Mien Visser artist identified

Artist Gabriëlla Willekens created the work for the anniversary of the Home Economics study programme.
Until recently WUR didn’t know who had made this painting of Mien Visser.

The painting in question has been gathering dust in the catacombs of the Forum building. It recently garnered some attention in Resource as part of a story about Mien Visser. The painting depicts Visser, the first female professor at WUR. Until recently the artist behind the painting, and the reason it was made, was a mystery. But then alumnus Jeanne van Poppel noticed the story.

The initial circumstances of the discovery were sad. Van Poppel recently attended the funeral of Clara van den Ban, Mien Visser’s daughter. ‘It was there that her son brought up the story in Resource,’ she says. ‘So then I read it, and noticed the photo. I instantly recognised the painting,’ she says. ‘In fact, I was there when it was presented.’

Home Economics

Jeanne van Poppel studied Home Economics from 1974-1982 at what was then the Agricultural University. ‘I completed my first year in 1975. So yes, I actually knew Mien Visser. She died during the second year of my degree,’ she says. ‘I even went to her funeral in Friesland. I was chair of the Home Economics study association at the time.’

The idea was to make an artwork that would be a permanent memorial to the degree programme

Jeanne van Poppel, alumnus

After she completed her degree, Van Poppel stayed in touch with Wageningen as an alumnus through the KLV group for Consumer Studies. She even briefly worked for the Home Economics chair group. The painting is linked to that KLV group. ‘I was the secretary for the group and helped organise the 50th anniversary event for the Home Economics study programme in Wageningen.’

‘The idea was to make an artwork that would be a permanent memorial to the degree programme,’ she continues. ‘That event was held on 21 March 2003. It took place in the Dreijenborch, the Home Economics building on the Dreijen which has since been demolished. Clara van den Ban was one of the speakers that day, and her topic was: From Agricultural Home Economics to Management, Economics and Consumer Studies. Clare was one of the first graduates.’


The painting was made by Gabriëlla Willekens. ‘Yes, I did make it,’ she confirms, somewhat surprised. Willekens now lives in the village of Wolfheze. ‘I briefly did that kind of thing at the time. The art dealer Marlou Kursten put them in touch with me and they provided me with a photo of Mien Visser. I work in an entirely different style now, as you can see on my website. There’s no comparison.’

If they want, I could still sign the painting

Gabriëlla Willekens, artist

‘Didn’t I sign it? I still could. I’m reluctant to sign on the front,’ she says. ‘It’s not on the back either? I do at least always put it on the back. I must have forgotten on this one. If they want, I could still sign it. I’d be happy to. Jeanne van Poppel had already been in touch to ask if I’d made it. She’d discovered that by looking in her archive. So now it’s been double checked.’

A better home

It’s not yet clear what’s going to happen with the painting. Perhaps it’ll get a place in the renovated gallery. Van Poppel feels that would be the least they could do. ‘It deserves a better home. Not least in memory of her daughter Clara van den Ban, who always dedicated herself to the education of girls and women around the world.’

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