Frederik Hendrik Kaemmerer first studied at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague; here he perfected his technical skill training under the venerable Salomon Verveer. In fact, at the young age of 22, his talent was such that he was able to mount his first one man show, which took place in Rotterdam. However, like so many aspiring European painters, Kaemmerer was drawn to Paris and in1865, he made his way there thanks to an invitation from the French dealer Goupil & Cie. His travelling companions were fellow Dutch artists, Anton Mauve and Jacob Maris, who eventually became the leaders of The Hague School. In Paris, Kaemmerer was admitted to the studio of the French master Jean-Léon Gérôme, where he perfected his draughtsmanship. In 1869, Kaemmerer exhibited for the first time at the Salon with scenes inspired by Greek mythology, Gérôme’s specialty, and a subject that dominated traditional art training at the time. However, Kaemmerer quickly moved away from Academic art to focus on genre painting and at the 1870 Salon exhibited Merveilleuses sous le Directoire, which was acquired two years later by the American businessman and philanthropist William Vanderbilt. The title of this painting pre-figured the subject that would absorb Kaemmerer for the rest of his career: the Directoire style (1795-1799). These subjects which harked back to the late 18th century were very commercial: the frivolity and extravagant fashion appealed to collectors. In fact, Kaemmerer assembled an impressive collection of 18th century period dresses and accessories, which he used as props for his paintings. With the support and encouragement of Goupil, Kaemmerer became one of the most famous costume painters in Paris at the time.
He also painted contemporary subjects, most notably depictions of the fashionable elite relaxing on the wide sandy beaches of Scheveningen on the Dutch Riviera. In fact, he received a first-class medal at the 1874 Salon for a multi-figured beach scene at Scheveningen, which even included a self-portrait. This theme, which proved to be as popular as his Directoire subject matter, led to a variety of small-scale beach scenes.
Though very little is known about Kaemmerer's personal life, there is no doubt that he developed connections with the local art market and its main players very early on. In 1875, the contract he signed with Goupil made him highly commercial. As George Cain, the critic for the Art Journal stated in 1891: “In thinking of these remarkable qualities, we quite understand the rage there is for Kaemmerer among collectors. No grand gallery is without a Kaemmerer; his pictures are sold even before they are begun”. From the 1870s through the 1890s, his paintings sold particularly well on the American market through Goupil’s connection with the New York dealer Knoedler & co.
In addition, Kaemmerer became eminently popular through the reproduction, publication and international distribution of his pictures. Not only did his images flood the art market, they also penetrated popular culture through their use on very diverse media. In 1894 for example, his Noces sous le directoire and Baptême sous le directoire were reproduced on screens and upholstered furniture for the famous and chic Parisian department store Le Bon Marché. As Arsène Alexandre wrote, the mass-marketing of his paintings made Kaemmerer a popular culture icon in the 19th century. “It’s not too much to say that prints made [Kaemmerer’s subjects] popular. For ten years they fed the presses without respite, and it’s for that reason that Kaemmerer was a sort of popular image-maker, and one of the most universally enjoyed.” (Arsène Alexandre, “Ombres et Figures: F-H Kaemmerer,” Figaro Illustré, July 1902, p. 22)