Island Women: Marie Tak van Poortvliet; critic, mecenas, organic farmer

Marie Tak van Poortvliet
Jacoba van Heemskerk











Marie is born into a wealthy Zeeland family, where influentional and governing positions are the norm. Her noble birth grants her freedom; her freedom allows her her principles. Her father is the director of Steamship Company Zeeland. He is a Liberal and later becomes Foreign Secretary. He dies in 1907 and with her substantial inheritance, in Domburg Marie comes into her own. She builds a villa, Loverendale, where she lives during long summers and where she can smell the nearby sea. Roses blossom in her garden and in the shadows of tall trees she reads books and scribbles her thoughts in notebooks. Her garden is an oasis and it’s easy to forget that just a stone’s throw away, fashionable seaside visitors pour in from all over Europe. They parade the tiny boulevard and enjoy oysters in the Badhotel. The skies are low, the Jacob’s ladder reflects the horizon of the shimmering sea and the hulking church throws its anchor at the village.

Although she enjoys her own company, Marie’s house is always open to the intellectually inclined; she hosts, she gives, she befriends and she collects. The villa is the centre of animated discussions. Guests with striking personalities and new ideas come and go. Marie has an intrinsic motivation and an outspoken curiosity to learn about the human mind and the artist’s view. She beams with enthusiasm but makes sure she does not impose her ideas on others. Artists flow in and out of her life. Stately Loverendale with its rhombic shutters and dormers that offer wide views is a painters’ hub. Men of repute, Toorop and Mondriaan for example, who want to “catch the colours and the light” and attract the wealthy visitors to their paintings. There are also a few female artists in Marie’s circle, Lucie van Dam and the young Charley Toorop. But it is the painter and stained glass artist Jacoba van Heemskerck she loses her heart to. Their love is to be labeled “an ardent and loyal friendship”. She gives her a studio in her back garden. The light streams in through the high horizontal windows, filtering it before it reaches the walls, just like Jacoba prefers it as an artist. Jacoba likes to work alone, but outside her studio, they love exchanging their ideas and talk about the meaning of life and their place in it. They also love to laugh. Marie is not Jacoba’s muse, she is her discrete mecenas and partner in life.

Zesty Marie has a sharp mind. She travels through Europe, often accompanied by Jacoba. She publishes essays and modern art and music reviews. She writes about the connection of man with “the spiritual essence of the cosmos” and for the German avantgarde magazine Der Sturm she writes about expressionist art. Marie is interested in both the spiritual and the earthly. The soil, the furrows in the Zeeland clay, the wind and the water. The artists in her life have tried to capture, interpret and internalise the spiritual and the earthly in their canvases: The Red Tree, The Marigolds, View of a Village, A Portrait of an Oystercatcher. Marie experiences spiritual affinity with visual arts, but during the years her life goal is starting to shift. Anthroposophy comes to the fore and epitomises her life’s work. She wishes to share her sought-and-found ideals and truths and serve the public with them just as she has done with art. She decides to introduce biodynamic farming, according to Rudolf Steiner’s rules, to her fields and farms on the conservative island of Walcheren. She employs the anthroposophical Swiss Ehrenfried Pfeiffer as director of Loverendale, where he starts experimenting with the saline soil. Marie translates Rudolf Steiner’s books into Dutch and even befriends him. Her focus alters from the creations and expressions of individuals to the greatest creation of all: the universe that connects everything. When her beloved Jacoba dies suddenly of heart problems in 1923 in Marie’s villa, Marie’s world goes black. There is no more meaning, no more greater good.

But anthroposophy with its premise of “dying as transition and spiritual awakening” offers a guideline, the faintest light. And after some weeks of mourning, she forces herself out of her darkened bedroom and starts organising a major retrospective of Jacoba’s work. A final act as patroness of Jacoba’s oeuvre. As her lover, she will always miss her.

Organic farming Walcheren

During the 1920s Marie’s fortune has swindled considerably. Management of her farms is in kind but rather incapable hands; idealistic people who are theoretically schooled, but not very practical. The economic crisis years are taken their toll. A few of her farms are being sold off, just like some of her collected works of art (her unparalleled art collection is bequeathed to major Dutch museums), but Marie refuses to give in, and just before her death, she transfers the last of her possessions to a new plc, Cultuurmaatschappij Loverendale.

Loverendale veg crate

Thanks to Marie, the roots of Dutch organic farming lie on the island of Walcheren. The farmers in Zeeland were averse to her ideas and as tenant farmers this could cost them dearly. They laughed at her, “crazy herb lady”, but hindsight proves that she was way ahead of her time: an inconvenient truth.

Few material traces of Marie are left on the island of Walcheren. A small white museum, a replica of the studio she had built in the back garden of her villa, bears her name. And Loverendale-Ter Linde is still a biodynamic farm with a small farm shop.