Middelburg. From left: baby Linde, Judith, 23, Lia, 45, Hannie, 69, and Marie, 96. (Marieke van der Velden)

Colijnsplaat. From left: Nanda Blom, 30, Nelly Maria (Elma) van den Burg-Berghout, 51, Neeltje Jacoba (Cobie) Berghout-Meulenberg, 76, baby Evy Holleman, Maria Meulenberg-Versluijs, 101. (Marieke van der Velden)

Families that boast five living generations of women are a rarity, and in a small country like the Netherlands their numbers are especially small. But through local news reports and online searches, Marieke van der Velden was able to track down a few of these clans and capture the full extent of their unique achievement in group photos. She calls her series “Dutch Matroesjkas,” after the multigenerational Russian matryoshka dolls.

“Women are the ones who physically give life to the next woman. I like that idea. It’s the circle of life,” van der Velden said via email.

The families she contacted lived all over the country but tended to be located in small villages in the countryside. She had hoped to photograph the groups outside against the beautiful Dutch landscape, but since mobility issues were a consideration, she mostly photographed in the home of the oldest woman. After coffee or tea and cookies, the women gathered together, and van der Velden looked for compositions and expressions that conveyed a sense of family pride.

At least one family declined to participate — family tensions had made it impossible for all five generations to meet. In another case, van der Velden contacted a family she’d read about in a newspaper only to learn that the matriarch had passed away just two months before. She decided to  photograph the remaining women anyway, with the great-grandmother holding a framed photo of the deceased great-great-grandmother, to highlight the transience of this special but ultimately brief phenomenon.

“It’s temporary, like everything in life,” van der Velden said.


Barendrecht. From left: baby Ceyda Yozgat, 4 weeks, Gina van Veen, 22, Helma Faasse, 55, Gieni Faasse, 75, and Nel de Haan, 95. (Marieke van der Velden)

Zwaagwesteinde. From left: Nova Sheoratan, 1, Nelleke Sheoratan, 28, Lies van der Meer, 50, Pietsje Dijkstra, 74, and Trijntje Dijkstra- Komrij, 95. (Marieke van der Velden)

Den Haag. From left: baby Melody, Linsey, 19, Miranda, 45, Jose, 67, photograph of Corry, 91 (deceased). (Marieke van der Velden)

Zutphen. From left: Nena Spa, 1, Lindsy Spa, 18, Danny Schrijver, 39, Miep Bakker, 59, Alie de Beus, 81. (Marieke van der Velden)

Staphorst. From left: baby Myrthe Boldewijn, Andrea Boldewijn-Kuiper, 17, Geesje Kuiper-Smit, 46, Aatje Smit-Dunnink, 65, Geesje Dunnink-Wesselink, 85. (Marieke van der Velden)

Staphorst. From left: Malou Slager, 5, Rensje Slager-Dunnink, 30, Aaltje Dunnink-Tiemens, 48, Niesje Tiemens-van der Sluis, 68, Aaltje van der Sluis-Compagner, 88. (Marieke van der Velden)

Enschede. From left: Amy-Britt Grommers, Sill Refos, 30, Ellen Geesink – van Duffelen, 48, Chrisna Koens-Mouwe, 69, Riek Mouwe-de Rijk, 94. (Marieke van der Velden)

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