacking in the Dublin of that time”.

De Fouw was one of a small group of Dutch designers, including his lifelong friend Gerrit van Gelderen, who came to Ireland partly on the initiative of Tadgh (Tim) O’Neill of Sun Advertising.

After his marriage to Hansi Raab, a photographer who was also Dutch, in 1954, the de Fouw and van Gelderen families set up house together near Islandbridge on the Liffey, and later would live in adjoining houses in the Dublin mountains.

Mastery

De Fouw, who had been trained at the Royal College of Art in The Hague, made an almost immediate impact through his mastery of technique. Michael Gorman, his first editor at IOW, where de Fouw was to be designer on a freelance basis for the next 44 years, joining the magazine on its second issue in autumn 1951, recalls the young Dutchman’s disputes with the periodical’s printer, who thought it impossible to have two colours on the same page, demonstrating just how it could be done.

In his 1988 tribute in IOW, Jarlath Hayes wrote also of de Fouw’s “astonishing versatility of techniques”, which had made the magazine “the gem of Irish periodicals”, adding that “for 34 years, Jan has delighted readers … with his line and wash drawings, lino and wood cuts and light-hearted cartoons, always balancing the mood, and always in tune with the writing … his achievement is unique”.

De Fouw was soon in demand from other clients. The Irish Times commissioned illustrations of the 1955 An Tostal festival, and Aer Lingus posters, which a later IOW editor, the archaeologist Peter Harbison, speaking at de Fouw’s funeral, described as “very beautiful works of art”.

De Fouw himself was modest about his standing. Addressing the Advertising Press Club in 1963, he insisted that “there is no such thing as an artist in advertising”, just craft workers “some good, some bad, some indifferent”. Brian Fallon of The Irish Times appeared to disagree: reviewing an exhibition of etchings and lithographs at the Hendricks Gallery in 1964, which included works by Picasso and Braque, he wrote that, while the Irish contributions were “inevitably lightweight in comparison … Jan de Fouw’s animals are most attractive”.

Copperplate

Fallon would later write in a review of an exhibition at the Hugh Lane Gallery in 1967 of Dutch artists in Ireland that de Fouw was “ in the highest sense ... an illustrator who would be seen to best advantage with accompanying texts”.

This foresaw his later (1980s/1990s) series of 24 copperplate etchings, collectively known as the Amergin series, inspired by the Old Irish epic The Song of Amergin, which were subsequently published as a small format book by Wolfhound Press in 2000, accompanied by de Fouw’s reflections on the song itself.

De Fouw became involved with other graphic artists, first at the Graphic Gallery, and in the 1980s at the Black Church Print Studio, of which he became chairman (1991-1994).

Andrew Folan, a lecturer at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD), where de Fouw himself taught as a guest lecturer, says that “in terms of his commitment, Jan would have been one of the chief negotiators with the Temple Bar Trust”, the result of which negotiations was the successful relocation of the studio to its present premises in that area.

De Fouw was also a member of the curatorial committee of the National Print Museum, from 1995 until 2012.

After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2001, which robbed him of the ability to draw accurately, he moved into sculpture in wax and clay, works then cast in bronze, which he sold at the annual exhibitions of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 2004 and 2005.

Jan Adriaan de Fouw was born in The Hague in 1929, one of three sons of Adriaan de Fouw, a tram driver, and his wife, Jacoba Kramer.

Famine year

In the Dutch “famine year” of 1944, he cycled 100km to get food near the German border for his family, getting back over the bridge at Arnhem only a week before its destruction.

After training at the Royal College of Art and two years’ military service, de Fouw spent a year travelling in France, making his living selling sketches, particularly of animals, a lifelong passion.

He is survived by his widow, Hansi, his son, Remco, and daughter, Rinke, his brother Tom, and by grandchildren.