cover Alles Overal

Gezien van de Riet. Alles! Overal!

Wonderful stories, wonderful plates!


Back Cover:
‘Gezien van de Riet is an exceptionally gifted, motivated artist. Her relationship to nature in all its appearances is remarkable. The love with which she depicts these appearances in her paintings excites a special feeling of happiness in the beholder.’
Ernst van de Wetering, foremost international Rembrandt authority.

Who has seen Gezien van de Riet’s trees, will discover them for oneself. ‘Hey, a Gezien tree!’ Nature is her source of inspiration, she also likes to paint the human figure. She has developed a technique of her own with distemper and oil paint. She draws all the world. She writes about art, ‘the own character’, beauty, the artistic profession, observation, beyond matters of taste. Emotion is key.

She graduated in Sociology at the University of Amsterdam, with a minor in Art History, and she attended the Escuela de Bellas Artes in La Paz, Bolivia. Her first book appeared in 2008: Gezien van de Riet, In ’t leven vindtment al (In Life One Finds All).

Nicolien Mizee, an author known for her books Moord op de moestuin (Murder at the Allotment) and Faxen aan Ger (Faxes to Ger), humorously recounts their first meetings at model drawing in the 1990s. Her story enriches written art history and throws a light on this less well known painters practice.

This is a book for tree lovers, nature lovers, and art lovers, for painters and drawers, students and art historians.

Book presentations
November 2023: in Van Heijningen Art Gallery in The Hague and Laan Bookstore in my hometown Castricum.

Van Heijningen Art Gallery

bezoekers kunstzaal

Kunstzaal van Heijningen. Tweede van links Leo van Heijningen

I interviewed myself. I stood on the right as a journalist and took a step to the left to be myself. Sometimes I forgot to change positions, but that just brought a bit of fun into my serious answers.

Schilderij van de beuk

De boom en het vogeltje

You write about Beauty, isn’t that a rather vague concept?
Well, I don’t have a definition. But it exists. You can experience it. It’s a feeling of happiness. When thinking of beauty, I also think of the dancing of birds, or the sunfish that makes a circle on the sea floor: he gets it just right and it has beautiful patterns in it! What an instinct! He does it to attract females, I do it to give pleasure to people.

Where do you find beauty?
Mostly in nature. There has to be an immediate click. That’s very personal. To capture that beauty I must observe sharply and for a long time. I used to stand still in front of the beech tree from my painting Kijkuit 1. On one occasion, a woman passed and asked: “What do you see? Is it a bird?” “No, the tree.” “Yeah, aren’t they beautiful, the trees”, she said. Without looking at them she walked on and left me perplexed. Apparently she hadn’t been hit by that beauty.
Often I walk through the woods just as inattentively. You have to be in a receptive mood, then you can be hit suddenly by what I call beauty. All of a sudden you perceive something special. When I saw that beech tree, from Kijkuit 1, for the first time in that shape, I felt a shock. All that day I felt joyful like a child.

Nicolien Mizee, well-known for her book Moord in de moestuin (Murder at the Allotment), contributed to my book with a wonderful story: the memory of our earlier meetings and her ideas about realism, also in regard to writing.

Nicolien Mizee en Gezien van de Riet in de Haarlemse heemtuin

Nicolien en ik in de Haarlemse heemtuin

How did Nicolien got involved in your book?
I got to know Nicolien as a model during model drawing sessions in the 1990s. I’m a great fan of her books. Her realism surprises me time and again, it is all taken from real life, with all its beautiful and ugly things. She captures these in stories, witty and entertaining. She cuts ordinary events into little diamonds.
Recently we met again and got talking about realism in art.

You recognize in each other a predelection for realism?

The way she portrays you, is that correct? Or is it like Nicolien writes about herself: “Friends and family thought I had portrayed different characters in a very realistic way. (…) But how they themselves appeared, no, that was all wrong. (…) Maybe that was what ‘realistic writing’ meant: making it your own.”
Exactly! Making it your own. It strikes me though: only yersterday a colleague and friend said about Nicolien’s tekst: “She really describes very well who you are.”

She also writes about your style…
At the time it was thought one should search for one’s own style and find it preferably as soon as possible. Or better still, have it even as a toddler. Otherwise you were character-less. And that can’t be, in art. I resisted that cliché. Then something drastic happened, which I won’t give away now. Nicolien describes it. Her statement on that touched me deeply: “Style is not something you can search and find, style happens to you.”

Nicolien Mizee leest voor uit Het Paradijs

Nicolien Mizee leest voor uit Het Paradijs

Finally I asked Nicolien to read a passage from her last story collection Het Paradijs (Paradise). The title story in that book appealed to me particularly. It is set during the Covid pandemic, time has come to a stand-still, loneliness pervails, nothing happens. Then, as the writer she is, she introduces a story element, about a cold and damp cave with people gathered in it. Someone gets up, and tells a story. People are enchanted, they are back in the paradise of stories. Only the narrator stands outside.

She goes to her allotment and something wonderful happens. She feels like Adam in Paradise, “a mighty movement was going on, of living and dying”. She sits near the pond.

“On the mossy wood stump a frog was sitting. It sat very still, but I saw it breathing. The sight of that little throat rising and falling woke me up from the months-long stupor. A deep emotion passed through my body and soul, as if I could feel the breath of time and I too could begin to blossom. (…) Paradise is a frog on a wood stump.”

Here the narrator finds herself inside the paradise nonetheless, and the reader reads and is moved.


Laan Bookstore, Castricum

Gezien van de Riet. Alles! Overal! Presentatie bij boekhandel Laan

Boek presentatie bij boekhandel Laan

Here I repeated my self-interview, followed by an interview of Nicolien Mizee. She was there also to autograph her latest book Het Paradijs.

One of the questions to Nicolien was:
Recently you gave the Albert Verwey Lecture, titled ‘True story’ is a start. You say that authors of pure fiction often look down on realism, which they describe as “shabbily stirring in their own autobiographica”. No, writers of pure fiction, they are the ones that create stories, “with nothing but their imagination”.

Nicolien Mizee bij boekhandel Laan

Nicolien Mizee bij Laan

Well, that man said mockingly that the book Weg uit Ruinerwold was number one on the bestseller list. I didn’t care for that very much. He probably hadn’t even read the book at all. And what is wrong with true stories? I don't want to say that it is higher, but it is not lower either….


A review of my book by Jurjen van der Hoek struck me because of his insight in what drives me. Here are some excerpts:

The unconditional love for the observable beauty

‘She was rejected by the balloting committee of the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. According to them, she couldn't explain satisfactorily the very different works she brought with her. Where was she, where was her style in that story. “Everything! Everywhere!”, she exclaimed angrily. Because style is not something you can search for, style happens to you, so she thought then and thinks now. The gentlemen were not very pleased with that. She could not be placed and went her own way. Doesn't that often happen to born artists, that they cannot be pigeonholed? That they don't fit in anywhere and have difficulty adapting.

The new art book by Gezien van de Riet has now been given that exasperated exclamation as its title. In the works represented in it she can be found in everything, everywhere.’

schilderij van spiegelzee door Gezien van de Riet

Spiegelzee, Alkyd- en olieverf op paneel 60x80cm.

‘Author Nicolien Mizee indicates in her text contribution that Gezien van de Riet was no stranger to her. They had met at one time in a model drawing course. Mizee was the model, and Gezien drew her. Van de Riet didn’t want poses of fifteen minutes, she wanted to work longer at one pose, for several hours. Not just a sketch, but a detailed drawing. (…) That is what characterizes this artist, attentive observation and detailed work. “Anyone can do a little sketching, I want to get further.” (…) Years later Mizee and Van de Riet meet again. Mizee has become a celebrated author and Van de Riet a technically perfect artist. Working after nature. With the tree as a model, which she portrays as an individual. She knows how to capture meticulously the expression of its character. Both in the human figure as in trees or landscapes.’

Schilderij Olijfboom in Spanje door GezienvandeRiet

Olijfboom in Spanje, Tempera en olie op paneel, 30x30cm.

‘The publication is at the same time a sort of work book or note book. The pictures are supported by notes by the artist. (…) She unveils her way of working. The matters that are close to her heart. The stuff Gezien finds her inspiration in. And action is put into words, the pictures illustrate the ‘lessons’. Van de Riet writes, among other things, about the profession, observation, the particular, the personal and the beautiful. Portrait, nature, pastelling, drawing, plein air painting.’

Sleesporen in het bos van Driehuis, geschilderd door Gezien van de Riet

Sleesporen in het bos van Driehuis, tempera en olieverf op paneel, 25x40 cm

‘It all fits perfectly, it can be put into the reality just like that. But her surroundings, her human figure and tree, her cloud and mountain, are not the reality. There is a constant artistic atmosphere surrounding this apparent reality. An emotional vibration, an oppressive haze. Emotion is her keyword, her compass, it is the truth, beyond taste. It is an illusion, conjuring up a space on the flat surface.’

‘Browsing through the book, Van de Riet's technically perfect skills are striking. But not so perfect that the wind moves in the branches, the autumn leaves can flutter right off the image, the clouds wander across the sky and the model can get up and walk away at any moment. It remains a frozen moment. However, the pictures rub against reality, but the feeling remains that this is not real. That is what makes the painting art. It looks real, but it is a phantasy, with its feet in the ground. What is seen is given a supernatural value. It is not a reproduction or perfect copy, it is a unique view of the artist on the observable. Making intangible emotions visble, so that the inner life appears in the outer, that is how she describes it. This applies to the human figure as much as to the tree or the cloud. Van de Riet captures life and that makes her reality feel so real.’

olieverf portret van Jeroen met glas wijn

Gezien van de Riet, Proost, tempera and oil on panel, 50x80cm.

‘That what I see, is real. But not so real that it is reality. It is her perspective on reality, her observation of the visible world. Everything in it seems to be right, but it hovers above that correspondance. It corresponds with reality, but doesn’t rhyme with it. There is correspondence, reality tolerates its image. But the artist adds that element that makes reality art.'

By Jurjen K. van der Hoek

You can find the full tekst in: #van spijk art books#gezien van de riet#schilderijen#boekbespreking
Alles! Overal! Gezien van de Riet. Schilderijen, tekeningen en tekst. Met een tekstbijdrage van Nicolien Mizee. Uitgave Van Spijk Art Books, 2023.

Jurjen K. Https://

Translation NL-EN: Jeroen Strengers

On my birthday, April 21, 2022, a miracle happened.

Signing the transfer documents of works of art by Gezien van de Riet. fltr: Roberto Calzadilla, Rogelio Mayta and Luis Oporto

Signing the transfer documents of works of art by Gezien van de Riet.
fltr: Roberto Calzadilla, Rogelio Mayta and Luis Oporto

About 500 works of art of mine were transferred to Bolivia. Yes, I can write that in its full meaning: to Bolivia, to the people of that country. Bolivia, which I came to love so much, where I lived and worked for over ten years.

Rogelio Mayta and Luis Oporto show the document of the transfer

Rogelio Mayta and Luis Oporto show the document of the transfer

The ceremony took place in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This ministry transferred my works to the Fundación Cultural del Banco Central de Bolivia. The documents were signed under the colorful flags.
The work will be kept at the highest level. It is the most beautiful place, especially because of the vision of the Fundación Cultural, about which more later. It's a great honour. I'm going to walk next to my shoes.

Paintings in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Paintings in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

In the beautiful salon Tiahuanacu of the ministry, the paintings were mounted on easels.

A table with illustrations

A table with illustrations

On a table lay brochures with my illustrations, and watercolors for slideshows and video. The material provides a picture of the indigenous peoples of Bolivia.

Journalists at work

Journalists at work


Roberto Calzadilla Sarmiento, Ambassador of Bolivia to the Netherlands

Roberto Calzadilla Sarmiento, Ambassador of Bolivia to the Netherlands

Roberto Calzadilla Sarmiento, Ambassador of Bolivia to the Netherlands, had personally taken care of a safe transport.
Quotes from his speech:
“Mrs Van de Riet has worked in Bolivia for ten years as a sociologist. It is good to recall that in 1981 she met Lucila de Morales, the president of the young Peasant Women’s Union 'Bartolina Sisa'. Gezien then made a drawing for a poster for the meeting where Lucila de Morales spoke.

Pamphlet for the meeting with Lucila de Morales, May 6, 1981, Netherlands

Pamphlet for the meeting with Lucila de Morales, May 6, 1981, Netherlands

After that, Gezien went to Bolivia where she also worked extensively with the Housewives Federation of La Paz. During that time, she enrolled at the La Paz Art Academy to further develop her art.”

“I believe that this is a legacy that Dutch development cooperation has left in Bolivia, this commitment to support the various social organisations.
Mrs. Van de Riet's husband has worked in the restoration of the archives of the Miners' Union of Bolivia, because during the years of the military dictatorship, this union history of the miners was lost.”

Miner, oil on prepared paper, 1988, 43x43cm

Miner, oil on prepared paper, 1988, 43x43cm

“So this Dutch couple has shown a strong bond with Bolivia. They felt part of our process of change.”

“We are pleased to have contributed to this. That is also an example of the "diplomacy of the peoples".”

Roberto Calzadilla's special approach accelerated the process. He personally carried the work with the diplomatic post. Eduardo Rodríguez Veltze should also be mentioned here. As ambassador at the time, he had already made agreements with the Fundación Cultural in 2019. Due to a change of government and Corona, the process was interrupted.


Rogelio Mayta, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bolivia

Rogelio Mayta, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bolivia

Rogelio Mayta, Bolivia's Foreign Minister, said:

“Like so many people born in other latitudes, Gezien van de Riet fell in love with Bolivia and the Bolivians. Our goal of the social struggle also became her life goal. And for years she has been with us in our pursuit of building our Plurinational State - since the first steps where this was still an embryonic idea.
Well, Gezien has left us her work, or that part of her work that represents the Bolivians, in different activities, at different times. Through her art she shows us ourselves through a European lens. But it was the friendly gaze of someone with a warm feeling, expressed in paintings and watercolors, also through our own art forms, and also with a pedagogical purpose, through a lot of illustrations.”

“Through this art we can, in a sense, give shape to intercultural diplomacy.”

“It only remains for me to thank Gezien from a distance because she accompanied us for several years in the path that our people have traveled, shared joys and sorrows, and was in a sense also a Bolivian, through her art. Thanks a lot!"

Luis Oporto Ordóñez

Luis Oporto Ordóñez, President of the Cultural Foundation of the Central Bank of Bolivia

Luis Oporto Ordóñez, President of the Cultural Foundation of the Central Bank of Bolivia,
points to the Constitution (2009), which states that Bolivia has a duty to record, preserve, restore, disseminate and promote the cultural heritage of the Bolivian people. This is the mission of the Cultural Foundation.
Plurinational State of Bolivia means that the own culture of the different indigenous peoples can be preserved. They have the right to self-government within the framework of one state.
The current government is based on the popular organizations.

Logo of the Cultural Foundation of the Central Bank of Bolivia

Logo of the Cultural Foundation of the Central Bank of Bolivia

Luis Oporto:

“The work that we see here, repatriated from the Netherlands (…) comes from the artist called Gezien van de Riet.”

“She has (…) worked together with social movements, such as the Peasant Womens’ Union 'Bartolina Sisa'. She was always there and left a body of work that now also has to be registered.

MuurschilderiMural 'From early in the morning until late at night' in the Hospital Holandes, El Alto, Bolivia,

Mural 'From early in the morning until late at night' in the Hospital Holandes, El Alto, Bolivia, by Gezien van de Riet, Alberto Medina and Filhy Torrelio, 1997

It is a body of work partly consisting of a mural, which is an illustration of the will of the Plurinational State to protect the health of the Bolivians. That mural by Gezien van de Riet is located in the Hospital Holandés (Dutch Hospital near La Paz, in El Alto).”

In the waiting room of the Hospital Holandes

In the waiting room of the Hospital Holandes

Oporto announced that the Museo Nacional de Arte, the National Art Museum, will exhibit my work at the end of this year, “so that the entire Bolivian population can admire it.” This is special: the Fundación Cultural believes that culture should be there for everyone. Traveling exhibitions are also organized for this purpose. The Museo Nacional de Arte is part of the Fundación Cultural.

Oporto also recalled the work of Jeroen Strengers:

“Jeroen Strengers was the one who realized the recovery of this historical heritage of the Miners' Union, which had practically disappeared with the dictatorship of García Meza.”

“He is part of that army of archivists that we have registered in the Biographical Dictionary of Archivists of Bolivia, published by the Vice-Presidency of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, first in 2012 and then in 2016. That work records the project of organizing, collating and reconstructing the miners' archive.”


Director of SIDIS, Jeroen Strengers, 2nd from left, presents his book 'La Asamblea Popular' under the auspices of the Federación of Miners. Right Edgar Ramires, president of the Federation of Miners' Unions.

Director of SIDIS, Jeroen Strengers, 2nd from left, presents his book 'La Asamblea Popular' under the auspices of the Federación of Miners. Right Edgar Ramires, president of the Federation of Miners' Unions.


Jeroen Strengers, Luis Oporto

Jeroen Strengers, 2nd from left, with Luis Oporto, 2nd from right, in the Archives of Comibol, 2007

The three speakers had worked hard on it. Their words touched us deeply, precisely because our intentions were so well understood, precisely because we experienced the social commitment of the Fundación Cultural that also drove us. Their appreciation is unforgettable. When we saw the video, we were both moved.

Also present were Fredy Mamani, Bolivia's Deputy Foreign Minister, and Iván Castellón, Director of the Museo Nacional de Arte.

Gregoria Reina Vallejos

Gregoria Reina Vallejos, the Education Secretary of the National Federation of Indian Peasant Women of Bolivia 'Bartolina Sisa' with Luis Oporto with the brochure and the painting

And a special surprise: the National Confederation of Peasant Women of Bolivia 'Bartolina Sisa' was also represented. I illustrated their first brochures. See story in my blog 16:

First brochure of the National Federation of Indian Peasant Women of Bolivia 'Bartolina Sisa', 1985

First brochure of the National Federation of Indian Peasant Women of Bolivia 'Bartolina Sisa', 1985

Gregoria Reina Vallejos, the Education Secretary, represented the Confederation, along with other members. Her shawl was decorated with the emblem of the Confederation, Bartolina Sisa, born in 1750. Bartolina was a legendary fighter against Spanish oppression. Roadblocks were already organized by the Indian population back then.


fltr: Roberto Calzadilla, Rogelio Mayta, Gregoria Reina Vallejos and Luis Oporto with the transfer document

fltr: Roberto Calzadilla, Rogelio Mayta, Gregoria Reina Vallejos and Luis Oporto with the transfer document


looking at ilustraciones

fltr: Gregoria Reina Vallejos, Rogelio Mayta, Iván Castellón, Director del Museo Nacional de Arte, David Aruquipa


fltr: Roberto Calzadilla, Iván Castellón, Director of the National Museum of Art of Bolivia Rogelio Mayta, Luis Oporto and Gregoria Reina Vallejos

fltr: Roberto Calzadilla, Iván Castellón, Director of the National Museum of Art of Bolivia Rogelio Mayta, Luis Oporto and Gregoria Reina Vallejos


fltr: Two members of the 'Bartolinas', Gregoria Reina Vallejos, David Aruquipa, Luis Oporto and others

fltr: Two members of the 'Bartolinas', Gregoria Reina Vallejos, David Aruquipa, Luis Oporto and others


David Aruquipa with two paintings

David Aruquipa with two paintings

David Aruquipa, Head of Culture Management of the Cultural Foundation of the Central Bank of Bolivia, facilitated the transfer process in a stimulating and effective way. He also took care of the photos of the transfer. I am grateful to him for that.

I tried to turn the illustrations into art in which the Indian population would be the main subject, in which they played the leading role.


From 'Pregnancy', the couple, watercolor,

From 'Pregnancy', the couple, watercolor, 20x30cm, Gezien van de Riet

I did my very best and hoped that my illustrations would strengthen their self-image standing up for their rights. I aimed for an aesthetic level that people could enjoy. That way I could make a small contribution.


From 'Pregnancy', serious conversation, watercolor

From 'Pregnancy', serious conversation, watercolor, 20x30cm, Gezien van de Riet

Art in general was not intended for the indigenous population. They were rarely depicted as real people. However, when people are portrayed in a true and beautiful way, recognition is possible and love and pride can be aroused. This was my motivation, although I still had a lot to learn.


Gezien van de Riet attends a party on the Altiplano

Gezien van de Riet attends a party on the Altiplano

So I went to Bolivia as a sociologist and returned as a painter.


Kunstzaal van Heijningen. May 20 – June 16. Open: Wednesday to Saturday from 12:00 to 17:00 and Sunday from 13:00 to 17:00.

Museum Møhlmann. 'The Master's Hand', Beyond Painting. The appearance of (my) 1956.
April 3 – July 31. Appingdam. Open: Friday, Saturday, Sunday from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM.

Museum Møhlmann, Independent Realists Exhibition, late September – late December.

Museo Nacional de Arte, late 2022, La Paz, Bolivia. More later.

Jeroen Strengers: Translation NL - EN


I went to Bolivia as a sociologist and I came back as an artist

It is 2022
I have worked for more than ten years as a sociologist and illustrator in Bolivia in close collaboration with the Bolivian Indigenous population. I made around 500 drawings, water-colors and paintings.

Photo Ambassador of Bolivia Roberto Calzadilla, Gezien van de Riet, Jeroen Strengers (Miners Archive Bolivia), Gerda Dommerholt (Servicio Técnico Holandes, Bolivia), 10-03-2022

Ambassador of Bolivia Roberto Calzadilla, Gezien van de Riet, Jeroen Strengers (Miners Archive Bolivia), Gerda Dommerholt (Servicio Técnico Holandes, Bolivia), 10-03-2022

The artworks are going now to the collection of the Fundación Cultural of the Centrale Bank of Bolivia. The Cultural Foundation administers the National Museum and engages in a great number of activities. It is based on the conception that culture is not just of the élite but for the entire Bolivian people. It is a wonderful home for my works of art, and a great honor!

It was 1981
Lucia de Morales, president of the newly established peasant women union, the Federación Nacional de Mujeres Campesinas de Bolivia ‘Bartolina Sisa’ (1980), came to visit the Netherlands to speak at events on and around the First of May. She spoke about road blocks, the fight for democracy, the situation of Indigenous peasant women. Later more out their union, called the ‘Bartolinas’.
The Dutch Bolivia Working Group, organizer of this visit, requested me to make an illlustration for a brochure.

Illustration Lucila de Morales in the Netherlands, 1981

Lucila de Morales in the Netherlands, 1981

At that time, I couldn’t suspect that this drawing would be the cause of a turn in my life.

It was 1984
Democracy had returned in Bolivia. Political refugees also returned. At the request of some of them, I went with them to work in Bolivia. As a sociologist.
And then there was this drawing from 1981…

drawing of Lucila de Morales, first president of the Bartolinas

Lucila de Morales, first president of the Bartolinas

Lucila asked me if I was willing to illustrate the first educational pamphlet to be published by the Bartolinas. Would I? But me, a foreigner, from Holland? How would I prevent a projection of my own culture on that of the Indigenous population?

Drawing of Mother with child on the Altiplano. After a photo by Fernando Soria.Dibujo de una madre con su wawa

Mother with child on the Altiplano. After a photo by Fernando Soria.

There was only one guarantee: a maximum of participation from their side. What I had to do was mostly asking questions, so that their own ideas would be realized in text and image. I was to go and accompany them on their trips into the country, to their dwelling-places, and ask the people for their help. As an educational expert I was experienced in the stimulation of adult participation. Asking questions was essential in the process.
I had also taken some classes in model drawing, so I ventured on.

After some time, the Bartolina Sisa Federation applied for a contract for me as an aid worker at the Dutch Ministry of Development Co-operation. That provided us with more stability.

Into the country
One of the union leaders took me with her to her home in Aroma Province. There I could make extensive notes, making sketches and photos, inside and outside, of the family, the land, the cattle.

Illustration of A working day, the morning

A working day, the morning

Text: “A working day, morning: rise at 4 AM, cooking braekfast at 5 AM, getting tot work at 7 AM.” "Is cooking breakfast not work then? Who does this?”

Illustration of Working together in the field

Working together in the field

Tilling the land together

Drawing of Girl fetching water

Girl fetching water

A girl fetching water

Illustration Girl tending the sheep

Girl tending the sheep

A girl tending the sheep

Drawer, man, woman?
The women didn’t perceive me as a sociologist, but as a drawer. And at first sight, with my short-cropped hair, what was I? Man or woman? Well, that didn’t matter, they saw me drawing, and they thougth it was great.
This way I visited remote places, together with a union leader, had to sleep in the best bed of hospitable families, had to walk till late at night in the freezing 13,000 feet highlands of the Bolivian Altiplano, with a starry heaven above… Or I would sleep on the ground, next to the Federation President, to the merriment of the women would sit around some more time…

Drawing people
Union meetings and courses were wonderful hours of drawing for me. I became addicted to hatching. Later I would use these sketches for the brochure.

Drawing Intimate conversation

Intimate conversation


Drawing of Dreaming



Drawing of All attention

All attention

illustration What should I do as a notulist?

What should I do as a notulist?

Text: “What is my job as a note-taker? What is expected of a union leader, what of the members?”

Illustration Sex education

Sex education

Health. “What is happening to me? I am peeing blood.” “And now, what should I do, now that José left me?” “Why are we ashamed of our period? Isn’t it natural? How can we prevent our daughters to suffer? Shouldn’t we inform our young people better?”

Nighttime adventure
Once we were travelling south by train, and stopped at the town of Uyuni. It was midnight, ice-cold, the trees were wrapped in straw, not a living soul in the streets. We thumped on doors, finally one opened, the inn-keeper pointed to the left and dived back in his room. We grabbed a pile of blankets and a few hours of shut-eye. Then back to the train station, waiting at the platform for the first train in the dark blue shade of early morning. A woman was selling a hot sweet corn beverage, and warm fritters, while she was cleaning her nose in her apron. It is a picture in my memory.

Illustration of She wants to go to a meeting, but...

She wants to go to a meeting, but...

The texts for the brochure weren’t beating around the bush. “If you go to that meeting, better not come back home!” “But compañero, she has a right to go…” Standing in the back, trying to speak up: “Compa…” – shouts of: “Ha ha, listen to that! She can’t even talk!”

Danger and courage
The usual, poignant stories. They were courageous, the women that addressed these issues. The Bartolinas had also participated in dangerous road blocks, even at the time of the military dictatorship, and yes, then it was painful to find out that they were discriminated against by their own men. But the men that supported them were also courageous, and their support was valueable.

Illustration of Congresses, demonstrations and hunger strikes brought down Banzer's dictatorship (1978)

Congresses, demonstrations and hunger strikes brought down Banzer's dictatorship (1978)

Text: “Participation. Conventions, protest marches, hunger strikes.”
“When was the National Peasant Women’s Federation of Bolivia founded? Of which methods of struggle do we dispose? Whay did we engage in road blocks? And hunger strikes?”

Drawing of a woman speaking with microphone


By stating so clearly what was amiss, much has changed since then. The brochure also had an impact. During one of the meetings two men sat in front of me. One was reading to the other: “Why are there no equal opportunites for boys and girls in education?” I pricked up my ears. “Yes, of course, girls should go to school as well”, he answered. The other nodded in agreement.

The tropics
Life in the Bolivian tropics differs greatly from that in the highlands.

Illustration of Cover Nuestra vida, nuestra organización 2

Cover Nuestra vida, nuestra organización 2

A different brochure was needed.

Drawing of Listening and writing

Listening and writing


Drawing of Babies always join in

Babies always join in


Drawing of What is she telling...

What is she telling...

Here also meetings and courses were organized, which I attended, so that I could sketch one woman after another.

Drawing of The art of listening

The art of listening


Drawing of Recognition?



Drawing of It was very warm

It was very warm

The leaders took me to far away places.

Illustration of A kitchen in the tropics

A kitchen in the tropics

Text: “A working day. Getting up and fetching water, preparing breakfast.”

People were showing me their daily comings and goings, posing for me in kinds of situations. They did it with abandonment and hilarity, since it was for their own pamphlet. “You have to draw that duck with its ducklings!”…

Illustration of Peeling rice and talking about the womens' union

Peeling rice and talking about the womens' union

Text: “The solution.” ”We have so many problems! What can we do, comadre?” “The answer is organizing.”

Many domestic chores were performed outside. Out in the open, contact was easy, like here, while hulling rice. This was different from highland Bolivia, the Altiplano, were the compounds were enclosed.


Illustration of Afternoon and evening tasks, making cigarettes...

Afternoon and evening tasks, making cigarettes...

Text: “Afternoon and evening.” “Washing clothes.” “Cooking.” “In the evening: making cigarettes…”
“When do you rest? If all our work was paid, wouldn’t our agricultural products be much higher priced? So, who is profiting form our work?” Good question…

The cigarette
I had quit smoking. Aftter nightfall my host made me a cigarette, from her own tobacco, while I was sketching. I put the cigarette in my drawing, no, no, how could I refuse and insult my host…
There was always too much to draw. Just look at that tree with all the drying clothes in it, the rocking chair made of leather, hanging from a tree, and the people, participating with so much willingness. It really made me happy, I did’nt care about the hardships.

illustration of From girl to woman. Why can't I go to school?

From girl to woman. Why can't I go to school?

Prejudice from a young age. Text: “From girl to woman.” “My child is only a girl…” “My grand-daughter, what is she good for?” “Why can’t I go to school?” “You look like a man. Tom boy!”

Illustration of Our organization

Our organization

Text: “Our organization.” ‘Let us start our women’s organization. Yes, great idea!”
“Why was the peasant women’s organization founded? Is our organization directed against the men? What are the issues we can share, working together with the men’s union?”
“Why do we organize? To learn. To demand better prices.”

It is 2022.
The militant Bartolinas have accomplished a great deal. Looking back, I am amazed by the versitality of their programme, and I admire their courage. What has worked well is their choice for a combination that wasn’t easy. On the one hand the struggle against women’s oppression and, later, the aspiration for complete participation in the political, economic and social decision making. On the other hand, the colaboration with the peasants’union in the struggle for improvement.
It was remarkable that the National Peasants’ Confederation, to which the Bartolinas belonged, supported them from the beginning. That was also a wise choice. The experience from many other countries shows how exceptional this was.
I consider myself privileged to have been able to work with them.

Fot of Confederación Bartolina Sisa's website. Also radio and TV.

Confederación Bartolina Sisa's website. Also radio and TV.

Some facts:

NEWS  opens its exhibition 2022 on April 1. My entry: Daphne

Painting of Daphne by Gezien van de Riet

Daphne  3 april – 31 july:
Rob Møhlmann, museum owner, curator, publicist, and creator of a magnificent oeuvre, will be celebrating his birthday with three exhibitions simultanuously: his own work and objects form his collection, objects from his birth year 1956, and
The Master Hand. Rob boldly asked for the hand of the artists involved in his Museum.
He got both my hands:

painting of Self-portrait with tree by GezienvandeRiet

Selfportrait with tree

My next blog will tell more on Illustrating in Bolivia.

Translation NL-EN: Jeroen Strengers

Looking over Rembrant’s shoulder while he painted, who would not have wanted that? To get so near to his painting practice? Ernst van de Wetering chanced it in his books Rembrandt. The Painter at Work and Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking.

Ernst van de Wetering schreef over Rembrandt's schilderpraktijk

Ernst van de Wetering en twee van zijn boeken

Of course, he studied the paintings of Rembrandt for years to establish their authenticity. Besides art history he received an academic education as a painter. This way he was equipped with a painter’s eye and professional expertise. That came in useful as an art historian.
The world’s greatest authority on Rembrandt, he passed away this year. 1)

Ernst Gombrich, auteur van The Story of Art, wrote:
“Among the countless books on Rembrandt, that by Ernst van de Wetering comes closest to conveying something of this experience because the author combines the qualifications of a trained connoisseur and of a practicing painter.” 2)

He was reputed to be passionate, brilliant, unique. He was famed as a raconteur, his lectures were memorable, students would cheer his lessons spontaneously. He knew how to explore a subject by including other academic disciplines. Experience was essential in seeing art.
A former student remembered an art excursion to Russia:

“In our preparation we also immersed ourselves in Russian litterature and music. Travelling through the country we all had to step out of the bus at some point in the middle of nowhere. ‘Look around carefully!’, were our orders. But it was raining! But still, we had to, in the rain, here and there was some snow and a group of birch trees. Not very comfortable. But later in the museum we were extremely grateful, we saw the Russian impressionist landscapes with different eyes, the experience was much more intense. You really saw more!”

Aleksej Savrasov. De roeken zijn teruggekeerd, 1879, olie op doek, 62x49,5cm

Narrative skill
I remember very well the lecture on ‘Rembrandt and light’. Van de Wetering told us that it was a common belief that Rembrandt’s famous clair-obscure was based in his childhood. Didn’t he grow up in a windmill, in semi-darkness, because of the small windows?
And then we we were invited to look at the light in the enormous college hall. That was a strange experience, lamps of all different kinds, and then there was the daylight coming in through the stained-glass windows. After a few minutes the audience was like a plowed land thirstily absorbing the story in all its complexity. Like the numerical decrease of daylight falling into a room, expert knowledge to be found at that time in painters’ manuals.

Kamerlicht. Illustratie in Van Hoogstraten’s Inleyding

Rembrandt. Een geleerde bij een raam (een studie in ‘kamerlicht’), 1631. Paneel, 60,8x47,3cm

Rembrandt at work
Rembrandt. The Painter at Work was published at the beginning of this century. I read it in one go and published articles about it in the Dutch art review Palet. 2) I had to ask Van de Wetering for photo materials, and that is how we first had contact.

Rembrandt. The Painter at Work

The book makes you aware of the process of observation and reproduction. I marveled reading about painters’ practices in the Dutch Golden Age of painting. There was an extraordinary high level of expertise among the painters.

The creation of a credible illusion of reality, that was the aim in the classical tradition. Plasticity, correct proportions, a credible skin colour, yes, countless aspects had to be mastered by the artist. Linear and atmospheric perspective had been major discoveries. It proved to be possible to evoke the illusion of reality on a flat surface!

Dirck Jacobsz. A Group of Guardsmen,1529. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Last November I saw the exhibition of Renaissance portraits in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam: Vergeet me niet / Remember Me. Afterwards I passed through the Honour Gallery, with Vermeer, Rembrandt, Frans Hals.

Frans Hals en Pieter Codde. De magere compagnie, 1633-1637. Photo credit: Wikipedia

I stopped, taken aback, what was this? It had to be the amazing sense of space in the 17th century paintings! What a difference with a century before! What a giant artistic leap!

Most particularly in the Northern Netherlands new ways of evoking space were developed, for instance the use of ‘the thickness of the air’ 4) That is how it was called, air forming a body between the different objects, even at close distances. That this was discovered at that time still amazes me. Other ‘tricks’ were the varying roughness of the paint surface, the alternation of sharp and soft contours, the placing of a pet dog: diagonally, alongside, or ‘in depth’…

Rembrandt, De Nachtwacht,1642. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Especially Rembrandt applied a lot of these techniques, as can be seen in the Night Watch. Just look at the little dog, on the right hand side, in the shadow. Also the placing of the figures makes it very life-like, indeed spatial. In short: the figures are breathing, the Night Watch is breathing.
The insights of those days are still valuable for contemporary realism, especially when artists rely on photos, because this can unwittingly lead to ‘flat’ pictures.

Then there is the chessboard theory. I can still hear this teacher telling us that you can enliven a painting by placing the contrasts like a sort of chessboard. This idea stems more from the tradition of abstract painting. In Rembrandt’s age a chessboard disposition was anathema. Because the eye would ‘read’all contrasts one by one and make an addition sum of the painting. Especially where people were represented in all kinds of mutual relations, this should be avoided. No, one should limit the alternation of light and dark, put less light tones next to light ones, so the light tones would shine even more, and the other way round. The main subject should stand out, and a sharp contrast would help that. Thus, you would create a ‘unified’painting, ‘one being’ in one compositionary grip. In other words: you should be able to see this picture in one glance. Rembrandt was admired for this by his contemporaries. 5)

Rembrandt, Oude man in een leunstoel, 1652, 111x88 cm. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Was Rembrandt’s (and others’) spontaneous painter’s hand a manifestation of vitality or temperament? An aim in itself? A trade mark? This is often said, but no, thought Van de Wetering. “With Rembrandt and other great artists with a spontaneous hand (…) you register unconsciously that the spontaneity has itself no deliberate aim, it is not even a means, it is a self-evident and integral part of their artistic skill. (…) it serves more specifically a quite different factor in their artistry, perhaps the most important of all: the imagination.”
Rembrandt could compose this through his expertise, hardly fathomable nowadays, an expertise obtained through expermiment and endless practicing since his youth. Van de Wetering: “With great art (…) it seems that there must have been a powerful image lying at the root of the whole process. The artist appears (…) to move within that image while he is at work. He is what he is making.” 6)
After reading this book Iwrote to him asking for more information on 17th century ideas. Where could I find this? After some time I received a number of unpublished texts, plus invitations for his lectures and book presentations.

Etches, paintings and camping at the printer
In 2008, when I published my book Gezien van de Riet. In ’t leven vindtment al I sent Van de Wetering a copy. After that, he wanted to visit my workshop. He came in, with an etch in his hand. He had made that in the art academy.

Ernst van de Wetering. Etstekening maken op de knie.

It is a funny picture, free flowing, loose, but still very much on the mark. On his knee is the etching plate on which he is drawing his knee, feet, hands, and the etching plate itself. A drawing about drawing.

Left: When you hold the etch upside down you see what he himself saw while doing the drawing. But wait, the etch is printed in reverse. So it should be turned horizontally.
Right: This must have been the image that he drew from observation.

He also painted, and once we participated in an exhibition together. Both our works were too big for a normal car. A good thing that besides our love for painting we shared a love for camping. The paintings were transported in his camper car, and returned in our caravan.
His van also served him as his lodging at the printer’s in Zeist. He had to proof-read his last book on Rembrandt, there was a lot of time pressure. He wanted to pass the night in the printing shop, instead, he used his van.

Rembrandt the thinker
Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking appeared in 2016.

The rich treasure of 17th century art practice was systematically explored – Courbet would have loved it.
Treatises on art theory and painting practices were being unearthed and compared to each other. A perplexing image of well thought-out painting practices was recreated.

Karel van Mander en Het Schilder-Boeck 1604

Het Schilder-boeck
In 1604 painter and poet Karel van Mander published Het Schilder-boeck (‘The Painter’s Book’ or ‘The Painting Book’), following the footsteps of Vasari. This book was one of the crucial sources of knowledge on Rembrandt and his contemporaries. The influential art historian Hessel Miedema, internationally respected, wrote several studies on Van Mander in the last decades of the 20th century. He saw the book as a didactic poem, mainly literary by nature, obviously aimed at art lovers and of hardly any meaning for (beginning) artists. It was mostly about reciting knowlegde that was circulating anyway.
The strange thing however is that the first part of Het Schilder-boeck is full of advice and criteria, a true teaching manual for painters. That was even expressed in the subtitle….

Het Schilder-Boeck
Waer in voor eerst de leerlusti-
ghe Jueght den grondt der
Verscheyden deelen Wort

The Painters Book (or Painting Book)
In which for the fist time for the studious
Youth (is exposed) the basis
in Several Volumes

More than ten chapters dwell on subjects like the portrayal of human feelings, landscape, cattle, reflected light, textiles, draperies, paint application…
All kinds of concrete things were treated, like:
- How to suggest velvet? By painting the high light very close to the contours.
- Reflection of a dark form in water? Make it lighter than the form itself.
- Tin: slightly bluer than silver.

Deeper meaing of eggs
A hilarious example illustrates Miedema’s misconception. It’s a simple instruction for the drawing of the human head, an egg-shaped outline with cross in it, from different poses. Those kinds of diagrams were common in those days.

Schema voor het tekenen van hoofden, zeventiende eeuw

“The emphatic repetition of ’t cruys’ (the cross) would clearly seem to refer to the Christian doctrine of redemption. It is more difficult to make out precisely what role Van Mander attributes to the ‘eye-rondt’, but it seems likely to me that by this term he is alluding to the world. ’t Menschen beeldt (the human figure) then becomes the microcosmos: the reduced reflection of the world, but under the sign of Christ’s Cross.” 7)

This interpretation should be categorically rejected, wrote Van de Wetering. Miedema’s search for a deeper meaning had stripped the manual of its real content

The recommendations and criteria in the manual were related to illusionism, as stated, the creation of a credible illusion of reality. Vasari and Van Mander approvingly used terms like ‘nature’ (meaning reality) and ‘just life-like’.
Gombrich had already pointed out that illusionism was the cornerstone of European art: artists had developed techniques to improve the illusion, ever since the classical Greeks down to the 19th century (with an interruption in the Middle Ages).

Formerly Piero della Francesca. Ideal City. Photo credit: Wikipedia

But painting practice was not a subject in art history. That should be rewritten in that respect, he suggested.

Waerheyt (Truth)
Rembrandt’s mainspring was to capture ‘de waerheyt’, truth, life in its ‘most natural liveliness’ or mobility. As a young painter he got an overwhelming compliment from the authoritative art connoisseur Constantijn Huygens: he had surpassed the ancients and the great 16th-century Italians in the representation of emotions, as expressed by his figures in historical pieces.
The representation of emotions was very highly valued in the classical tradition and Huygens’praise must have been a tremendous boost.

Rembrandt, De thuiskomst van de verloren zoon, 1636, ets. Photo credit: Wikipedia

The etch The Return of the Prodigal Son shows how Rembrandt had pondered human feelings, and how best to express these.

Blind spot
Manuals and other 17th-century sources from Rembrandt’s days had existed for almost four centuries. But the art treasure of workshop practices had remained hidden for a long time, apart from certain exceptions. 8)
Van de Wetering points out that illusionism had fallen from grace ever since Cézanne, and banned completely in the 20th century. Art history was mostly concerned with style and the succession of styles. 9) The concepts used, like linear and picturesque, multiplicity and unity, closed and open form, had been developed in the time that abstract art arose. They didn’t need to refer to any representation of reality whatsoever. Art history didn’t concern itself with ‘just like’ and all that was involved with that. The peculiar aspects of illusionism became a blind spot.

The great merit of Van de Wetering is the creation of an unsurpassed written portrait of Rembrandt the painter. His capacity to identify himself with the painter’s practice must also have been owed to a certain natural talent for observation.

Ernst van de Wetering met een zelfportret. Photo credit: Wikipedia Trouw

Drawing and painting himself, he had learned what to pay attention to. Painting is most of all the art of looking. By his many years of studying Rembrandt’s work he developed that art ever more.
But even so. Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking – meaning: thinking painterly – was slippery ground. Acute observation and artistic intuition had to be linked to facts. Only scientific method could shield him from speculation: laboratory research, and painstaking analysis of sources.

Ernst van de Wetering

By comparing different manuals it was possible to distill what every artist of that day could know and practice, and thereby also where Rembrandt deviated and added. What was rendered by observation was transparantly explained. Laboratory research was essential in the process.
Another merit was that he put the finger on starting-points in art history that hindered research into painting practices in the classical tradition.

Like a true explorer, Van de Wetering has uncovered Rembrandt’s painting practice and made it accessible. Writing art history through focusing and that practice, like Gombrich advocated, has been a resounding success.
Simon Schama, himself the author of a hefty book on Rembrandt, thought that Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking was an astounding accomplishment, that would alter the course of Rembrandt studies for many generations. 10) I think that is a striking statement.

Ernst van de Wetering met Carin van Nes. Photocredit VNK. CODART

Mapping out the work of one of the world’s greatest artists was Titans’ labour. In his last years Van de Wetering struggled with his health, while the sixth volume of the RRP had not yet been finished. He has been able to complete it with the help of his life partner Carin van Nes, who assisted him in all possible ways. She had worked at the Centraal Laboratorium voor Onderzoek van Voorwerpen van Kunst en Wetenschap where Van de Wetering had a job and where the Rembrandt Research Project also worked. 11) She was closely involved in Van de Wetering’s work. She kept herself modestly in the background, but her contribution was all but modest.

To me, Van de Wetering was a great supporter. I also enjoy his legacy.

1) In 1986 Van de Wetering was involved in the Rembrandt Research Project (RRP), becoming its chairperson in 1993. The RRP established the authenticity of paintings ascribed to Rembrandt. In 2014 the last of the six books on this subject was published. He was professor of art history at the Amsterdam University from 1987 till 1999.
2) Ernst Gombrich on the cover of Rembrandt. The Painter at Work and Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking
3) Palet nr 202 en 203
4) Rembrandt. The Painter at Work. Amsterdam, 2000. p. 187
5) Idem, p. 253
6) Idem, p. 276
7) Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking. p.87
8) J.A. Emmens: Rembrandt en de regels van de kunst. 1967
Bakker, Boudewijn. “Natuur of kunst? Rembrandts esthetica en de Nederlandse traditie.” In: Christiaan Vogelaar e.a., Rembrandts landschappen. Zwolle, 2006
9) Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking. p.280
10) Simon Schama on the cover of Rembrandt. The Painter at Work and Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking
11) Concerning restauration Carin van Nes said: “We worked close together in the realm of restauration ethics. Ernst was very important for the restauration world. Thanks to him the training of restaurers reached a higher level. Finally it became an academic discipline.

Thanks to Jeroen Strengers, Yvonne Melchers en Carin van Nes.

Translation NL-EN by Jeroen Strengers


My hobbyhorse: Important newspaper removed its taboo on modern realism.
News: My work: in books, magazines, sites, exhibitions, art card, and as a finalist.

olieverf portret van Jeroen met glas wijn

Gezien van de Riet, Proost, tempera and oil on panel, 50x80cm.

It’s him!
With my beloved companion I like to go to the mountains. Out of many memories, this one kept coming back: ‘Cheers!’
I commissioned a portrait by myself. Yes, that look, that expression! I strove for the highest likeness, because that expression could easiliy get lost by the slightest stroke, especially at the corner of the mouth. And the rest was linked to that. Should the sweater be blue? No, a different color. The light? Should be softer. I made myself subservient to the painting, in order to achieve what I looked for. Now the painting is hanging in my workshop.

portret van Adolf van Gelder

J. Robert. Adolphe. Fils d Arnout Duc de Gueldres. Photo credit

You can liken a face to a rolling landscape. But beware of the folds to be too pronounced. Then you get lumps and bumps. ‘It’s him, but my, has he changed!’ used to be the sarcastic comment of my father-in-law in such occasions. He would certainly have made that remark about this portrait of Duke Adolph of Guelders.

Edvard Munch, Self portrait, 1882.

Edvard Munch, Self portrait, 1882. Photo credit:

‘Pity’, I thought about this self-portrait by Edvard Munch (1863–1944). The delicate painting touched me, but that clear spot at the corner of the mouth seems like a little lump. Munch consciously freed himself from the classical tradition, but still: more freedom shouldn’t imply to leave such a lump on the face? It’s like a wart on a chin, you can’t stop looking at it.

Jeremy Lipking painted Skylar at 5

Jeremy Lipking, Skylar at 5, Olieverf op canvas, 25,4x20,3cm

A good likeness first of all requires precise form. That is defined by light and darkness. In your mind’s eye, colors should translate into tones of grey. It helps looking thru your eyelashes. A black and white photo of the painting-to-be can help even more. Jeremy Lipking is a master in that translation process. I once witnessed him mixing colors in a demonstration of portrait painting. He was able to achieve subtle transitions quickly and seemingly without effort, also in the warmer and cooler colors. (See also my Blog 2, on his demonstration of portrait painting).

Bertrand Desmaricaux schilderde Ange

Bertrand Desmaricaux, sketch after life, Ange, oil on linnen, 40x50cm

Whether you start with a detailed drawing, or with daubs, whether you work with fine or a broad touch, sharp obervation is in order. By precision I don’t mean very finely painted. Bertrand Desmaricaux makes a sketch from life, from the model Ange, who seems about to speak – you expect an ironic remark... Heart-warming colors, pride and elegance. Surely, Hegel couldn’t dissaprove of this? Soon more about Hegel.

René Tweehuysen painted Cannon-ball Man

René Tweehuysen, Cannon-ball Man, 2019, oil and tempera on linen, 100x75cm

Cannon-ball Man by René Tweehuysen, is ‘sure in form, with a loose touch’, with attention to the skin of an elderly man. Even the scar on his forehead is rendered carefully. The cannon-ball has a special meaning for the man. It makes this wonderful portrait unique.

Eh, the inner self
The philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1710–1831) saw this very differently. He got all worked up over ‘horribly resembling portraits’ – says Norbert Schneider in ‘The Art of the Portrait: Masterpieces of European Portrait-Painting, 1420–1670’. *)

portret van Hegel

Jacob Schlesinger, Portret van Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. 1831. Photo credit:

Schneider continues, quoting Hegel:

'Painters should embellish the portrayed person and leave out all kinds of external elements, so that ‘they observe and recreate the general character and the lasting spiritual qualities of the subject’. According to this view, the spiritual character was the most important in a picture of a human being.' (Id.)

So the artist should embellish, and show the general character – was Hegel a Photoshopper avant la lettre? Beautiful women, all streamlined according tot the general character of current fashion?
Wait: Hegel also mentiones the spiritual character and lasting spiritual qualities. I could agree with that. However, without the ‘external elements’? Should we abjure realism? Really?
Hegel’s influence on the arts was and is vast. After more than two centuries his spirit still dwells among us. In my artistic youth I learned: ‘Don’t loose yourself in technique, that is dead and dumb. A good likeness of a portrait is not so much art as craft.’ That makes sense, I thought. After all, I wasn’t studing plumbing.
‘But there has to be a likeness’, I doubted, and that was of course all about ‘external elements’.
‘Yes, there has to be a likeness to the internal character’, used to be the reply. ‘That is the essence. You have to work magic thru your intuition and your artistic sensitivity.’

Kirchner, Selfportrait.

Kirchner, Selfportrait. Photo credit:

‘Look for the feeling behind the surface. Does that person feel red? Who is afraid of red? Fear, confusion? Don’t make it too smooth. Besides, who will know this woman or man in person, a hundred years from now? Think: it will still be a beautiful painting!’ Yes – that’s the sort of advice you would get a lot. It’s still going on. There are courses in ‘intuitive portrait painting’, where you ‘dig up something from yourself’. The portrayed person is just a booby. Anyway, you can’t blame Hagel for these modern ideas.
However compelling the expression of sentiment in the self-portrait by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880 -1938), it is clear that the external resemblance has been sacrificed to self-expression. That was not a problem for Kirchner. He resisted the classical tradition. Nevertheless, I can certainly appreciate his self-portrait, as an expression of his emotions.

Where is the miracle?
The emotions of another person really can be guessed from his or her exterior, up to a certain point.

Caravaggio painted Medusa

Caravaggio, Detail Medusa, diameter 48cm. Photo credit: Medusa

Medusa’ appearance, as painted by Caravaggio (1571-1610), clearly shows her emotion of the moment.
Darwin was also interested in the emotions that show themselves in the expression of the face. They are extremely important in survival. Is there a present danger? How does that person look at me?

Paul Ekman: the Facial Action Coding

The interesting thing is: you can see feelings. How? They are muscles! The face has about fifty of them. Together, they can make a few thousand combinations. Behold:  there is the inner life appearing externally: anger, sadness, gladness. And the muscles around the mouth and the eyes create the finer nuances.
Mona Lisa’s famous smile is partly due to muscles in the cheeks, near the corners of the mouth. They are controlled by nerves, out of the brain – the feeelings, the inner life.
Here is the miracle.
The portrait painter observes and sees. The portrait comes to life!

Mere technique?
Pure technique is indispensable. For getting the proportions right, for example. That means ‘unfeeling’ measurement, seeing the subject in its abstract form. There are more of these basic techniques that have little to do with feeling.

proporties van het gezicht

Proporties van het gezicht. Zie

Portraits lacking feeling can also come about by being concerned only with measurements. Or by defective observation. When I looked again at one of my landscape painting from a while ago, I remarked to my alarm that I hadn’t noticed its flatness. And this, while I was at work outside, I was all caught up in the depth, the space... I was seeing the space, wasn’t I? Despite that observation in plein-air, I hadn’t noticed the flatness of the painting!
This reminds me of listening to music. It comes to you thru the ears. But can you really discern the combination of sounds? At any moment, and as a part of the whole? Some-one playing an instrument, especially an accomplished musician, can do that. So it is with painting. Observation and representation develop and refine themselves thru the years.

Yvonne`Melchers, Siena Palio XVI Aquila Eagle 1, oil on linen, 40x40cm

Besides, to see the nuances of feeling, the portrait painter herself needs sensibility. That is a personal quality, which is added tot the technique.
The recent colorful portrait Siena Palio by Yvonne Melchers, with a wonderful expression of matter, clearly exhibits emotions. You wonder what is going on in this young man’s mind. Is is mistrust, annoyance? Mixed feelings. You can’t be sure, just like in real life. This adds suspense to this lively portrait.

‘Where’s the art?’, is the question that is often put at well resembling and crafty portraits. There is the idea that the ‘free portrait’ is obviously art, and a craftful one is just ‘craft’. Certainly a well resembling portrait can be poor art, but the same goes for the ‘free portrait’. Or for a landscape, or a still life or any other genre for that matter.
So in the end it’s about the question: what is art? Great art, or not so great art? These are tricky questions, lots of nonsense have been said about them, and they lay outside the bounds of this article.

Frans Hals Portrait

Frans Hals, Portrait of Catharina Hooft and her wet-nurse, Ca 1620, Oil on canvas, 92x68cm. Photo credit

That a well resembling portrait is not automatically art, is an understandable view. In a landscape painting, the artist can move around trees and mountains for the sake of harmony, expression, beauty. Nobody will be the wiser: it’s just a question of applying the rules of art. That is how it transcends mere copying. The requirement of resemblance in a portrait however is much more compelling. And limiting. Precision can lead to freezing – but not necessarily so.

Frans Hals painted Malle Babbe

Frans Hals, Malle Babbe, Ca.1633-1635, Oil on canvas, 78,5x66,2cm. Photo credit:

Frans Hals used to paint more freely when he wasn’t dealing with a commissioned portrait. Maybe we should call it a face or a genre piece in stead of a portrait. Anyhow, as the great artist he was, Hals was also able to make great art out of well resembling portraits. And what about Rembrandt...

An example of a free and ‘tied’ work is the phantasy-rich Byzantium by Julio Reyes

Julio Reyes painted Byzantium

Julio Reyes, Byzantium, 2020, Egg tempera and oil on copper, 28x29cm


detail Byzantium

He is exhibiting a wonderful play in this sublime painting with distemper and oil and goes a long way in free expression. At the same time it is true to form.

From this account you might deduce I am a dogmatic believer in realism. Should I point out that I am not? There are many roads that lead to Rome. Expressionism is one of many other approaches that one may enjoy, without being an in-depth psychologist. It makes no sense to apply the measuring-staff of realistic precision to more expressionist art. Neither does the other way round. One day this last form will speak for and from itself. It’s about the quality within a certain style.
I wanted to explain here that it is feasible to convey facial expressions by observing carefully the outer signals, where the facial muscles can reveal the inner life. A miracle of the human body!

*) Norbert Schneider, Portretschilderkunst. Meesterwerken uit de Europese portretschilderkunst 1420-1670, p.14.
**) Wikipedia, Medusa Murtola

My thanks to Jeremy Lipking, Yvonne Melchers, René Tweehuysen, Bertrand Desmaricaux and Julio Reyes for their permission to cite their work.
And thanks to Yvonne Melchers, Jeroen Strengers and Nico van Niekerk for their comments on the text.

My hobbyhorse
The stubborn taboo of De Volkskrant on modern realism is vanishing quietly. Sometimes there is even appreciation!  Surprisingly, Wieteke van Zeil wrote positively on Henk Helmantel, once called an objectionable traditionalist. She noted some children’s reactions:

 ‘Nevertheless, they hang around in front of the meditative painings of Henk Helmantel. I noted their gaze slowing down, as they underwent the atmosphere of the paintings. Such an atmosphere that film directors would consciously conserve, for their next movie.’

Volkskrant 30 oktober 2020

In 2020 till now, my work has been included in books, magazines, sites like Museum of Art, exhibitions (Møhlmann, MEAM), art-card; also as finalist in international competitions. See pages Home and other pages website.

Translation NL-EN: Jeroen Strengers


Art History Complete.
Galería artelibre “20 years, in 20x20” with MEAM
Kunstzaal Van Heijningen, Art Gallery Clatia, Bolivia


Portret van Tessa Tempera-olie

Portret van Tessa Tempera-olie-linnen 80x40cm

The making of Tessa’s Portrait

Once I started on Tessa’s portrait. I was struck by her pose and charisma, and the small chair from Honduras fitted in very well. Still, whatever I tried, I didn’t like the colors.

first designs portrait

First designs of Tessa's portrait

I took a different approach and found a photo with lavender flowers on a mountain top in the Pyrenees, with beautiful violets and greens. Using Photoshop I filled in the background. All of a sudden I let that go on into the dress. Gotche! Sketching with Photoshop is so much quicker and it brings you all kinds of new ideas.
I didn’t want the lavender look like flowery wallpaper to continue into the dress, which I had seen somewhere. It should look ‘real’, spatial. Flowering, life, the pleasure of youth, a world that is open to you. Just as she stands there, with that smile.

Gezien van de Riet designs

Gezien van de Riet More designs

What had I got in to! Two differrent kinds of perspective had to be joined! The lavender plants themselves stood in the direction of an invisible horizon. But I didn’t want it to look like Tessa was standing among the lavender on that mountain. The dress with the lavender also made that impossible, because it made a standing plain surface. This whole idea turned out to go irritatingly slow, without any clue whatsoever for a happy turn out. Why oh why, you ms. Quixote! Only at the end would I know if I had succeeded. And if not: all those hours of work thrown away? But in my phantasy  it still looked phantastic. Giddy up, Rocinante! It turned out to be a two years quest.

Artbook forgot modern realism


My hobbyhorse. Gezien van de Riet

Recently I was given a Dutch translation of the book: Art – The whole story (editor: Stephen Farthing; first published in 2010).
Beautiful pictures, handy time bars. I can’t judge the quality, but the Dutch title and subtitle promise to tell “the whole story” and “the right perspective”. At once I look up the last chapters: does it include contemporary realism? No! No? No! Well, Lucian Freud is included. He is mentioned under European figurative painting, which according tot the time bar lasted from 1945 till 1966. What? Freud wasn’t dead then and went on painting with gusto and realism. Just as figurative art (also called realism) is going till this day.

What else?
Oh yes, hyper realism is included, dated 1968 till today. But, but, modern realism is so much more. This omission can be blamed on the taboo on realism. Well, let’s do something about that. We’ve got the internet, where you can see wonderful contemporary realist works of art. Just a handful:

Joke Frima Eternal Return

Joke Frima Eternal Return Oil-linen 19,6x35,4

Grietje Postma Kleurenhoutsnede

Grietje Postma Kleurenhoutsnede 2014-I 40x50cm

Art historian Peter Trippi, among many things curator of the exposition of Lawrence Alma-Tadema in the Fries Museum and Waterhouse in the Groninger Museum, once pointed out a significant and curious phenomenon. On the one hand we see long queues at the museums featuring 19th-century realist art. Quite a few spectators would love to have a Breitner or Mary Cassatt on their own wall. Well, we can’t afford those, can we?

Aurelio Rodriguez En busca de la memoria crayon-wood MEAM

Aurelio Rodriguez Lopez En busca de la memoria crayon-wood 50x50cm MEAM

Rob Møhlmann Droog staan olieverf-paneel

Rob Møhlmann Droog staan olieverf-paneel 40x40cm Museum Møhlmann

Ricky Mujica Proud oil-canvas

Ricky Mujica Proud oil-canvas 91,94x121,92

because on the other hand there is affordable top-quality contemporary realist art. We can buy those! Only, because of the taboo, this art is not prominent in the media. The potential buyer doesn’t know it. Or is reluctant because of this taboo.

Teresa Oaxaca The Pierrot

Teresa Oaxaca The Pierrot

Lorena Kloosterboer Tempus ad Requiem XXV

Lorena Kloosterboer Tempus ad Requiem XXV 80x40cm

Vincent Desiderio Theseus

Vincent Desiderio Theseus

Kenne Gregoire Voyeur

Kenne Gregoire Voyeur Acryl-olie-paneel 34x31cm

Nevertheless modern realism is alive and kicking – so much so that it is quite a movement nowadays in the US. It was already well established in the Netherlands. And now look at Spain. And Japan. And.. and..

Grzgorz Gwiazda Sitting man Resin MEAM

Grzgorz Gwiazda Sitting man Resin 150x100x100cm MEAM

Golucho Retrato de insomnios MEAM

Golucho Retrato de insomnios 120x170cm MEAM

My thanks to all artists who permitted to post their images:
Vincent Desiderio, Joke Frima, Lorena Kloosterboer, Kenne Grégoire, Ricky Mujica, Teresa Oaxaca, Grietje Postma, Museum Møhlmann (Rob Møhlmann), MEAM (Aurelio Rodriguez Lopez, Grzgorz Gwiazda, Golucho).

Galería artelibre, “20 years, in 20x20”

20 years, in 20x20cm

20 years, in 20x20cm

Galería artelibre in Zaragoza, Spain, exists for 20 years as an on-line art gallery. Founder and director is  José Enrique González. He is promoting modern realism thru all kinds of activities, especially the internationally renowned portrait competition ‘Modportrait’ – in co-operation with MEAM (Museu Europeo de Arte Moderno in Barcelona). He writes:

“From the very beginning we decided to create one of the first virtual galleries that would strongly support the figurative, realistic and hyper-realistic art.

Times were far from easy for this artistic current which was vilified, neglected and even forgotten by both, gallery owners and official bodies.

(…) Even though there is still a long way to go on this, this is the beginning of an unstoppable era.”

The “20 years” are being celebrated extensively, with works of art of 20x20 cms by 165 artists from all over the world. All framed in the same way, they are being exposed in beautiful rooms, shining like stars in the sky.

To be seen in Zaragoza in the beautiful Palacio Bantierra,
from March 7 till Apil 5.
In Barcelona in the swinging MEAM Museum, from July 9 till September 1st.

Gezien van de Riet Our Gingko in Autumn Tempera-oil-panel

Gezien van de Riet Our Gingko in Autumn Tempera-oil-panel 20x20cm

I am happy and proud that it includes my work “Our gingko in autumn”. And that I am part of Galería Artelibre, under “Grandes Autores”.


Kunstzaal Van Heijningen
This art gallery in The Hague has created an on-line art platform, where my work is to be found as well.

Art Gallery Clatia
I was invited to participate on this on-line art platform from China. It includes internationally acclaimed artists, it looks real good! My page will come on-line shortly.

I was invited by the Fundación Cultural del Banco Central de Bolivia to expose in the Museo Nacional de Arte in La Paz, Bolivia, and the Centro de la Cultura Plurinacional in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. A great honor!

Gezien van de Riet, Bolivian Aymaras Watercolor for video

This is wonderful, because I lost my heart to Bolivia, where I worked for many years with lots of love as a sociologist, especially in developing educational material, and where I was able to study at the Escuela de Bellas Artes, the classical art academy in La Paz.

Translation NL-EN: Jeroen Strengers

Visit to Galería Artelibre.

Ets van Dürer

Dürer, A Draftsman Making a Perspective Drawing of a Woman.jpg


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, 81,3x121,9cm.

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.


Visit to 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 20x20’, celebrating the gallery’s twentieth aniversary, 150 artist are going to take part, all of them with a work of 20x20 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’

Ets van Dürer

Dürer, A Draftsman Making a Perspective Drawing of a Woman.jpg


In May 2018 I gave a lecture, 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. Naturalism has 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.”

Because really: isn’t imitation getting in the way of imagination? It is a widespread idea: naturalism lacks imagination. But, I will contest that opinion.
Part 1 of the lecture: earlier blog (archive, August 2017)
Part 2 in blog, August 2018
Part 3 is following now (elaborated)

Forgotten Dutch Golden Age art theories disclosed

Let us jump to the year 2000. Rembrandt. The Painter at Work is published. It’s a real art treasure from the Dutch Golden Age, expertly and fascinatingly revealed by Ernst van de Wetering. It is nothing less than the forgotten art theories about realism. These had been overlooked for about three centuries. The artists of those days proved to be theoretically very well grounded. This had sharpened their skills and insights. Their world fame was’t for nothing!
This was especially true for Rembrandt, who pondered, investigated and experimented a lot and developed new insights himself.

Rembrandt. The Painter at Work & Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking. Art theory Dutch Golden Age

Rembrandt. The Painter at Work & Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking.

That was an awareness that came to me when I read the book with increasing amazement. How could it be that those ideas weren’t known to us? I wrote to Ernst van de Wetering that I would very much like to learn more about those theories, but didn’t have the time to read the original texts in Old Dutch. I didn’t have to: he sent me more unpublished texts until he published Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking in 2016. Again, I was stunned: what a rich source for the visual arts, so many intelligent ideas in treatises on art theory were brought to light!
Professor Van de Wetering said to me that many people came to tell him that his books were a revelation to them, even if they believed themselves to be well versed in Rembrandt and seventeenth century art. Just like me!
Now let us jump back to that age, the seventeenth century.

Art treasure of the Dutch Golden Age
A new realism originated in Dutch painting, already in the sixteenth century, but especially in the seventeenth century, known as the Dutch Golden Age.
The artists of that age stressed the importance of imitation and observation. Of course they included classical elements such as perspective or anatomy.


Karel van Mander, Het Schilder-Boeck, 1604

Painter-author Karel van Mander described a great many natural phenomena in Het Schilder-boeck. 3)

Samuel van Hoogstraeten: Art History Dutch Golgen Age

Samuel van Hoogstraeten: Art History Dutch Golgen Age

Rembrandt’s former pupil Samuel van Hoogstraeten also wrote an important manual, Inleyding tot de hooge schoole der schilderkonst: anders de zichtbaere werelt. 4) These books belonged to the cultural baggage of every self-respecting painter.
It makes for fascinating reading, certainly also for contemporary realists. It stimulates awareness of many aspects of observation and representation. You can read all about it in Rembrandt. The Painter at Work, and Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking, and other publications by Ernst van de Wetering.

Essential was to create space in order to get the illusion of reality.

Rembrandt, details Nightwatch

Rembrandt, details Nightwatch

Besides perspective, an important element was the ‘perceptibility’. It was found that putting a piece of sky-blue paper against a sky of the same color, you would still notice that the piece of paper is close to you, and the blue sky infinitely distant because of the relative roughness of the paper. The application of the discovery of perceptibility would contribute to three-dimensionality. 5) Imagine painters pondering that! The idea that air has substance, that it forms a body over a short distance, and that its presence should be suggested around every object to create spatiality is wonderful.

Rembrandt-Anatomy Lesson

Rembrandt, detail The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp

Van de Wetering: “The young Rembrandt had already applied this insight with great subtlety in the ‘Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp”. He argues:

“It is only when one consciously takes notice of these extremely refined modulations of light and tone from one head and collar to the other, from front to back, that it becomes clear that this is one of the main reasons for the strikingly atmospheric effect of Rembrandt’s paintings.” 6)

Rembrandt applied this phenomenon quite often, see the details of his Night Watch. You can see it comparing when you compare his Night Watch with similar paintings nearby it, in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.


Vermeer, The Art of Painting

There was also a treatise on the degrees of shadows and what pigments should be used in painting them. Or the theory of the numerical diminution of a light beam falling into a room. 7) Vermeer was probably familiar with it, as is witnessed by the interior light in his paintings. He created a genial combination of spaciousness and intimacy.
These examples show the exceptional level of knowledge among the painters of that age. I don’t mean that we should copy these theories, but we can learn from them, and even improve our art.

Realism, banal, vulgar
Another writer on this period is Boudewijn Bakker. He tells that the extreme realism of the Dutch invited criticism by the Italians: imitation, okay, but what about imagination? After all, art should lift reality to a higher level, creating perfect beauty, idealize. The Dutch subject matter was deemed banal, vulgar.


Hals, Laughing Boy

How this Dutch realism was seen even in the 18th century is shown in this caricature by the English artist Thomas Rowlandson: A Dutch Academy.

Rowlandson, Dutch Academy

Rowlandson, Dutch Academy

Classical art theory taught that students should draw after antique statues, since these had perfect proportions. Samuel Van Hoogstraten, who later turned to a more classicist style, complained that Rembrandt brought ugly models into his studio.

“Indeed, I bemoan my lot when I look over my old Academy drawings, that we were taught these so sparingly in our youth; since it is no more labor to imitate a graceful posture than an unpleasant and disgusting one.” 8)

Rembrandt really went far… In one of his self-portraits I detected a pimple on his left cheek. He must have had fun painting that ‘truth’.


Rembrandt Self Portrait, 1659, detail


I told this to my dear teacher Diederik Kraaijpoel. ‘Without style there is no art’, he had written in one of his books; that makes sense: reality itself has no style. So, such a pimple, such far-reaching realism, I asked, isn’t that going beyond style? Well, he could not believe that Rembrandt had actually painted a pimple on his cheek… And about this far-reaching naturalism he said: it’s never a copy, the artist always makes a selection, it is impossible to paint all.

Answer: a ‘find’
Karel van Mander answered the Italian criticism by stating: “In life one finds all”, there is no better textbook. In the ‘book of nature’ the visible creation is seen as the second or even first ‘book’ of divine revelation, next to the Holy Scriptures.


Intensive Looking

Inventio, Imagination, can also be seen as ‘a find ‘, something that is found in nature after long and sharp observation. Intensive looking is the entrance key to beauty. Beauty is enclosed in reality. Reality is created by God. 9)

As soon as possible the painter should start to work after nature. And what about style, maniera? His advice: don’t make things up, “go from ornamentation towards truth!”. Fabrications could affect the illusion of reality. The painter should not stylize or idealize, but characterize. 10)

For Rembrandt, ‘truth’ was life, to be captured in its ‘most natural liveliness’.


Rembrandt, Girl in a Pictureframe

Van de Wetering remarks that the painting Young woman in a picture frame gives the impression that the young woman is about to place her right hand on the frame, even the earring seems to be moving, life is caught in the act.11)

Well, the Dutch diverged from current art theory. Imitation was highly appreciated. But invention or imagination was never far away. Beauty in truth, intensely observed by the artist, was transferred into the work of art.
For me, it was like homecoming. I had always felt that way.

1) Roodnat, Joyce. “Met drift geschilderde ‘kleine onderwerpen’ “. NRC, 2018-02-28.
2) Vasari, Giorgio. Lives of the Artists. Volume 1. Introduction by George Bull. London, 1987. p. 19-20.
3) Mander, Karel van. Het Schilder-Boeck. Haarlem,1604.
4) Hoogstraten, Samuel van. Inleyding tot de hooge schoole der schilderkonst: anders de zichtbaere werelt. Davaco Publishers, s.l., 1969.
5) Wetering, Ernst van de. Rembrandt. The Painter at Work. Amsterdam, 2000. p. 183.
6) Id., p.187.
7) Wetering, Ernst van de. Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking. Amsterdam, 2016. p.157.
8) Emmens,  J.A.. Rembrandt en de regels van de kunst. Amsterdam, 1979. p.220.
9) Bakker, Boudewijn. “Natuur of kunst? Rembrandts esthetica en de Nederlandse traditie.” In: Christiaan Vogelaar e.a., Rembrandts landschappen. Zwolle, 2006. p.163.
10) Id., p.167, 166.
11) Wetering, Ernst van de. Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking.



, 2016. p.263.


Translation NL-EN: Jeroen Strengers

Galería Artelibre, site and ‘twenty years, in 20x20’.
Kunstkaarten, kalender en agenda van Kunst Uitgeverij Bekking&Blitz

Dürer, A Draftsman Making a Perspective Drawing of a WomanIn May 2018 I gave a lecture, Imitation and Imagination, at TRAC2018 (The Representational Art Conference) in The Netherlands, together with Ernst van de Wetering, the world’s foremost authority on Rembrandt. His contribution was about Rembrandt and assessing quality. He compared works of Rembrandt with works of his pupils. His lecture  was  based  on:

A  CORPUS  OF  REMBRANDT  PAINTINGS  Volume  V  Chapter  IV  with  the  title:  On  quality:  Comparative  remarks  on  the  function  of  Rembrandt’s  pictorial  mind  (pp.  283  –  310).  Freely  accessible  in  The  Rembrandt  Database:

Rembrandt, Abraham's sacrifice and Unknown, Abraham's sacrifice

Rembrandt, Abraham's sacrifice and
Unknown, Abraham's sacrifice

My 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 of the lecture is in my earlier blog (see archive, august 2017).
Part 2 of Imitation and Imagination is following now.

However, the criticism does fit in with my doubts about my own work. For years I was haunted by questions:
● Is naturalistic realism actually the same as copying?
● Is it a lower form of art? Boring?
● A lot of people enjoy this kind of work, but that doesn’t mean it is relevant art.
● Does it add something? After all, reality, the real world, is already there. You should do something to it, with it.
● Shouldn’t you put your personal feelings into your art?

drawing I don't know any more

I don't know any more, pencil-eraser-paper

Good art, who judges?
Contemporary realism in the Netherlands has been flourishing for about thirty years now. This is exceptional in Europe. Nevertheless the official art institutions and the media mostly neglect its existence. After thirty years this is strange. The wider public is deprived of a cultural treasure.
Recently a journalist wrote in a prestigious Dutch newspaper that realism can be dangerous, in the context of great skill. Yes, virtuosity is a must, she writes, but the comment ‘It looks like a photo’ is not a compliment. ‘It looks like the real thing’ even less. The artist has to expose himself, otherwise his painting will be only an illustration, not more than a picture. She mentions Henk Helmantel, who said not to be in search for expressing his personal feelings.1 In her interpretation he is doomed to produce mere illustrations, far from high art.

Henk Helmantel. Stillife with Cheese and Eggs

Henk Helmantel. Stillife with Cheese and Eggs, oil on panel, 1987, Collection Museum MORE. Photo Art Revisited.

Nothing against personal feelings in art. It is a romantic concept and we have seen great romantic art. But there seems to be a consensus that the personality, the feelings of the artist are primordial, while other approaches are excluded or rejected.
Although it’s not quite the same, this reminds me of Giorgio Vasari who pointed out that besides imitation and invention, good art should possess style and maniera, a personal artistic elegant style.2 True, a style of one’s own will add something to the art.

Well, you could say that my development until now just seems to have taken the wrong direction. Some twenty years ago I made The painter and her model, see the picture on the left. On the right a recent work: Daphne. It went from a loose touch, free colors and free imagination to naturalism.
And naturalism is less focussed on style and handwriting.

Van de Riet, Drawing Model and Daphne

Gezien van de Riet. Left: Drawing her model, acryl/oil on linnen, 1996, and right: Daphne, oil on canvas, 2016

Yes, in my beginner’s years I experimented a lot and I often had a personal spontaneous handwriting. The works of that period will never be dubbed copies or photos. Why on earth did I choose a more naturalistic way of painting? It only complicated things!
The crazy thing was: I couldn’t help myself. More and more I wanted to celebrate the beauty I had seen, to make it my own.

Ancient Greeks
Could it be that the history of art had witnessed earlier discussions about this question? I started on a search.
The Ancient Greeks had a great appreciation of the naturalistic detail. Birds should see painted grapes as real and try to pick them. An anecdote about Apelles clearly illustrates their admiration for imitation. The horse he painted was so life-like, that it is said that the horse of Alexander the Great started whinnying spontaneously on seeing it.

The Greeks had clear views on imagination. The artist should have in mind the Platonic Idea, the perfect form, the supernatural beauty of the object he wanted to portray. This did not come about automatically, because models were only ordinary mortals. Even the most beautiful human body could have fat ankles. Well, in that case you would take somebody else’s ankles!
Idealizing thus, the artist would transcend pure imitation.
So there we have it: Imitation and Imagination...

Aphrodite and Alexander as Hunter.jpg

After Praxiteles. Aphrodite, and After Lysippus. Alexander as hunter, both 4th century BC

But suddenly I jumped up. I read about the sculptor Lysippus, who worked at Alexander’s court. He wanted to convey what he saw in a naturalistic manner! Not following the current rules for perfect beauty, developed by the old masters, but his own observation.
We don’t know much for sure about Lysippus. But the sculpture attributed to him, Alexander the hunter, clearly shows a naturalistic realism. Whoever made it, this artist was capable of far-reaching imitation.
I was happy about this Lysippus.

1) Roodnat, Joyce. “Met drift geschilderde ‘kleine onderwerpen’ “. NRC, 2018-02-28.
2) Vasari, Giorgio. Lives of the Artists. Volume 1. Introduction by George Bull. London, 1987. p. 19-20.
Imitation and Imagination will continue in the coming blogs.

Galería Artelibre ’20 years, in 20x20’

Galería Artelibre invited me to participate in its virtual gallery, in the category of Grandes Autores. This Spanish gallery has artists on its site like Anders Zorn, Natalie Holland, David Kassan.


It is promoting realism internationally, already for twenty years, and that is heart-warming, I think! A special exhibition will celebrate their twenty years anniversary, “20 years, in 20x20” (all works will be 20x20cm). It will travel through Spain, and also visit MEAM, Museo Europeo de Arte Moderno, in Barcelona. My work will be part of it!



Calendar, diary, cards

Art editor Bekking&Blitz has published art diaries and calendars for 2019. A work of mine figures between artists like Sorolla, Sargent, Kenne Grégoire.

Kunst weekalender en aganda's Bekking&Blitz

Kunst weekalender en aganda's Bekking&Blitz

In Brugues I saw an art card of my work in the Groeningemuseum, but it was forbidden to take a photo of it. I explained that it was a work of mine, but no way. Still, I disobeyed and the officer kindly pretended not to see it.

Groeninge en Drents Museum cards and book Gezien van de Riet

Groeninge en Drents Museum cards and book

In the Drents Museum of Assen there was another art card, and my book. Stimulating! This helps the brand awareness. It’s the small things that count!

Translation NL-EN: Jeroen Strengers

A movement is sweeping the art world

A review by Lorena Kloosterboer on TRAC2018 for Poets and Artists, click on:

The Representational Art Conference in Holland

TRAC2018, The Representational Art Conference, was in The Netherlands, for the first time in Europe!
Part of the event is the Classical Art exhibition, Zaailand, Frisian Gallery, Leeuwarden, may 1 - june 24. My ‘Dunes in the snow’ is there too.


Dunes with snow, alkyd and oil on panel, 150x100cm. Gezien van de Riet

Some impressions of TRAC2018:

Classical-Art-TRAC2018,The Representational Art Conference

Classical Art Exhibition, Gezien van de Riet, Ernst van de Wetering. Max Ginsburg lecturing. Allessandra Marrucchi, selected in Classical Art Competition

TRAC2018,The Representational Art Conference-Helmantel-demo-interpreter-Jeroen-Strengers. Henk Helmantel's demo

Henk Helmantel's demo with interpreter Jeroen Strengers.

TRAC2018,The Representational Art Conference 2

Joke Frima, Lorena Kloosterboer, Gezien van de Riet, Gerard Huysman. After Esther Leuvenink's tempera lesson.

TRAC2018,The Representational Art Conference Wagner-lecture-David-Molesky-lecture

Corinna Wagner's lecture. David Molesky's lecture

Ernst van de Wetering and myself presented joint lectures. Ernst van de Wetering on judging the quality of an artwork, comparing paintings with the same theme by Rembrandt and by his pupils.
The next Blog is about my lecture ‘Imitation and Imagination’.

Translation NL-EN: Jeroen Strengers

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