Piet Treep

1870 - 1934

As an architecture painter he was a failure, but as a producer of postcards Piet Treep was one of the most important representatives of his time. Many of his cards can be seen as a combination of genres: group portraits and architecture.

Postcard: Piet Treep


After completing his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam, Piet Treep started working as an independent artist. He was heavily influenced by the early Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca and the 17th century Dutchman Pieter Saenredam. Just like the latter, Treep specialized in architectural painting. He developed a bare style that became more abstract over the years. On his small, symmetrical paintings his subject matter is hardly recognizable. Unfortunately, around 1900 in the Netherlands, just the opposite type of art was in vogue as is evidenced by the increasing popularity of (post)impressionists as Vincent van Gogh and Hendrik Breitner. It is no surprise that Treep has had little success as a painter. In retrospect one could say that he was a few decades ahead of his time. His attitude corresponded more to that of the members of ‘De Stijl’ and it is tempting to think that his peer Piet Mondriaan, had he known Treep’s work, had come much earlier to his characteristic style.
After several years of endurance and all kinds of tiresome jobs, Treep returned to his childhood home in Zutphen. There he became attracted by the burgeoning industry of postcards. Realizing that his interest in architecture and perspective could be useful in this new industry he quickly developed a daily routine of taking pictures around his house in Zutphen. His photos are characterized by a balanced geometric design, which was reinforced by the way he colored them. Photographic detail was diminished in favor of general composition. Like Saenredam he used people and composed scenes in his work. It is not known whether he did this to indicate scale or to enliven his pictures. Many of his cards can be seen as a combination of genres: group portraits and architecture.
Treep was exceptionally skilled at modifying and coloring photographic images. I came across a number of examples where he used the same photo and pasted in different scenes or where he added diverse colors to the same building.

Since none of his negatives survive, it is not possible to identify in which photographs scenes were mounted and which ones are originals. Additionally, he played with colors that do not have to correspond to actual colors. He selected them in part based on the image he had in mind. His cards should therefore not be seen as documents of Zutphen, but rather as painted photographs.
Treep has been active in the postcard industry for a relatively short period. The techniques used for reproduction were improving and modern photo cards had a much higher resolution than the ones he produced. One could say that the photographic prevailed over the painterly. Treep was not interested in following this development and his cards quickly became outdated. Around 1920 he had to give up his postcard practice for lack of success. An obituary in Zutphen Courant from 1934 is the last information I was able to find about him. Nothing is known about his life in those later years, which would have been the case with his entire life had I not stumbled upon a set of his postcards on a book market in Deventer.