Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rien Poortvliet: A Stroke of Genius




The Christian Science Monitor, one of our finest small papers, once wrote that "[Rien Poortvliet's] painting is as skilled and accomplished as any painter, certainly any illustrator in the world today."

That was not an exaggeration.

Poortvliet produced a unique body of truly excellent art that shows a love of land, wildlife, dogs, people and history. He also leaves behind a small museum dedicated to his work.

Poortvliet was entirely self-taught -- a self-conscience act which ensured that his his style was entirely his. Born August 7, 1935, Poortvliet was the son of a Dutch plasterer and began his artistic career as a graphics artist for magazines. His most famous (though certainly not his best!) work is a book called ''Gnomes'' which continues to sell well. Poortvliet was always somewhat flummoxed by the fact that The New York Times Best Seller List included the book in the "non-fiction" category. ''Why?'' he asked, ''Do they think there really are gnomes?''

Poortvliet spent two years in the Dutch navy and, as soon as he was old enough, he visited America. "What I learned about America, was that I wanted to go home."

Home was Soest, a village 30 miles southeast of Amsterdam where he lived with his wife, Corrie Bouman, and their collection of rabbits, dogs, cats, chickens, and farm stock.

Poortvliet worked exclusively in water color -- a medium that allowed him to produce fine works at great speed and with the depth of color and texture needed to capture fur, feather, wood, dirt, and the grinding cogs of history. "Sometimes I work with much water," he said. "Sometimes with a very dry brush. Sometimes with a little spit."

Poortvliet's eye for detail and his intuitive understanding of wildlife, dogs and landscape was without parallel, but he was somewhat deficient at observing the modern world. "I can paint for you any animal you want, including humans," he said. "I can paint an elephant from underneath, as if it were walking on a plate of glass above us. I have never seen this, but I can paint it. But, if you ask me to paint the dashboard of my Volkswagen, I would have to go out and look at it in the yard."

The remarkable Rien Poortvliet died in 1995, but his magnificent art lives on, a gift to us all. Along with his book on dogs, I recommend his book, The Living Forest: A World of Animals available from http://www.abebooks.com/ or http://www.alibris.com/

To see more art from Rien Poortvleit, see >> HERE.

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5 comments:

Caveat said...

A Dutch master was he and one of my favourites.

I love his work - thanks for posting this. Makes the world seem like a better place overall.

Christopher said...

"Gnomes" is one of the pivotal art books of my childhood. Not only did it inspire hours of day dreaming fantasies, future stories that I would write, my own interest in illustration art, but it also endeared a deep respect for the animal kingdom, a love of foxes, and a strange penchant for pointy hats. Plus my first illustrated appreciation of boobies.

The book isn't 3 feet from me as I type this. And now that I'm thinking about it again, the success of the book spawned a children's cartoon with adventures of David the Gnome. Wonderful stuff as he'd travel around curing sick animals and saving the day. McGyver for kids.

Christine said...

Rien Poortvliet is one of my favorite artists. His iconic images of the disappearing culture of rural europe are human, earthy, and full of wisdom. His love and mastery of the human and animal form are without equal. I met a Dutch woman and told her he was my favorite artist. "You mean illustrator" she said. No, I mean artist, poet and philosopher.

Viatecio said...

The book about "Noah's Ark" and "Dogs" have prominent places at home. I love his little stories he puts in there, especially about his own dogs.

One little nitpick thing that's always confused me though, is that in the Dogs book, when he first gets his German wirehaired pointer puppy (or maybe the Dachshund?), he says that "BRAAF" (if that's even the word, if not it's something very close) means "Good dog." And then he shows the word painted over a pair of chewed-up glasses. So "Good dog" for chewing up the glasses?

gibcluj said...

More books written by Rien Poortvliet you can find on Love Bookstore site