Jean Plaat-Stultjes

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Jean Plaat-Stultjes (1898-1934) was a painter, actor, theatre company manager and set designer and builder. (Also known as Jan Plaat, Jan Grinwis Plaat, Jan Plaat Stultjes or Jan Stultjes)


He was born Jan Willem Stultjes in Pretoria (South Africa) on the 10th of October 1898, the son of Gerard Stultjes, an agent for a Dutch insurance company. ( Ludwig Binge wrongly states that he was born in Belgium, though F.C.L. Bosman has it right.)

By 1909 the family had returned to Amsterdam, and in that year Gerard Stultjes had their last name offically changed to "Grinwis Plaat Stultjes". Hence his son became Jan Willem Grinwis Plaat Stultjes. In 1911 the Stultjes family moved from Amsterdam to Gent in Belgium, where he went to school at the Gent Academy and began to specialize in art, till the outbreak of the First World War. He resumed studies at the Gent Academy of Fine Arts in 1922-1925, finishing top of his class in painting, winning the Prix Jeanne Pipyn as the most promising young artist.

He now worked actively as a draughtsman, printmaker and painter in Belgium, having apparently come to maturity as a painter and colourist under the influence of his studies at the Gent Academy and perhaps through his close friendship with fellow painter Gaston Pauwels (1897-1983). (For more on his work as a fine artist, see for example the article “Jan Grinwis Plaat Stultjes (1898-1934): A South African expressionist in Belgium.” Art & Antiques Galerie St.-John [1])

In 1917, Jan Stultjes had married Jeanne Seriacop (1897-1961), and the couple had two children , Paul Grinwis Plaat Stultjes (dancer, choreographer and designer - 1920-2006) and Eric Grinwis Plaat Stultjes (interior designer - ca. 1922-1965). Throughout their marriage, he had very difficult relations with his wife’s family, who did not approve of his life as an artist nor his bohemian lifestyle.

A decisive shift in his career seems to have occurred in 1925, when Stultjes joined Johan de Meester’s Vlaamse Volkstooneel group in Gent, a theatrical ensemble which played an important role to play in the modern Flemish cultural network of the time, building bridges between the arts, theatre and literature. It seems that from the moment Jan Stultjes decided to join the Vlaamsche Volkstooneel, his art became secondary to his career as an actor. Stultjes the artist became more and more Stultjes the designer of costumes and theatre sets.

In the first two years he may primarily have been involved as a designer, since there are extant examples of designs for Elckerlyck ("Everyman", 1925), Tijl (1925, in which he also played two small roles) , Beatrijs (1926). However, this soon changed, and in a listing of the group for the season 1926-1927, Stultjes was listed as an actor (who performed under the pseudonym of Jan Plaat)and not as a designer in the "arts department" of the group.

Contemporary sources soon hailed Stultjes as an important actor and his roles included cameos in Van Twee Coninxkinderen (1928)and a starring role in Barabbas (1929). (According to Binge, he also trained as an actor and performed - as Jan Plaat - with the Hagespelers in 't Voorhout of Eduard Verkade in the same period, i.e. 1926-1928. However this sounds unlikely.) However, Stultjes's involvement with Flemish theatre seemed to coincide with the demise of the Vlaamsche Volkstooneel around 1930-1931, when he left his wife and two children behind in Belgium to return to South Africa to pursue a career as theatre maker and actor under the name Jean Plaat-Stultjes for four short, but influential years, before he sadly and unexpectedly died of pneumonia on 22 September 1934, while on tour in Vanrhynsdorp , and was buried in Pretoria on 26st of September 1934.

Contribution to South African theatre, film, media and performance

When Stultjes returned to South Africa, he did so as an actor and set designer, not as a painter. On his arrival in Pretoria in 1930, Stultjes founded a touring theatrical company under his own name called Die Plaat-Stultjes Geselskap, hoping to bring modern theatre to South Africa.

Their tour started with four one-act plays, namely Die Brief van die Blinde Moeder ("The Letter of the Blind Mother"), Toorheksie van Geluk ("The little witch of happiness/good fortune"), Die Kaartjieknipper ("The ticket-taker ") and Arm Mans Rykdom (Poor Man's Riches"). They then continued with a number of sentimental pieces such as East Lynne, Wania, Die Teken van die Kruis, In die kloue van Satan and Moederloos. The plays were beatifully set in designs by Plaat-Stultjes himself.

At the time of his death he had been preparing two new Afrikaans works, namely Streke van Jakhals ("Tricks of Jackal" - a play based on contemporary events, but featuring animals) and Skuld en Boete (Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.) His theatre group continued the tour without their leader for a while.

His film career included a leading role in the famous Afrikaans film Moedertjie ("Little Mother"), based on the play In die Wagkamer ("In the waiting room") by J.F.W. Grosskopf. Filmed as Moedertjie ("Little Mother") for African Film Productions by the producer Joseph Albrecht and directed by Stephanie Faure in 1931.


Ludwig Binge, 1969

F.C.L. Bosman, 1980

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