Hendrik Valk (1897-1986) wasn’t satisfied with common depictions of reality. Along with many other artists during the early twentieth century, he was looking for the ‘being’ inside the work of art. Life and art had to be harmoniously brought together; art and the artist would then be able to obtain a new, central position. An extensive donation by Else Valk in 2015 has inspired an exhibition of his work in Museum De Lakenhal: Hendrik Valk 1897-1986. Between the abstract and the figurative. Here you can find out more about the life of this artist and his roots in Leiden.
Growing up in Zoeterwoude
Hendrik Valk grew up in an artistic environment in Zoeterwoude: his father was the chief designer of silver and gold cutlery and crockery at the firm Van Kempen in Voorschoten. He believed his sons needed to devour books and absolutely required an artistic education. Hendrik Valk found one at the Royal Academy of Visual Arts in The Hague. Enrolling in 1912, he studied to become a teacher of hand- and linear drawing and graduated four years later.
A summer in Stroe
The year 1917 marks a special point in the life of Hendrik Valk, as he spent its summer in a cottage in Stroe, on the Veluwe. Here, Valk developed a large number of works while experimenting with different methods for depicting nature. Increasingly, he dared to distance himself from the visible reality.
A series of pastels
A series of pastel works from this period can be found in the collection of Museum De Lakenhal. All were donated to the museum in 1995 by Else Valk, daughter of Hendrik Valk.
First exhibitions in The Hague
In 1917, Hendrik Valk began exhibiting works from his Stroe period at the art dealer d'Audretsch in The Hague. The reviews that followed were full of praise for the young artist. Newspaper De Telegraaf, for instance, wrote the following on 12 January 1918: “I have enough trust in Valk’s talent and in his serious work ethic, to give him this council.” With this remark, the reviewer was referring to the development of the – stylistically somewhat unsteady – hand of the artist. “If an industrious young mind, like Valk, focuses on the practical exercise of our techniques, he will quickly and easily find the concentration, the steadiness and the confidence he is still missing too much.”
“He thought that the reality we all see around us is just confusing and misleading. That’s just growing, blooming and moving, that’s just smiling. That is filled with details, and more details are found on those details, while those are reflections and shadows and distortions – and that isn’t the core of the reality. That reality is different and can be found beneath. That was his artistic conviction, which he based on philosophical developments from the early twentieth century.”
Journalist & art expert Pierre Janssen on Hendrik Valk.
Meeting Van Doesburg
Valk worked in an atelier on the Posthoflaantje in Leiden between 1918 and 1920. During this period, he became acquainted with the work of artist collective De Stijl, which had been founded by Theo van Doesburg in 1917. The two met each other by accident in 1920. Van Doesburg saw a kindred spirit in the younger Valk, and asked him to join De Stijl. Valk refused, not wanting to be tied down.
Read more in the story about
Theo van Doesburg & De Stijl
Valk and his contemporaries
Reviewers were especially interested in Valk’s graphical talent. His distinct style, featuring sharp divides and simplified depictions, regularly reminded them of designs for stained glass windows. However, the influence of contemporaries like Bart van der Leck (1876-1958) is also undeniable. As is the case in the works by Van der Leck, the visible reality is always recognisable in Valk’s paintings.
The Breakfast (1921) is a key piece in the oeuvre of Hendrik Valk. It has been purchased for the collection of Museum De Lakenhal with the help of the Community of Interest VBL, through Felix, the son of Hendrik Valk.
Hendrik Valk wilde de natuur ‘vergeestelijken’. Hij wilde het wezenlijke in de natuur uitdrukken door het accentueren van kernlijnen van de zichtbare werkelijkheid. Ondanks deze stilering blijft de voorstelling herkenbaar. Valk schreef over dit schilderij: ‘Aan tafel zaten twee mannen en een vrouw, links en rechts waren grote vlakken geel aangebracht, koren voorstellend. En op tafel lag een brood - het was een stil moment voordat men zou beginnen te eten.’ Het schilderij maakte deel uit van een religieus getinte serie, die bij een bombardement tijdens de Tweede Wereldoorlog grotendeels verloren ging. Valks werk komt qua werkwijze dicht in de buurt van dat van Bart van der Leck die tot de beweging van De Stijl hoorde.Read more
Heading out with a caravan
After having lived in Wassenaar for a brief period, Valk started traveling through the Nederlands with a horse-drawn caravan in 1921. Groningen, where his brother and sculptor Willem Valk lived, was his ultimate goal. While travelling, he got by through the sale of drawings and the painting of advertisements and more. The cards sent to his family back in Leiden give us a good insight into this sometimes harsh journey.
A small home in Wassenaar
Hendrik Valk moved to a small white home in Wassenaar in 1921. Between 1921 and 1926, he divided his time between that home and ateliers in Katwijk aan Zee, Marum and Veere.
Hendrik Valk behoort tot de kunstenaars die vasthielden aan de waarneming van de visuele werkelijkheid als uitgangs-punt voor hun werk, maar die het realisme afzworen. In stijl en interesses bestaan er overeenkomsten tussen Valk en de leden van kunstenaarsgroep De Stijl waarvan Theo van Doesburg de oprichter was. Valk hanteerde een zelfde abstraherings-methode als Van Doesburg. Beiden gaan uit van een naturalistische voorstelling die steeds verder geabstraheerd wordt. Valk heeft echter altijd de visuele werkelijkheid een herkenbare rol laten spelen in zijn schilderijen. In dit opzicht vertoont het werk van Valk ook gelijkenis met dat van Bart van der Leck.Read more
Years spent teaching in Arnhem
Eventually, Valk wouldn’t reach Groningen during his journey in 1921. Ending up in Gelderland, he came into contact with the board of the Genootschap Kunst-Oefening (Society of Art Practitioners) in Arnhem, which would later become the Academy for Visual Arts. After an unhappy period in which Valk was desparately looking for his own style, Valk began teaching there in 1926, including courses in drawing heads and models. He would also establish the Graphic Department at the academy. His students in Arnhem, including Klaas Gubbles and Marc Brusse, were very grateful for his work. His teaching method focused on the development of the students themselves; he always avoided enforcing a certain – let alone his own – style on them.
A self-portrait and a new beginning
His journey to Arnhem marked a new beginning in not only the life, but also the work, of Hendrik Valk. During this period he began painting with a more realistic style than before, of which this self-portrait is a good example. In Arnhem he also met his future wife, the originally Russian Tatiana Kotschergina. The couple married on 4 January 1928 and their first child Felix was born in 1929, followed by daughter Else in 1933.
In Arnhem, Hendrik Valk also become very involved in the world of the theatre. As a result, he also designed various scenery pieces and costumes for groups such as the East Dutch Theatre, which was led by Albert van Dalsum.
An artist during the war
Little changed for Valk during the first years of the Second World War, as he just continued his work at the Academy. It was only after the Battle for Arnhem in 1944, when a large part of his oeuvre was destroyed by invading German soldiers and the devastating bombardment of the city, that his work was affected. His family was evacuated to Garderen on the Veluwe. His works on Eternit (a compressed, petrified mixture) were destroyed by the German soldiers and used for building barricades. Fortunately, The Breakfast was spared, as it was with Valk’s brother Willem in Groningen at the time. While staying in Garderen, Valk painted a realistic depiction and traded it for food. After the war, the family was able to return to Arnhem, where Valk continued teaching at the Academy and again became a prominent figure in the city’s cultural life.
For years, Hendrik Valk created the most diverse caricatures, especially for the weekly publication Groot-Arnhem (Greater Arnhem). Through them, he primarily criticized the lack of support and stimulation of artists in the region.
The later years
After retiring in 1973, exhibitions of Valk’s work followed each other in quick succession for several years, and interest in his oeuvre continued to exist for years after his death in 1986. Museum De Lakenhal exhibited his work in 1973, 1997 and now again in 2015.
His intractability has enabled Hendrik Valk to find a special place within Dutch art history, away from those clearly defined styles and artistic movements. Though the foundations of his philosophy are distant and diverse, from the Egyptian and Gothic visual cultures to medieval mystics such as Johannes Ruusbroec, his work remains remarkably clear and recognizable even today.
Interview with Hendrik Valk (revision 1997)
With thanks to
Else Valk and Stichting Valk
- Alex de Vries, Hendrik Valk 1897-1986, 2005. Verschenen bij uitgeverij Terra Lannoo, Warnsveld.
- Doris Wintgens Hötte, Hendrik Valk, Leiden 1997