20.5 x 20 cm. (8 1/16 x 7 13/16 in.)
Gouache on paper
Inscribed in gouache upper left: 105
• Belgium, Private Collection.
• Geer Van Velde, exh. cat. Galliera Museum, Paris, May 6 – June 5, 1966.
A discreet post-war personality, Geer van Velde was a multi-faceted artist. In the course of the 21st century, his oeuvre, which was first figurative and then abstract, has been studied, as has that of his brother Bram. Born in Lisse in 1898 and having worked in The Hague from 1904 to 1924, Geer has often been compared to the artists of the Dutch Golden Age. He was an apprentice under a decorator-painter in the Netherlands before arriving in Paris in 1925, where his brother had already settled. Out of curiosity, the artist traveled regularly. He exhibited in London, then went to Cagnes-sur-Mer in southern France during the Second World War, before settling in 1946 in the Paris region at Cachan where he set up a prolific studio.
The parallels between his work and that of the 17th century Dutch masters are detected in a few early works, including certain depictions of churches which could be compared to Peter Saenredam’s (1597-1665) or Pieter de Hooch’s compositions (1629-1684). Overall, these aspects make it possible to understand the evolution of the artist’s reflections and to draw a tight connection between his figurative representation and abstract thoughts.
His first works, like those of his brother Bram, were academic: portraits and self-portraits in which his graphic ease is perceptible. Geer also gave his attention to still life which expresses his taste inherited from his Dutch ancestors for depicting “silent life”. (Ill.1) Gradually he began to draw on site and appreciate the instantaneous effect in which he mixed his own imagination. He combined his own artistic conception with different movements which surrounded him, including Russian, German Expressionist, and Fauve influences.
His abstract works were the result of the distillation of lines in his first classical subjects pushed to their extremes. By juxtaposing colored vertical and horizontal lines, as opposed to his brother who preferred curves, the artist produced a definite form while giving his spectator’s imagination free rein. He sometimes introduced elements that were almost figurative to make the whole composition more legible, or markers indicating the axis along which the work should be read, as is the case here with the number 105 inscribed in ink in the upper left corner.
His paintings display his use of vivid colors and broad gestures. Van Velde worked quickly, his oeuvres show the liveliness of his spirit as it transferred his thoughts to the planar surface. The whole piece conflates into a play between balance and disequilibrium. In our picture, the use of gouache lets him trace lines of flat color surfaces against a light ground. Colors touch each other, then contrast and stand out distinctively from each other: confused with the plane of the paper, they thus emphasize the work’s flatness.
In his perpetual search for better depiction of his ideas, Geer van Velde gives the viewer a form of figurative dematerialization through a shimmering range of colors. Figuration does not disappear completely from his work: it is stripped and pushed to its limits. Certain specialists were able to speak of the artist’s oeuvre as being the result of “retinian” work, because it is an exercise for the viewer’s eye to try to understand not just the image, but mental reflection behind it as well.