Category Archives: museum

museum voor realistische kunst

Imitation and Imagination. Hidden distortions. Naturalism in art history

News: Visit to Galería Artelibre, after Imitation and Imagination

Imitation and Imagination 4


Dürer, A Draftsman Making a Perspective Drawing of a Woman


This is the last part of the lecture I gave in may 2018, Imitation and Imagination, at TRAC2018 (The Representational Art Conference) in The Netherlands. The lecture was on naturalistic realism, the area of tension between imitation and imagination in the classical art, including the contemporary variant. Naturalism is one of many expressions of representational art, one with a very high degree of imitation. See for example a comment with regard to a pretty realistic painting, on facebook (28-10-2014):

Huysman. Street in Utrecht i

Gerard Huysman. Utrecht, street in backlight, oil on panel, 2013

“I can’t understand why an artist would work so hard to make a painting like this that is so much like a photo. That’s what cameras are for. I can see the artist’s skill, but not the soul.”

This prejudice is often heard. Because really: isn’t imitation getting in the way of imagination? Exactly! No soul, no artistic creativity. And that’s what this discussion is all about.
I will contest the opinion that naturalism lacks imagination.


Part 1 in blog august 2017 (see archive).
Part 2 in blog august 2018 (see archive).
Part 3 in blog october 2018 (see archive).
Part 4, the last part, is following now.

19th-century Realism

Two centuries after the Dutch Golden Age, in 1855, Courbet’s painting The Stone Breakers was rejected as too vulgar by the Paris Salon. This sounds familiar, denk aan de Hollandse Gouden Eeuw (see Archive October 2018).
Courbet thereupon rented a wooden shed, baptized it with the name Pavillon du Réalisme and there showed his work during the Paris World Exhibition. Courbet then wrote his Realist Manifesto. He minted the term realism, true to nature, by form and by content.

Courbet The Stone Breakers realism

Gustave Courbet. The Stone Breakers, oil on canvas, 1849, 160x259cm

“No myths”, said Courbet, “Angels? I’ve never seen them.” Look at everyday reality, at ordinary people. There’s no need for fabrication.
Courbet was not a dogmatic, he did invent things. But he really did make a breach in the classical tradition where ‘Invention’ still stood for exhalted subject matter and idealization. Where the Dutch still saw the divine in nature, Courbet did away completely with the metaphysical dimension.

At the end of the nineteenth century there were all sorts of realisms; think of Lepage, Bougueraux, Sargent, Waterhouse, Alma Tadema, Zorn, Repin. They were famous in their day, but afterwards disappeared from the official art history. However, realism can be ‘fantastic’ and in no way inferior to the so much appreciated impressionism of that age.
See the American Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900).

Church. Twilight,

Frederic Edwin Church. Twilight, ‘Short Arbiter ‘Twixt Day and Night’, oil on canvas, 1850, 81,3×121,9cm.

Or the Russian Ivan Shishkin (1832-1898), an eminently naturalistic painter. His Winter is overwhelming by its greatness and realness. Extremely refined color and tone nuances in the snow. A wealth of details in the tree bark. That way, Shishkin enhanced the degree of reality in his painting.

Shishkin. Winter

Ivan Shishkin. Winter, oil on canvas, 1890, 125,5x204cm.

Some collegues called him a ‘bookkeeper of leaves’.12) Also nowadays art teachers often shrink away from painting many details, for understandable reasons. But if done rightly, you can compare detailing to music in which every note is clearly played without loosing the melody, where variation in repetition only enriches. Greatness does not exclude attention to detail.

And his ‘own handwriting’? In Van Mander’s words: “no fabrication, no ornamentation”. He lets Nature speak its own language. Do nothing more! For that, great skill is required.
However successful he was, some critics thought his work too naturalistic because it was so much like reality itself. Where was the imagination? Shishkin succeeded in hiding it in his art. More about that later.
He painted in this naturalistic manner to capture the observed qualities, the breathtakingly beautiful. “Just like the real thing”, the public says, while getting a feeling of the artist’s original experience. What is it that makes these paintings so touching? It can’t be just Imitation, can it?

Observing, experiencing and representing

Gezien van de Riet. Observing

Gezien van de Riet. Observing

Obviously I wouldn’t dare to put myself at the level of these masters, but I found that the painting process starts in my head the moment that beauty in the outside world hits my eye:… it must be this color… that pattern… this should be in… that should be left out…
Atmosphere and experience imprint themselves in my memory. I see more and more of that what hits me: the architecture of the tree, nuances, gradations, peculiarities. A selection of course, because it’s impossible to paint every tiny branch. That selection stems also from my personality. An image is formed in my mind.

During the painting process the original feeling or experience works as a propelling force and as a severe critic: is the atmosphere still there? Then let me grab this brush, select that color. Feeling, experience, joins with technique. That’s the way feeling comes in the artwork.

Gezien van de Riet. The Beech of Kijkuit-2

Gezien van de Riet. The Beech of Kijkuit-2, alkyd/oil on panel, 60x90cm

All manner of problems must be solved. Form and color work differently on a panel than in reality. Picture yourselves an infinite space in which a tree extends its bare branches. The painting has to make do with only a small square. I must make up for that. Because I want to evoke just that infinite space, that defines the atmosphere.
A difficulty here is that the paint of the represented sky reflects the real phyisical light, while in reality space becomes perceptible partly through the light in the air, through dust particles that catch the light.

Gezien van de Riet. Sketch for Beech of Kijkuit-2

Gezien van de Riet. Sketch for Beech of Kijkuit-2, pencil on paper

Roaming through the representation, the eye of the beholder should be able to enjoy itself unhindered. That is why there is a harmonious abstract pattern laid (as it were) under the representation; attention being paid to directions, light and dark, balance, etc.
That pattern can force you to remove branches or to bend them. I sometimes make a photo of the painting in progress and manipulate it in Photoshop; that can be quicker than sketching. The illusion of space on a flat surface can force you to change colors further away, even though that’s not the way they were seen.

Inconspicuous distortions

In short, in naturalistic realism the painter consciously applies distortions, but as inconspicuously as possible. It must be hidden. The greater the skill, the more poignantly the experience is represented. Inconspicuous distortions can be found in many classical works of art. Personal feelings? Yes, very personal, but in the sense of total involvement. What is really added by the artist is the enchantment that was in the original experience, the beauty, the thrill, guided by her (or his) artistic talent.


Seeing A Street in Utrecht in Backlight you may think : “Oh, I know this already”. Then you will move straight on and miss the beauty of it. That will be reserved to the attentive viewer. She will walk in her mind through that street, with that nice atmosphere. How was that achieved? By all sorts of choices made by the artist. He managed to hide them.

Is Imitation just virtuosity? It is more than that. Because how can it be that the art of the Dutch Golden Age still enchants millions of people? The painters themselves were enchanted by beauty and skilfully expressed that in their work.

Gezien van de Riet. Reaching for the Sky

Gezien van de Riet. Reaching for the Sky, watercolour/pastel on paper, 60x40cm

Dennis Dutton states in The Art Instinct 13) that love for beauty is inborn. As long as that instinct is not weeded out, there will always be people gripped by beauty and artists driven to re-create the beauty found in reality.
Please, no dogmas. There are many ways towards beauty; contemporary naturalism is entitled to its own place in art and art history.


12) Henk van Os, Voor het eerst: Russische landschappen, p.39. In: Patty Wageman & David Jackson (ed.), Het Russisch Landschap. Groninger Museum, Groningen & The National Gallery, London, s.d.
13) Dennis Dutton, The Art Instict. Beauty, Pleasure & Human Evolution. New York 2009.


Galería Artelibre

Besides the book ‘Leonardo. Guía de arte y artistas’ Galería Artelibre publishes every year ‘Arte y Libertad’ with about one hundred artists from all over the world. It appeared at the end of 2018 and my work is in it too!

My pages in Arte y Libertad XIII

My pages in Arte y Libertad XIII

This art gallery is based in Zaragoza, Spain, and wants to be a window for artists from all points of the compass. It is a virtual gallery and has a website featuring a great many artists: My page is: They display a great range of other activities, like book publishing, organizing a yearly portrait competition called Modportrait (together with MEAM), teaching art classes in the gallery workshop in Zaragoza, organizing exhibitions in other locations.
When you are talking about this gallery, you are talking about José Enrique González.

My husband J and I visited Galería Artelibre in November last year to hand in my work ‘Our Gingko in Autumn’ for the exhibition ‘20 años, en 20×20’, celebrating the gallery’s twentieth aniversary, 150 artist are going to take part, all of them with a work of 20×20 cm. You can say that 20 stands for 20 years of promoting realist art. That warms my heart. Just like the efforts of Museum Møhlmann in Appingedam (Holland) or MEAM in Barcelona.

‘Our Gingko’ on the easel

‘Our Gingko’; Arantxa Lobera (left near easel) put it on the easel to show it to visitors

José Enrique González, Tetuán II, Dry oil

José Enrique González, Tetuán II, Dry oil on paper, 50x40cm

José Enrique González was very hospitable and showed us around in the gallery’s premises, harbouring a great many works of art. He gave a demonstration of ‘dry oil’ technique. It is like drawing: you must dip your brush with oil paint just as long as to make the tip feel dry to the touch; then you can apply it to paper; see Tetuán II.

We were able to attend the opening of the wonderful international exhibition ‘Algo más que realismo’ (‘Something more than realism’) in Zaragoza. That is also a yearly happening.
In short, our visit to Galería Artelibre was heartwarming and inspiring!

Translation NL_EN
: Jeroen Strengers


Pedro del Toro, ¿Sí? Oil on canvass

Pedro del Toro, ¿Sí? Oil on canvass, 116x114cm

Opening ‘Algo más que realismo’

Opening ‘Algo más que realismo’

José Enrique González (center) at ‘Algo más que realismo’

José Enrique González (center) at ‘Algo más que realismo’


Imitatio et Inventio I. And more

Horses’ heaven

Sometimes it all goes by itself, sometimes it’s hard work. The distribution of light was hard: how to distribute it between the ground, the mountains, the sky?


El cielo de los caballos, distemper-oil-panel, 50x70cm

The picture changed continously. The one constant element was the horses. In the end I came back to one of the earliest versions. Now it’s finished.

Imitatio et Inventio I

The quest

Although I did a lot of experimenting in the beginning of my artistic career, I was attracted more and more to realism. In those days realism was rejected by the official art view. Even when the painting touch was very loose. I went one step further, to a sharp-edged realism, true to nature: naturalism. It was doubtful –including for my myself– if that could be considered serious art. Mere copying? I had to think it over. I discovered that the question was already discussed by the old Greeks. This eventually resulted in a lecture. In my blogs I will serve it up in parts. This is part one.

Representation and imagination in naturalistic realism


Dürer, A Draftsman Making a Perspective Drawing of a Woman

‘Imitatio et Inventio’ , imitation and invention, are much discussed concepts in art history. I shall try to put them in a new light, based on my own painting practice and art history.
Imitation and invention were indissolubly connected in the classical tradition. Thru time, the content of the imagination and the technique of copying or imitating it assumed different shapes. Also, the relative weight of both elements changed continuously.

In contemporary representational art –or more precisely: naturalistic realism based on classical imagery– the tension between ‘Imitatio’ and ‘Inventio’ is still there.

Gerard Huysman, Street in Utrecht, oil-panel

Gerard Huysman, Street in Utrecht, oil-panel, 55x65cm

October 2014 this picture of a work by Gerard Huysman was posted on Facebook’s The Representational Art Group. The first comment was by Joel Mattingly:

I can’t understand why an artist would work so hard to make a painting like this that looks so much like a photo. That’s what cameras are for. Here I see the skill of the artist, but not the soul.

He added later:

Don’t get me wrong, this artist has mad skills! (…) … realism exists in reality and in photographs, and though I think we all can appreciate the skill in which it takes to make photo realistic art, I find it rather boring to look at.

Apart from the fact that this painting doesn’t belong to photo realism, this comment touches upon a delicate aspect of realistic art. Imitation, naturalistic representation, has assumed such precedence here that is seems to have crowded out the imagination. I would spontaneously agree with Mattingly, if it weren’t for the fact that –different from him– I am struck by the beauty of this painting.

Next time:  the reality is already there and the horse of Alexander the Great.

Art cards, Art agendas, Art calendars

Bekking&Blitz publish art cards for the big museums in the Netherlands. They have also published a number of cards of my work. In wonderful designs.

dubbele kaarten enveloppen


a case of 10 double cards with envelopes.
Painting a live rose can be quite exciting. Sometimes, sitting with your field easel near a rose, all of a sudden a leaf unfolds: the rose continues to grow! In my garden each rose has its own character: they unfold in surprising forms, like a triangle for example.

roos schilderen kaart


Sitting in front of this rose, this thought came to my mind: the beauty of the rose is the rose itself. If I want to capture that beauty, I will have to paint that rose, with everything on it.
Roses: you can send them to family and friends. A very nice gift!

Museum Cards
Bekking&Blitz also published double cards of my work in its series Museum Cards. That reminds of of earlier times when artists had their paintings copied as engravings, to spread their name and work as much as possible.


5 Museum Cards Bekking&Blitz

Such a card, made from a painting, that covered the long distance from work shop to gallery to publisher to printer to museum shop or book shop to postal worker to door mat, that is of course… nicer than e-mail. In stead of engravings we now have art cards.

museum postkaart kunst

5 Museum Cards Bekking&Blitz, 2

Art Agenda & Art Calendar
For 2018 Bekking&Blitz published Art Agendas – also in pocket size – and Art Calendars. They include a pastel of mine. In 2018 I am one of the pantheon of greatest artists of all times… and proud as a peacock!

art, agenda, Gezuien van de Riet

Art Agenda, pastel van Gezien van de Riet

You know how much you support me buying cards, agendas of calendars, or making a present of them, or sending them to some-one…?

It is all for sale in museums and bookshop.


My painting Espitau, beech forest in the Pyrenees gained the semi-finals in the competition ‘Figurativas 2017 – MEAM, Museo Europeo de Arte Moderno’.

Painting Beech forest Espitau Pyrenees

Beech forest Espitau Pyrenees, distemper-oil-panel, 40x60cm

2.400 artists from 98 countries participated, 7 of them were from the Netherlands, and I was one of them. Not quite the finals, but still hurray!

FACE-TRAC, it moves!

The movement in the US connected to the classical tradition continues! Meeting in Miami, November 2017.
I intend to be there and look forward to it!

Translation: Jeroen Strengers

At great pains

“At great pains”
Museum Møhlmann invited me to participate in the exposition “Vee op stapel” (“Cattle in stock”). Great! I have always wanted to paint the horses and cows of the Pyrenees. They look gorgeous in that landscape. No litter there. Pure air, meadows ful of herbs. I love to walk there. The eye assumes its painter’s look as soon as these animals appear. Excitement surges at all kinds of painting opportunities. I run or steal about, clutching my camera, my eyes everywhere, except on the ground… Just a small hole, but I fell and sprained my ankle.

What are you doing here?

Nearby was a drinking trough, where I dipped in my painful foot. The cows gathered curiously and I somewhat feared their big bodies and large horns… They all stood around the other side of the trough, their eyes with their bigh lashes directed at me: “What are you doing here?”
How was I supposed to get back to base camp? My husband saw a jogger, far away. He took his emergency whistle and blew. The jogger ran on. After the third signal he turned. I waved my arms, signalling an emergency.
The man presented himself as an officer of the Guardia Civil. Well trained as he was, he said that, if necessary, he could carry me over the mountain streams we had to cross. Or should I stay back? No, I dragged myself on with my nordic walking sticks. Down in the village, the doctor reassured me. “If you were able to walk this far, it can’t be fractured.” X-rays weren’t available. Unfortunately, back home it turned out that my ankle was broken. Cow’s legs is what you need in the mountains!

Foal in the Pyrenees

Foal in the Pyrenees
No, this foal is neither a parade-horse nor a a wild one. Its legs are shorter than of its Dutch cousins. The young animal already has well developed muscles: running about among the rocks and ravines demands acrobatic skills. So far, I have not been able to ascertain what breed or race it is. The foal itself probably couldn’t care less. It will live its carefree life till it is fully grown. These horses are catlle, and are bred for their meat. No false romanticism here.

Mare with foal
For this image I would gladly suffer two broken ankles. Well, the suffering came anyway. Originally, the horses stood in the middle of the green, while I saw them before me in a spatious blue, a sort of horses’ paradise. Of course for the horses themselves that makes no sense at all, they prefer the green.
I photoshopped around: the blue could be the sky, but I preferred a mountain. A bluish mountain has to be far off: was my mountain not too high, and was there nothing between the horses and that far-off mountain top?

Mare with foal

While I was painting, the contours of the mountain changed continuously. Some mountains appeared, others went away. That’s rather nice work. Nicer than painting those manes, that’s not so exciting; it’s rather slow and tedious, especially where the hairs are entangled. In the past, I used to be less hung up on details, and the painting process was nice and quick. But the way to the end doesn’t have be smooth all the time, if the end result gives pleasure. There has to be room for the irregular, the non-schematic. The concrete is often in the details. When to stop detailing? When it grows rigid. But…

Upside down

The contours of the mountains: should they echo or contrast the forms of the horses? Maybe I should add some snowy mountain tops?
I turned the painting upside down to get insight into the composition, independently from its representation. All of a sudden I find there is too much green-yellow facing the blue. So I put in more rock, white rock painted with titanium white mixed with a litlle burnt sienna. That contrasts better with the blue.

The painting is still unfinished…

Galerie Petit

Sad news
Ton van Dijk, owner of Galerie Petit in Amsterdam, passed away in 2015. His widow Dobs followed him late 2016. The gallery is closed. I recently recovered my work in stock there.
How many good galleries for representational art are there left in Amsterdam? The can be counted on the fingers of one hand. That’s a shame, as one American art critic recently said, in the country that has seen a reflourishing of realism in our days.


My hobbyhorse. Gezien van de Riet

Galerie Staphorsius, which also shows some of my work, got a lot of attention from the Dutch press this time. Part of the exhibit is dedicated to Rein Stuurman, illustrator of the birds’ guide in the Netherlands. For six weeks now, visitor numbers have doubled to an average of forty a day.
Mounting my hobby horse, I repeat: if the media would pay more attention to realist art, it would be in a much better position. For that, you need to educate the art journalists, and for that, you need to better the academic curricula, etc. etc.

Translation Jeroen Strengers

Art Renewal Center and my hobby horse

The Art Renewal Center (ARC) has accepted me as ARC Associate Living Master™!

This message appeared on the ARC Salon Update:

Post van Art Renewal Center

Post van Art Renewal Center

Last year I was finalist in an Art Renewal Center competition (see blog August 2015). After that I was invited to apply to the ARC. If you are approved by four different juries you get your own gallery on the ARC website. Mine is:

The ARC’s recognition means a lot to me. It is a great honor to be part of this online museum. It shows old masters and present-day top artists like Jeremy Lipking, Jacob Collins, Max Ginsberg, and (active in the Netherlands)  Joke Frima and Urban Larsson.

Logo ARC

Logo ARC

Classical tradition
The ARC is one of the largest online museums that is a standard-bearer of the classical tradition. It encompasses thousands of pictures of art-works. There is a section of ‘living artists’, and an enormous section of ‘dead masters’. In this case I won’t mind ‘moving on’ when the time is there…
The ARC was founded in 2000 by Fred Ross, and also has a physical museum focussing mainly on 19th century art. Ross is a great admirer of the French Salon artists who were later largely forgotten, like Alma Tadema, who has an exhibition now in the Fries Museum .
Its aim is the renewal of the classical tradition. For that a broad range of activities has been developed: competitions, publications of books, articles and instruction materials, exhibitions, historical research, news letters and the building of a network.

Much value is set on education. The ARC features a long list of schools, academies and studios that they have granted approval to. For art student –already from 60 or so countries– there are yearly competitions in which scholarships can be won.

Studio Incaminati

International students. (Studio Incaminati)

Juliette Aristides: Secrets

Juliette Aristides: Secrets of Classical Painting

There is a link with the Da Vinci Initiative, that publishes schooling material for classical professional skills, aimed at students and teachers.

During the 20th century a handful of artists remained loyal to classical art. They passed on the technical know how to some dozens of followers. These in turn started their own academy or studio and now train hundreds of students. Right now there is exponential growth.
Because of this strategic choice for education thru books, videos and the internet the classical tradition is secured as far as the transfer of knowledge is concerned. That is for the first time in history.

World wide network
The ARC is projecting itself world wide and has a extensive network. Part of this is TRAC – The Representational Art Conference, a movement for the present-day classical tradition.

TRAC The Representational Art Conference

TRAC The Representational Art Conference

There is a co-operation with MEAM – Museu Europeo d’Art Modern in Barcelona (modern here means representational) and several classical academies such as the Florence Academy of Art, that has now opened an establishment in New York.
There are links to art magazines, such as Fine Art Connoisseur and Plein Air Magazine.

Fine Art Connoisseur

Fine Art Connoisseur

Winslow Homer in PleinAir Magazine

Winslow Homer in PleinAir Magazine

Davind Kassan in het MEAM

Davind Kassan in het MEAM






My hobby horse
I have always cherished a deep wish that a movement would come up to root present-day classical art indissolubly in society, to gain recognition on all terrains where this is lacking right now: in academic art history and philosophy, in (art) education, in the leading museums, media and public policies.


My hobbyhorse. Gezien van de Riet

In the Netherlands realism has proven its right to exist. It should be widely present in ‘official’ art history or national museums. It is unbelievable, but all this is blocked by a couple of philosophers, like Lyotard, who maintain that realism and beauty equal kitsch.
The taboo on realism in academic art history has hardly or not been broken. If I’m wrong, tell me.
It is strange that the media have been ignoring realism for more than thirty years – or as good as. The general public have hardly any knowledge of the wonderful works of art that have been produced. They have been kept away from culture full of beauty. It is striking that when a national newspaper does pay attention to a exhibition in a gallery, the number of visitors immediately jumps up, and so do the sales.

It is a miracle that in Holland so much has been accomplished against so many odds. More and more art galleries sprang up, plus a Realism Art Fair, plus two classical academies and a number of other schools, plus several private museums. Within Europe, realism in the Netherlands has probably progressed the most. But, partly because of the economic crisis, it has become more vulnerable. It is not rooted in leading institutions, so it can just seep away again, with only someone like Henk Helmantel as a footnote in art history.
“Everything comes and goes in waves – that’s history”, you can hear sometimes. Sure, but it’s not the wind that makes these waves. It’s people. That’s why it is so great so many people exert themselves for realism. That’s why it is great that the ARC exists.

Do you want to give my ARC gallery a ‘like’? You can! Please do, at:

Der Weg ist das Ziel

Der Weg ist das Ziel

Opinion poll:
Last summer, a tractor pulling a trailer drove up on a camping site in Spain. A farmer from Germany was on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. In calligraphic letters he had painted on his trailer: “Der Weg ist das Ziel” (“The Road is the Aim”).
Does that motto also apply to art? Please give your reaction!

Translation Jeroen Strengers