The Visual Life Story of a Self-made Economic Man: The Painting Series of Willem Albert Scholten (1819-1892) as an Autobiographical Practice




Visual life narrative, paintings, Groningen


Between 1870 and 1880, Willem Albert Scholten (1819-1892) commissioned fifteen paintings by twelve different painters, portraying different formative episodes from his lifetime. During this decade, Scholten was on his way to becoming one of the wealthiest inhabitants of the city of Groningen, his hometown in the Netherlands. He acquired this wealth by exploiting factories throughout and outside the Netherlands, making his company one of the first Dutch multinationals. The events these paintings portray have been described in a small booklet and an autobiography written during Scholten's lifetime, both commissioned by him. This combination of paintings and text is crucial in understanding how Scholten presented himself. This article will describe how Scholten built his origin story, which follows a plot similar to that of Benjamin Franklin: the self-made economic man. The article will examine how the paintings and written records reinforce one another, creating a visual narrative.

Author Biography

Marieke Dwarswaard, University of Groningen

Marieke Dwarswaard, MA acquired her BA and MA in History at Leiden University and started her PhD project at the University of Groningen in October 2020. She is writing a family biography of the Groningen-based Scholten family, encompassing three generations and 100 years (1840-1940).