Antoon’s mother had fourteen children. Of the ten that didn’t die early, he would be the one that shone. Recently 2 or 3 of his childhood drawings appeared in the Netherlands. These clarify (if any clarification is needed) that from as young as 12 it must have been abundantly clear that Antonius Henricus Johannes Molkenboer – Antoon for short & sometimes Anglisised to Anton – was a precocious talent. Abundant is the word for the way he was made. Although it does seem more likely that Antoon made himself. As an adult he was seemingly able to make anything in any area; in draughtsmanship, typography, oil painting & lithography; he was also a dab hand at graphic design & at the height of his powers he was Molkenboer-ing anything & everything he fancied. He designed stamps for the Netherland post, posters, painted murals, mosaic-ed on ceilings, painted the walls of churches & designed their stain glass windows, designed sets & costumes. He also found time to teach, even to write & direct his own stage plays. All with consumate skill & a singular Molkenboer aesthetic.
One thing Molkenboer couldn’t do was follow. He paid little to no attention whatsoever to any of the preavailing art movements of his era, forging something of an outlier style that, just about gelled with Art Noveau.
Anton did have something of a head start. He came into contact with serious art at an early age. Antoon was likely named after his Uncle Antoon Derkindere, theAntoon Derkindere – Rjiksacademie Dutch painter, glass artist, draughtsman, designer of book covers, stamps (etc., etc.). Uncle Antoon lived in & worked at the seminal art colony the Laren which meant the young Antoon (& his brother Theo) assisted in their uncles studio as boys.
Uncle Antoon wasn’t his onl;y teacher. Antoon had a bewildering array of teachers, inspration and influence. As if his uncle wasn’t enough he apprenticed to the religious sculptor Frans Kuypers, underwent teacher training in construction, mechanical drawing and perspective at a school where his father was director. He then followed his uncle’s footsteps into Amsterdam’s Rjiksacademie where (again, like his uncle) he concentrated on monumental paintings & stained glass window design. After this intense & varied study he worked as a costume designer, wrote plays, designed posters & booklets.
It was at this time he drew political charicatures and topical imagery for the journal De Kroniek. De Kroniek (1895-1907) covered art, art, sociology, politics, music and drama, amongst other topics and contained original etchings and literature. The magazine aligned itself with The Ninety, a group of artists who saw themselves as the new geneneration, a generation now focussed on collaboration rather than individual expression. Quite how the supremely individual Molkenboer fitted at a publication focussed on collaboration is unclear but fit in he did. In fact of all his work it’s in these lithographs produced for De Kroniek (below) where we can see him as an individual most clearly.
In 1905 Antoon left for New York with his wife to study at the Students Arts League. His brother Willem, who had already emigrated, worked in New York on the improvement of offset printing. After winning a competition, Antoon was commissioned in Los Angeles to decorate the interior of the Majestic Theater with murals.