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Reflections and memories


Manet Posted on Tue, December 11, 2018 09:24:12

Last week I saw a series of photographs on the website of the Guardian. Photographs by Philippe Blet and Kamil Zihnioglu documenting graffiti connected with the ‘Gilettes Jaunes’ protests(1)

Striking were historical references like; “Macron = Louis 16”, a combination of Emmanuel Macron the King that was publicly guillotined in 1789. Political texts like; ‘Taxera les Riches’ ( Tax the Rich) and ‘La crise climatique est une guerre contre les pauvres’( The climate crisis is a battle against the poor), and even a biblical quote ‘And when they say ‘peace and security’, then the world will be lost’ But the most fascinating photograph for me was this one.

The half-circle behind the pedestal shows workers with baskets, a wheelbarrow and spades. Grouped around the pedestal are four men, a painter with a palette in hand, a bricklayer and an architect, the profession of the man on the left is unclear to me. The graffiti “insurrection Populaire”makes it difficult to decipher the name of the man on top. But aided by the first four readable letters ‘Alph’ I found out that the monument was dedicated to Jean-Charles-Adolphe Alphand (1817-1891). Chief engineer under the famous Baron Hausmann, Alphand created walks, parks and gardens remodelled the Bois de Vincennes and Bois de Boulogne. So not the socialist leader the graffiti had let me believe, but a foreman directing his co-operators and workers.

I discovered that the monument was a work by Jules Dalou, the man with the brick in his hand leaning on the half-circle is a sculptor and not a bricklayer as I assumed. The names of the others are known also. Architect Bouvard, painter Roll, and engineer Huet. Interesting names for sure, but going into their careers distracts from my storyline. While searching for information about Alphand I came upon the following pdf

It is striking that this link does not seem to work anymore after a day and a message informs me about the occurance of an Error 404. Possibly a form of ‘linkrot’ a strangely naturalistic concept in relation to Alphand’s career. Look at the illustration, doesn’t is show similarities to Manet’s ‘View of the Universal Exposition of Paris, 1867’?

By leafing through my own collection of books and browsing the internet I’m unable to find this image. T.J Clarke’s ‘The Painting of Modern Life’ even shows the painting on the cover. In ‘Art and Politics of the Second Empire, The Universal Expositions of 1855 and 1867’ Patricia Mainardi offers a thorough analyses of the painting which takes up seven pages.

I don’t want to go into it in deep although it’s worthwhile reading. Just some sentences that caught my attention;“Because it is the only painting of the Universal Exposition, and because Manet’s intention was clearly to create a major work summing up both the event and his own aesthetic principles, issues both public and private, both aesthetic and political,can be illuminated through an analysis of this one painting.” ( …)” This was Manet’s first –and last- view of Paris, and if he painted it on the motif it would be his first plein-air picture”. (…) “Manet, whom Zola had recently defended against the accusation that his painting was as primitive as Epinal prints, has here adopted a similar spatial disjunction and taken it even further. He has dropped out the middleground completely and jammed together the two areas of maximum interest, the immediate foreground and the distant panorama”.

Mainardi quotes an Epinal print as a possible source( Pinot et Saciare, General View of Paris and the Universal Exposition of 1867, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris), Berthe Morisot’s painting ‘View of Paris from the Heights of the Trocadero, 1872, (Santa Barbara Museum of Art) and the masthead engraving from the official exhibition catalogue( L.Dumont, LÉxposition Universelle de 1867 illustrée). But the image I came upon while researching the graffiti on the monument is nowhere to be found.

What do you think? Could this be a possible source for Manet’s painting?


2. Photograph: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP


Layer upon layer

Manet Posted on Mon, December 03, 2018 09:08:36

During the first seven years of my artistic practice I painted landscapes or illusions of it. This last approach became gradually more important. From the middle of the nineties on I started to focus more on the figure and storytelling. I experimented with the possibilities of paint to create atmospheric illusions. One of the methods I used is visible in this painting, the gessolayer is two-toned ,on it I poured a liquid yellowish brown paint.

There must have been a suggestion of this female figure visible in the wet paint which I manipulated to become even more visible. The woman reminded me of a Pieter de Hoogh painting , earlier I copied a lot of his paintings in ink drawings. After enhancing the female form I began to think about a suitable partner for her. It had to be some sort of man, but then in an artificial way. Based on the pose developed in the sketch I tacked some clothes on the studio wall and painted them as real as possible . As a head I drew a silhouette on paper and painted this as well.

At the time I regularly read issues of The Burlington Magazine. In the November 1994 issue I found an article by Peter Rudd; ‘Reconstructing Manet’s Velasquez in his Studio’ . Rudd weaves an elaborate web of Manets’ working method and influences. Refering to Germain Bazin he writes ; ‘For Bazin, Manet’s engagement with the art of distant masters exemplified the museum’s rise as a site of artistic instruction. The variety of the museum collection, he argued, promoted stylistic freedom, substituting choice for the tradition of apprenticeship to a single master’.

‘Velasquez in his studio’ is known today only by fragments of the original canvas. According to Rudd it must have been a reference to both Velasquez’ ‘Las Meninas’ and Courbet’s ‘Atelier’ with Manet as the painter taking the place of Velasquez. Further in the article he compares this way of working with Manet’s ‘La Pêche’, a painting which cites a landscape by Caracci and again Courbet (this time ‘the Desmoiselles du Village’) . In ‘La Pêche’ Manet paints himself as Peter Paul Rubens, walking arm in arm with his future wife Suzanne Leenhof. Both of them wearing 17th century costumes

The still life painting of the tacked clothes didn’t produce the effect that I had hoped for. The picture needed more, extra layering. Motivated by reading Rudd’s article I decided to paint one of Courbet’s sisters from the ‘Desmoiselles’ over the maid of de Hoogh, but I left half of her visible.At the same time I painted in the dog, ‘a frightful little bastard , according to reviewer s of the 1852 Salon who incorporated the innocent animal in their critiques.

Rudd, in his essay adds another interesting, formal, observation; ‘Like those of Rubens and Courbet, Manet’s landscape includes a curious dog sniffing at the middle distance as if pointing out its very lack of recession, its telescoping of remote objects up against the foreground plane. Manet’s reprise of Courbet’s quizzical dog announces his flatness as a wilful ineptitude which, like his verdant pigment, asserts a rejection of the museum’s enshrined standards’.

Stijn Peeters, Nr 695, 200 x 130 cm, 1996. Present whereabouts unknown, sold in 2001 to Collection van den Ende, Essen


Stonebreakers Posted on Wed, November 28, 2018 15:05:31

“It’s rare to meet the most complete expression of poverty,so an idea for a picture came to me on the spot. I made an appointment with them at my studio for the next day” Courbet wrote in a letter to Francis Wey about the moment he saw the two men.

In ‘Gustave Courbet, His Life and Art’ (1972) Jack Lindsay writes ; “he posed the two models separately. The old man , Gagey, had spent his whole life on the roads around Ornans and was a well known character. The painting was much admired by local folk, who, according to Proudhon, proposed to buy and hang it over the altar in the parish church, as it pointed so strong a moral, that was no doubt a tale told him by Courbet. And in a later fragment; “His remarks during the work on the canvas to Wey and Champfleury show that he particularly felt his emotion because of the way in which the working-together of the old man and the youth expressed the cycle of unending misery that the system around him perpetuated. He was not painting two workers doing a specially backbreaking job and getting a poor reward for it, but the whole endless repetition of hopeless toil among large sections of his people, the whole endless cycle of exploitation. The strength and fullness with which he felt the nature of the image was determined by the movement to socialism which was going on inside him”. This fragment clearly shows that Lindsay writes from a Marxist art -theoretical perspective.

According to Michelle Facos; stonebreakers were peasants forced off the land into backbreaking and poorly compensated wage labor, the benefits of which went directly to the middle and upper classes. Because of this, Courbet’s stonebreakers did not represent an ideal image of the rural peasantry to contemporary viewers. Significantly Courbet did not idealize these stonebreakers, they wear dirty, tattered and mended clothing. These strong and oppressed workers who spent their day hacking apart stones, seemed threatening to contemporary, middle class viewers in 1850, the year stonebreakers debuted at the Salon. While the majority of 1848 revolutionaries were urban craftsmen and workers Courbet’s stonebreakers instilled fear because they wielded implements that were potential weapons and produced the paving stones used for barricades and projectiles by revolutionary insurgents

Courbet encouraged a feeling of mistrust by shielding the men’s faces from the viewer. Because their expressions and physiognomies could not be read, viewers could not determine whether these men were dangerous or submissive. Courbet painted an image that provoked anxiety in a destabilized and modernizing world”.

TJ Clark describes this feeling of unease; “(…)if people and bourgeois were true allies, then the People must be represented– and the bourgeois was going to find himself in their midst, one against four, or one against hundred, a colonial planter surrounded by slaves.”

The final version of ‘the Stone Breakers’ didn’t survive the second World War and was destroyed when a transport of paintings from the Dresden Gemäldegalerie to Königstein Castle was bombarded by American war planes. Purely by associating I had to think about Kurt Vonegut’s book ‘Slaughterhouse five, or a children’s crusade’. In it Vonnegut describes his own experience as a prisoner of war, and the senseless destruction of Dresden, in the only possible way he saw fit. His main character Billy Pilgrim seems to travel through time and space, human years do not seem to matter and chronology is in a total mix up. Billy seems to float from sphere to sphere, his total acceptance and the way Vonnegut describes everything in a clinical way makes reading the book an intense experience.

Still from the movie ‘Slaughterhouse 5 or a Children’s Crusade’, 1972, director George Roy Hill. ( Music score by Glenn Gould!)

“Many holes were dug at once. Nobody knew yet what there was to find. Most holes came to nothing- to pavement, or to boulders so huge they would not move. There was no machinery. Not even horses or mules or oxen could cross the moonscape. And Billy and the Maori and others helping them with their particular hole came at last to a membrane of timbers laced over rocks which had wedged together to form an accidental dome. They made a hole in the membrane. There was darkness and space under there. A German soldier with a flashlight went down into the darkness, was gone a long time. When he finally came back, he told a superior on the rim of the hole that there were dozens of bodies down there. They were sitting on benches. They were unmarked.
So it goes.
The superior said that the opening in the membrane should be enlarged, and that a ladder should be put in the hole, so the bodies could be carried out. Thus began the first corpse mine of Dresden.”

Because of his role in the Paris Commune Courbet was imprisoned and later held personally accountable for the destruction of the Colonne Vendôme. He was sentenced to pay a sum of ten thousand francs a year to pay for its reconstruction.

In this caricature by Schérer Courbet is pictured as a convict, the text reads; “The man who was called to demolish the Column might just as well start working as a stonebreaker”

The conviction and trouble to bring in the 10.000 Francs a year was so oppressive that Courbet decided to flee to Switserland in 1873, where he died on the 31st of december 1877.

According to historian Pierre Chessex Courbet’s family wanted to bury him in Ornans; “but on Monday Dr Blondon of Besancon, the fiancee of Courbet’s sister Juliette, bought a concession in the morgue of the cemetry of La Tour- de -Peilz.” From 1878 until 1919 Courbet’s body rested in a double coffin of oak and lead in the morgue. Today one can find, hidden between a couple of shrubs, a plaquette marking the location of Courbet’s temporary grave. Body and tombstone were moved to Ornans in 1919. What I find striking when I look at the two photographs is the fact that while the grave in La Tour-de Peilz was covered in ivy, the Ornans grave is covered with gravel!


‘Gustave Courbet, His Life and Art’ (1972) Jack Lindsay, Jupiter-London 1977, ‘An introduction to 19th century art’, Michelle Facos , Tailor & Francis Ltd, 2011,

‘The Absolute Bourgeois, Artists and Politics in France 1848-185’, T.J.Clark, Thames and Hudson Ltd, 1973. Slaughterhouse 5, or the Children’s crusade; A Duty-Dance with Death, Kurt Vonnegut, Vintage UK , 2000

On disappearing

Stonebreakers Posted on Mon, November 19, 2018 10:08:15

It seems quite likely that my mother-in -law, Mien Thissen-Mulder, found this book while browsing in the second-hand shop where her sister Doortje volunteered. It is called ‘De schilderkunst der XIXe eeuw’, (painting of the 19th century) written by Léonce Bénédite, curator of the Musée de Luxembourg, its date 1910. And, as was her habit, she must have asked her daughter, my wife, “do you think Stijn has any use for this?’ I haven’t seen it for a long time but now that I started this blog I’m glad I kept it because it offers many interesting starting points.

The Paris Bibliotheque Nationale is the keeper of ‘Courbet, Gustave (1819-1877) Critique et interprétation’ a biography and critical essay written by Léonce Bénédite. I intend to translate it from the French and read it because I’m curious about the content. I will come back to that later on. If you want to read it already you can find it here:

Curiouser and curiouser I get ( thank you Lewis Carroll ! ) by reading this fragment from an article by Oliver Larkin, titled; ‘Courbet and his contemporaries, 1848-1867’ (Science & Society,Vol. 3, No. 1 (Winter, 1939), pp. 42-63)

“Because Courbet was so long a prophet without honor in his own country, a large proportion of his work is owned by museums and collectors outside France. Many phases of his career, notably his activities during the Commune, are still imperfectly understood. Before 1900 scarcely a single French art journal of repute cared to publish material on the painter. Belatedly in 1919, when New York’s Metropolitan Museum was honouring the centenary of his birth, France bought the Atelier for seven hundred thousand francs. Two years later, Léonce Bénédite was invited to represent the State at the unveiling of a tablet placed on Courbet’s birthplace at Ornans. The curator of the Luxembourg declined to attend the ceremony on the ground that he had “received counter-instructions”.

This is a page from my book.

The caption under the reproduction of ‘The Studio’ still gives Collection Desfossés as its owner, and the caption under ‘the Stonebreakers simply mentions Museum, Dresden. The enlarged image shows that an error occured, it is the wrong painting. This, mirrored, version is today in the Collection Oskar Reinhart, Winterthur.

But it looks like a very different painting when I study the reproduction on the site of the Oskar Reinhart Collection. It seems to have darkened almost beyond recognition. Time and the use of bitumen in the paint have done their work. Courbet painted it in 1849, the book for publishing house Flammarion was produced in 1905, the work was possibly photographed at the time that the painting was 55 years old. And now the painting’s age is 169 years, so the discoloration took place over a period of 110 years. The effects of bitumen are common knowledge and many of Courbet’s works fade into darkness, an extra stimulant is his preference to work on dark tinted canvases.

This is the painting from the Dresden Museum collection. Together with 154 other paintings it was loaded in februari 1945 into a van and on transport from the Zwinger Museum in Dresden to Königstein Castle (The King’s Rock). In times of conflict this was a well known practice. The castle offered sufficient protection. But the road did not, the danger came from above. The transport was bombed by Allied planes.

December of last year I was offered a working period in a guest studio of the Vincent van GoghHuis in Zundert. I was able to go deep into van Gogh’s work and his engagement , and made a lot of painted monotype prints on the small etching press I brought along. After you have printed the image, the printing plate still shows a shadow of it on which you can react again with ink. Degas was very accomplished in this technique. I was fascinated to try out one of the possibilities I hadn’t experimented with and that was the ‘black manner’. With ink you cover the whole surface of the printing plate and start working back from dark to light by using brushes, cloth, sticks and fingers to delve up the image. It is a slow and time-consuming manner of working resulting in just one ‘good’ print. To start with I chose a reproduction of ‘the Stonebreakers’, the lost Dresden version.

The first fully inked print. And without adding any more ink to the plate I made three more prints on pink tinted paper, gradually losing more and more of the image.

Stijn Peeters 2018.


Censorship Posted on Tue, November 13, 2018 13:59:45

Last week I bought this book and it is exactly what I hoped it would be. The book by Goldstein published in 1989 gives a historical overview of censorship-practices and cases. It also provides me with a lot of information and reference material on the role of the media and the way opinions are formed and influenced then and in my own time. My artistic work will benefit from it. I will certainly use information gained from this book in future blog texts.

After 1822 the printed word was not subject to prior censorship anymore, but the possibility of postpublication prosecution loomed over the press, and could lead to fines and prohibitions. The creators and the publishers of caricatures however were subjected to prior censorship. Every change in leadership and political system created its own version of press-liberty or restriction. Thus prior censorship of caricatures was eliminated in 1814, restored in 1820, abandoned again in 1830, re-established in 1835, ended once more in 1848, reimposed in 1852, abolished again in 1870, decreed once more in 1871, and finally ended permanently in 1881.

Between 1830 and 1914 some 350 caricature magazines and newspapers were published in France. This amount shows that the most wellknown caricaturist of his days, Daumier was one of many.

A distinction between written and drawn agitation could be found , according to contemporaneous comments, in the difference between intellect and feeling, the slow process of reading , considerations made and options weighed during the process was incomparable to the immediate response to inflammable imagery. Images were immediately understood by the, mostly, illiterate majority of the population, a group the authorities feared was easy to manipulate and called into action. As a longtime user of Facebook I am familiar with the sudden emotions some images with a short accompanying text can trigger. Scrolling and swiping creates a dynamic that has an uneasy relationship with the reading of long texts. How much sympathy you may feel for the person who wrote it. At times a fast ‘like’ to suppress a feeling of guilt is the most attainable reward for my active ‘friend’s’ labours.

The continuous attention of the censors must have had a great impact on the artists who drew the caricatures. In defence they often referred to their artistic freedom, the ‘liberty de crayon’. The authorities also made similar distinctions. In 1829 the interior minister told his prefects, concerning the circulation of Napoleonic images, “In general, that which can be permitted without difficulty when it is a question of expensive engravings, or lithographs intended only to illustrate an important [i.e., expensive] work, would be dangerous and must be forbidden when these same subjects are reproduced in engravings and lithographs at a cheap price.”

One can argue that works that are functioning in the realm of the arts are viewed as more neutral than works that aim for mass-communication and call for direct emotional response.

Philip Guston went from figuration to abstract expressionism, a route a lot of his colleagues followed but his decision to turn back to figuration was heavily criticized. About his motives for this switch he said; . “The war, what was happening in America, the brutality of the world. What kind of a man am I sitting at home, reading magazines, going into a frustrated fury about everything – and then going into my studio to adjust a red to a blue? I thought there must be some way I could do something about it.” At the beginning of the 70’s he made a series of drawings in which he dealt with, then, president Richard Nixon, the ‘Poor Richard-series”.

Initially he wanted to publish the drawings as comic books, but decided to keep them in the studio. A reason for this decision may have been the storm of critique that followed his move away from abstraction. It was a big thing in the artworld and former colleagues and critics blamed of treason. Maybe Guston didn’t need yet another complication as this kind of work could be seen as being too anecdotic and functional.

The conflicts between abstraction and figuration in the artworld seem to have disappeared in time, whole generations of artists cannot imagine that it was ever an issue.

In her artistic response to the Vietnam War Judith Bernstein took a feminist perspective. Her imagery derives from ( men’s ) bathroom-graffity , the screw as a symbol for phallic repression and violence in general. In her career she engaged herself with organisations like “the Guerilla Girls” and the “Fight Censorship Group”. At the age of 75 she showed a group of drawings (at New York’s Drawing Center) that she had made as a reaction on Donald Trump’s nomination as a candidate and the following victory in the election to become America’s president. She must have been shocked to the core of her being in the realization that all she had fought for all her life seemed to have made no difference. In het drawings she chooses to represent DT as ‘Schlongface’. In an article for she says; “My work is crude, but it’s not obscene. It’s not sexually arousing, it’s done for a political reason.”

Scatology is a regularly occurring theme in caricature and folk art. A well known example is the Gargantua print by Daumier, in it you can see King Louis Philippe sitting on a large throne or toilet, being fed money and defacating laws and favours on paper. Another print by Traviès shows the same King in the form of a barrel in which the collective shit of a neighborhood was collected. The pearshaped barrel stands on small elegant feet.

Bernstein operates mainly in the artworld. Ward Sutton positions himself as a maker of caricatures explicitly in the public domain. His drawings are published in a wide range of magazines and newspapers, such as ‘The New York Times ,Rolling Stone, Time, The Nation, Entertainment Weekly and New Yorker. Under the pseudonym ‘Kelly’ , published in the ‘Onion’ he poses as a cartoonist from the ‘other side’ of the political spectrum, a strategy that can leave one with akward uneasy feelings. On his website ‘Sutton Impact’ he shown his continuing engagement with political and social actuality. In preparation for the midterm elections he offered free election posters to download and print , he writes; Please feel free to share these images and links! A wonderful gesture and I’m sure one that contributed to the positive result for the Democratic Party.

Sources: Photo Judith Bernstein by Donald Stahl.

Judith Bernstein, Drawing Center exhibition catalogue;

Ward Sutton’s website;

How simple can your first Daumier be?

The studio... Posted on Tue, November 06, 2018 09:59:41

This little reproduction from a booklet about Daumier caught my eye, because of the theme of it and because of the relative ‘clumsiness’ that appealed to me. It has the look of a first version of an idea, a rough sketch that was never realized, I really liked the idea that I could ‘finish’ a sketch by Daumier . I thought about the question ‘can you be so drunk that the table gets stuck to you?’. The book is in German and the work is titled Trunkenbolde, which means something like ‘boozers’ and I guess that is exactly what the image communicates. The size is 24,5 x 26,2 cm, the technique oil paint on paper, glued to wood and the work is mentioned as coming from the collection Roger Leybold. ( 1896-1970) This owner of an industrial brewery had a large collection of paintings, drawings, prints and letters by Delacroix, Daumier, Jongkind, Corot and Boudin. A certain ’Madame X’ is mentioned by auction house Drouot as the heir of the Leybold collection. It is possible that this work was auctioned on the 17th of November 1982 .

To start I copied the work by making a small etching, the printing plate on the left and the print on the right.

After this the man leaning on the table top shows up on three paintings of 1998. As a description of the individual works I used the abbreviation M.A. for Molino Alto, ( M.A. 11, M.A. 3 and M.A.1 are shown) a reference to the old watermill in Niguelas, Spain that we rented in the spring of 1998 for a period of three months from the Scottish poet Martin Bates. These works are made during this time.

This painting , M.A.1, was raffled during a national tv broadcast. In a programme called AVRO’s Kunstblik, a nice studio visit was filmed with the former director of the Arnhem Modern Art Museum Liesbeth Brandt Corstius as reporter.

After our return back to the Netherlands I made this painting, its title Nr 794, also not very creative and referring to the number of paintings I started on since moving to Eindhoven in 1987. Because you never can be sure if a work you start on will reach the endstage, there are missing numbers of destroyed paintings, mostly victims of complex transition periods). The work measures 130 x 200 cm and contains all the elements of the Works made in Spain, the ‘Daumier’-figure, the table with influences from Dutch genre tavern scenes, my then 3 year old first son drawing , the inn and the ‘fincas’ along the river with the olivetrees and the highway bridge in the direction of Granada spanning the valley. The painting was shown in an exhibition at Oele Gallery in Amsterdam September 1998

I will go into the Spanish period in later posts

Advice to younger colleagues

The studio... Posted on Fri, November 02, 2018 11:21:17

From the
very moment you made the brave, overconfident, reckless, socially inconvenient decision
to apply at an art academy, I have seen you as a young colleague. I, too,
decided I was going to be an artist when I was 17. A little hesitant at first, I
spent my time around art, but more so on the applied side of things, which
seemed to offer a little more financial stability. But after graduating, I took
the plunge. I turned 60 last year and haven’t regretted my choice for even a
single day. I couldn’t have wished for a more fulfilling life.

Now this is the part where I’d talk about the
downsides – they do exist, but I’ll put it off for a while as you’re already
getting hit over the head with downsides in this day and age.

I was probably
quite headstrong and curious about studying everything I didn’t know yet, very
much at ease with contemplating, reading and observing. Realise that we didn’t
have smartphones or computers, and unless you wrote letters or used a landline
to make phonecalls, you could be out of touch with everyone but the people in
your direct surroundings for months. I recall the oceans of spare time, the
boredom, but also the freedom to pick up whatever captured my fascination. I
had no learning goals or a master plan whatsoever, but I was aware that I knew
very little indeed. Newspapers, literature, poetry, history, philosophy, the
bible, biographies, even encyclopaedias – I read everything I could get my
hands on, often several books at once. Sometimes
I wouldn’t be sure why I even picked up a book after having finished it, at my
wits’ end that I didn’t have the intellectual capacity to comprehend the
writing, let alone to contextualise it.

Having been
trained as an illustrator, I suffered from an abundance of effect-oriented
mannerisms; my drawings were focused on visual niceties, and were disconnected
from the function that drawing should serve. The means to understand a shape, tracing its
outlines, observing the play of light on it. It wasn’t until a lot of time and practice
later that I managed to learn to do boring, investigative drawing with the
purpose of getting a feel for the shape before starting on a painting. These
are drawings that you can’t sell, they’re found in a sketchbook or on a sheet
of paper that you cut templates from.

I often say
I’ve had to learn everything by myself, I tell people I’m a self-taught
painter, forgetting the semiweekly model drawing classes, the practical
training in the graphics room, with a teacher and unsupervised on Fridays (hurray!),
typography, typeface drawing and calligraphy, graphic design and working in the
in-house printshop serving the applied departments, photography, analogue, both
black-and-white and colour. And all this for three years.

understanding of art history was limited at the time, I thought I was a real
hot shot doing my graduation thesis on “abstract book illustration”. Limitations
notwithstanding, it introduced me to notions like visual poetry, Paul van
Ostaijen and Guillaume Apollinaire, illustrations by Jean Arp, poetry by
Francis Ponge (“listen carefully and you’ll find almost everything can’t talk”)
and the concept of an artist’s book.

That may
sound pretty clever, but in my studio in a squatted building, above a Turkish
club, I was mostly studying Matisse, Dufy, while also doing material etchings I
printed on a wooden mangle. My paintings generally featured my new girlfriend
and me, naked on a bed (Luxe, Calme et
). This new girlfriend and I have stayed together ever since, and
she was the one who pushed me to apply at Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht.

My advice
to you, young artist, whether you’re a lad or a girl, is that it’s best to
enter a relationship while the both of you are still developing. That way, you
can grow together, both in your own way, since you do have to give the other
person space. And if you’re lucky, you’ll grow older together, and as long as
you keep living your own life and have friends of your own, you’ll still be
exciting to one another. It’s always handy to be with someone who needs as much
freedom as you, as it’s nothing but trouble when people demand your attention when
you’ve just sat down to read something beautiful, or when you’re delving deeper
into your visual research. Taking on too many responsibilities is also
something to be wary of, especially in the early days of a relationship; decorating
your rented flat with trinkets from a thrift shop is a lot wiser for an artist than
settling down. You may also want to
avoid having children at an early age: spending a lot of time together, travelling,
looking around, exhibiting, creating, and then, if the relationship lasts, having
kids is great too.

Like so
many things in (an artist’s) life, it takes luck. There are limits to the
amount of control you have. When it comes to having kids, being with another
artist is ideal. You can set your own times, allowing you to take studio and
parenting days at will, plus time for yourself (even if that just involves
sleeping or dreaming in your studio) and the intimacy of your newborn love.

Try to stay
close to yourself in your studio and make sure you can empty yourself. That’s
not always an easy task, especially after an exhibition where you didn’t get
any sales, after unkind remarks by gallery people and family members, not
having a gallery at all is no walk in the park either. Broken promises, radio
silence when you’d expected contact, after a rejected grant request or
exhibition proposal. Feeling jealous is counterproductive – it’s just the
reality of working in a field where many (good) colleagues are active, and
limited budgets mean choices have to be made between the good ones. Life is
most pleasant for those who show good sportsmanship, exchange advice and offer

At the risk
of sounding too soft, jealousy is best replaced by competition. I have
interpreted artistic letdowns as a call to action to improve my work even
further, phrase my thoughts even more clearly, communicate even more carefully and
astound my audience with undeniably great work. “Something ‘they’ can’t ignore.”

It’s also
wise to avoid sticking around in bad collaborative situations for too long; if
there are any business partners you’re constantly having angry internal
dialogues with, you should at least tell them what’s on your mind. And if you can’t have a proper conversation,
there’s no saving that working relationship. Ending it is preferable to staying
in a bad one. Sure, you need to be pragmatic, but your inner stability is what
counts. Aside from the lovely people working in galleries, there are also some
who don’t have those people skills. And your identity and productivity as an
artist is of daily essence to you, you have your own best interests at heart, while
a gallery can only divide its attention among the artists it represents. It’s
not an equal relationship, that’s just the way it is.

important to keep an eye out for small successes, things in your direct
surroundings. Being an artist means you’re in it for the long haul, and you can
expect to discover new aspects of yourself throughout your whole life. You find
yourself making things you could only have dreamt of years before. What has
aided me the most is studying; improving and broadening my technical and
artisanal skills. Being eager to learn about new materials, their properties
and the way they can be used. Taking the time for this allows your brain to
breathe, your thoughts about, say, a new motif can enter a more relaxed train
of thought, and hey presto!, the thing you were trying to force through just
happens of its own accord. For me, this also happens when I copy “the masters”.
Spending more time looking at your predecessors’ works transports you into
their thoughts and the decisions they took as creators, which is very

recommendation: try to view as much contemporary art as you can. Schedule a day
a month to visit all the galleries you can find in a city, write down your
observations, the things you’ve read, and what stood out. This is the world you
belong to. Don’t stick to the comfort zone of art you like the feel or medium
of, but try to understand the concept behind work that’s less approachable to
you. Choose a different city every once in a while, but be sure to make the
rounds regularly, so you get to know the exhibition policy and artists at various
galleries and other art spaces. When a gallery owner sees you drop by more
often, he or she will understand that you’re interested in what they do. This
can lead to them asking you what you think of a given exhibition. That’s the
beginning of a conversation right there – networking in practice. Even if
you’ll never show any work there yourself, it’s a joy to walk around a major
art fair where you have plenty of contacts; a chat here, a compliment there, maybe
even a retrospective on the days of yore and the exhibiting artist’s new work, and
you’ll have carved out your own place in the art world.

Do not
under any circumstances blithely walk into places showing off your portfolio, nobody’s
got time for that sort of thing. The only outcome will be an awkward situation
and hurt feelings.

Be sure to
contribute to (group) exhibitions whenever you can, you’ll also meet artists on
your monthly gallery tour, discuss each other’s work and arrange plans for new
possibilities. If you have it in you, you can write a blog, analyse or observe
the work of your colleagues that stands out to you, and publishing magazines or
pamphlets can help foster recognition. My magazine Ezel, which is currently Dutch-only, will soon be offered at art
fairs in Shanghai and New York with an English translation, and my expectations
are high. After all, despite the fact that I’m past 60 and have seen plenty of
successes, I’m still incredibly eager to find out what I can achieve in my work.

much more I want to say, but I think you’ve probably heard enough out of me at
this point, we can always carry on our conversation when we run into each other
in this beautiful field of ours. We’ll travel together for a while, and then
continue on our separate, great adventures.

(this letter was written for Witte rook, Breda and published on their website)

a bull in the studio

The studio... Posted on Thu, November 01, 2018 21:54:19

A Bull in
the Studio

In 2011 I
was invited by Kunstpodium T to develop an exhibition together with four graduation
students from Dutch art academies. The exhibition was part of the ‘Master-Apprentice
project’. Already at the start
I had problems with the term ‘master’ so I made a suggestion to the students
that we would use ‘Apprentice-Apprentice’ as the title for our show. It took
some effort to convince them, mostly because I didn’t want to tell them why I
specifically wanted this title. The reason why became evident to them and the
visitors at the opening of the exhibition. In my room I had installed works
from my 1982 graduation show from the Illustration department of the Royal
Academy of Arts and Design . In this way I created equality by comparing their
actual situation to mine at the time and also a nice historical
perspective on the time that vocational
training made up a major part of the curriculum of art academies.

Reading Courbets’ ‘letter to the young artists
of Paris’ reminded me of this episode. In the first blogpost you can read about
Jules Castagnary being the actual writer of this letter. Castagnary, professionally
active as a lawyer, journalist, artcritic
and politician, (think about that today!), had become strongly engaged with the
Realist movement by which he saw possibilities of societal change.

On September,
28, 1861 he organized a meeting for students who had left the École des
Beaux-Arts because of the teaching methods. The location for the meeting was brasserie
Andler. Courbet himself, living only 4
doors further down ,was a regular guest there. The brasserie, where good beer was served, was frequented by Germans and former
inhabitants of the north-eastern regions of France. It had a special attraction
as a meeting place for artists and writers.

Image source; ‘Histoire anecdotique des Cafés
& Cabarets de Paris’ by Alfred Delvau, 1862.

As a result
of the meeting it was decided to request Courbet to open a teaching studio. In which the students could develop their skills and
get acquainted with the modern painting
methods under his guidance.

In his
response Courbet explains why he doesn’t believe in schools; ‘There cannot be schools, there are only
painters (…) Therefore I cannot claim to be opening a school to be training
pupils, to be teaching this, that, or the other partial tradition of art. I can
only explain to artists, who will be my collaborators and not my pupils, the
method by which, in my opinion, one becomes a painter, by which I have myself
tried to become one since I started, leaving to each one the entire direction
of his individuality, the full liberty of his own expression in the application
of this method. To this end the
formation of a common studio, recalling the fruitful collaborations of the studios
of the Renaissance, may certainly be useful and help towards inaugurating the
era of modern painting’ (Georges Boudaille ‘Courbet Painter in Protest’, page

Boudaille writes with a touch of cynicism; ‘Forty-two
students, some of them dissidents from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, agreed to pay
20 francs to hear Courbet expound his theory of Realism’.

After Courbet
has thus shown his willingness to
accompany this band of colleague-painters Castagnary sets to work: ‘On December 6, 1861, Jules Castagnary had
signed a lease ( to become effective on December 9) for an atelier at 83 rue
Notre-Dame-des-Champs ( street level), where Courbet was to teach painting.
Student applications began on December 9, and that same day thirty-one students
registered.( Petra ten-Doeschate Chu)

Castagnary manipulates the students
with his own convictions; ‘You are tired of the precepts and methods of your
teachers. You vaguely realize that they are running counter to the social
current; that by following them to the limit you would end by speaking a
language that society would no longer understand…’’

Also; ‘In the time of the Renaissance the studio was
a collaboration. The pupil served his apprenticeship as a painter by painting
with and for the master…( take note of
his use of the term ‘master’ !)

Even in 1864, two years after the end of the
experiment, Castagnary writes in ‘Les Libres Propos’ how he had intended the studio to function; ‘for
models we shall have all the visible representations that make up Creation:
bulls, horses, stags, roebuck, birds and so on; all the examples that make up
society, from the bourgeois to the worker, from the soldier to the peasant,
from the ploughman to the sailor. In this way the whole of nature and society
will pass before your eyes in their infinite variety.

So the studio starts.
Teacher/colleague Courbet
gave only one piece of advice; “Don’t follow advice!” He pasted up these four
commandments in the studio: 1. Do not do
what I do. 2.Do not do what the others do. 3. If you did what Raphael used to
do, you would have no existence of your own. Suicide. 4. Do what you see and what you feel, do what
you want.

After his
enthusiastic start and his willingness
to ‘give all’ he slowly grinds to a halt. In a letter to his father he writes; ‘Dear Father , I apologize for not answering
you sooner but you must take into account that in Paris I am not really my own
man. I have important things that I must do here, that I cannot manage to do. I
have too much of a following, especially recently, with all of modern
painting converging around me.
At last I have triumphed across the board’.

In March, 1862 the experiment, the studio of
equals ceased to exist.

There are a
lot of stories, in connection with Courbets’ learning studio, about a white spotted red bull as a model for the
students , In this illustration you see the bull with his handler, the students
painting and Courbet on the right holding his palet ( and paintingknife) ready
for immediate corrections in the works of his younger colleagues.

Striking in
this illustration is the fact that you see only males, (including the bull). Male
art students had the opportunity to
study the nude, female and male. In her
famous essay ‘Why have there been no
great woman artists?’ from 1971 Linda
Nochlin proves convincingly that the answer to that question had nothing to do
with women being less talented, gifted or able to achieve that status, By using
the methods of academic research she showed that it was simply impossible for
women to perform in the highest regions of art. The knowledge of male and
female anatomy was a condition for making high art. And this, drawing and painting from live
models was forbidden for women.

photograph dates from 1855, (six years before Courbets’ bull). It shows the modelling class for women at Pennsylvania Academy working under direction of Thomas Eakins.
Their model, a cow.

A grand 19th
century lady , Rosa Bonheur, turned
this disadvantage around and reached world fame
with her paintings of animals The
majestic setup of her studio puts the solitary bull , roebuck and male deer in
an altogether different perspective.

material; Petra ten -Doeschate Chu, ‘Letters of Courbet’, University of Chicago
Press, 1992 , Georges Boudaille ‘Courbet Painter in Protest’, New York Graphic
Society Ltd, 1969. Linda Nochlin, ‘Why
Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’ uit ‘Art and Sexual Politics’, Macmillan, 1971)

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