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Geer van Velde is the younger brother of Bram with whom he shared the same passion for painting.
A rare artist in the sense where his thorough, analytical work without being cold or entrenched in an icy intellectualism does not freeze in rules directly applied to a theorem, Geer van Velde is a man of the North. He is the fruit of Holland and the Flanders’ atmospheric perspective.
He found the very fabric of his paintings from these windows open onto the world where Protestant austerity combined with the rigor of climate. Lonely, saying little, each painting reflects the character.
In his studio in Cachan, he developed compositions structured around the theme of “the workshop”.
The Maeght Gallery exhibited him until 1980 and then the Louis Carré Gallery in 1982 and 1989.
A retrospective was held at the Museum of Modern Art of the city of Paris in 1982. An Exhibit at the Picasso Museum, Antibes – Unterlinden Museum, Colmar in 2000 and, in 2010, an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon.
He and his older brother Bram had a lot in common. They learned together in a decoration company in The Hague, the Kramer’s home business. After his military service as an attaché to the Red Cross, he undertook a tour of Flanders on foot, while painting signs for a living. He painted in the field. He joined his brother Bram in Paris in 1925 to visit the Decorative Arts exhibition. He decided to fully dedicate himself to painting and settled permanently in France. In 1926, Bram and Geer were living in Belleville. They met the Dutch artist Tjerk Bottema. From October on, Geer had his own workshop 7, rue Edgar-Quinet in Malakoff. Just like his brother, the funding he received from W. Kramers allowed him to live and paint.
Between 1928 and 1932, Geer and Bram exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Indépendants. Their fate seemed sealed and there was a strong bond between them. Geer admired his brother and protected him. Geer, who never steered away from reality, was attracted by the Cubist lesson which came to rectify the Fauvism of his early works. In 1929, he made a short trip to the south, and in 1931 he chose not to exhibit due to lack of funds and returned to the Netherlands. The following year he came back to Bram in Paris. In 1933, Geer married Elisabeth Jokl whom he met in Montparnasse and the couple moved to 74, rue de la Glacière. 1937 was the year he met with Samuel Beckett, whom he introduced to Bram. The three men were united by a solid friendship.
In 1938, he exhibited forty-five paintings in London, at the Guggenheim Young Gallery. It was a failure, and he withdrew to Cagnes-sur-Mer where he lived from 1938 to 1944. This was an intense period of work from which a desire for the unity that characterized his work emerged. This quest used the ‘double’ theme that already appeared in the first portraits before the Ateliersseries, where the painter and the model dialogue. Everything begins with the verticality of the characters who have hieratic features: seated female figures surrounded by objects familiar to the painter, such as a gueridon, a plant, or a bauble on hats. He began the Intérieursseries with reference to the window opened out on to the sea, which obliged him to address the indoors/outdoors issue. The very specific sunlight in the south of France influenced him to the point of being decisive in his subsequent work and invaded the canvas.
Geer drew a lot. The humanism of the ‘impressionist cubism” of Jacques Villon, where rigour is combined with sweet poetry, like a colourful outpouring, brought to its peak by Bonnard enthralled Geer by its similarity to his own research.
In his painting, Beckett saw an “exceedingly reluctant” approach of the elusive, very significant with his concern for the human condition. Germain Viatte, in the monograph he penned about the painter, wrote that “Geer’s research can only be expressed in the confinement of the workshop… he must break the mirror of illusion, restore presence and memory, find the meaningful quality in the trap that holds us”. Some watercolours until the early 1950s are significant (Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris). G. Viatte continued: “a surface divided into strips of unequal widths, two, three or four stroke vertical rhythm, inducing the eyes to dash from edge to edge.” He began again with Indian ink and as a subtle colourist, managed a vibration of tones that he carefully nuanced.
In 1942, he had a solo exhibition in Nice in the Muratore Gallery. Back in Paris in late 1944, he settled in Cachan in a house built for Tjerk Bottema. He found the ‘beautiful soft light’ of the Ile-de-France region. Having made the acquaintance of Aimé Maeght at Cagnes, thanks to Bonnard, the merchant welcomed him in his gallery on rue de Tehran where, in March 1946, he held his first exhibition. It presented La Méditerranée – a key painting with the interweaving of triangular forms, a palette of minor and matte tones which however glow vibrantly like the surrounding forty paintings. The catalogue had texts by Jacques Kober, ‘Qualité de l’espace’ (‘Pierre à feu’ collection, Maeght, 1946).
“The eye does not have all the rights; it must leave a share to intuition and intelligence, alternately making the short scale. I tend more toward lyricism”
Geer van Velde
After the exhibition, Samuel Beckett published a study on “the painting of Van Velde, or the world and pants” (Cahiers d’art, 1945-1946). In his presentation of the works of Geer he spoke of “painting of calm and extraordinary sweetness. In June 1948, for the second exhibition of Geer, this time associated with Bram, S. Beckett wrote a new text, “Painters of prevention”, and Jacques Kober wrote “As much talk about silence” (Derrière le miroir, no. 11-12, Gallery Maeght). Geer and Bram exhibited at the Kootz Gallery in New York through Maeght. At the same time the painter confided in Bernard Dorival: “the eye does not have all the rights; it must leave a share to intuition and intelligence, alternately making the short scale. I tend more toward lyricism” (Les Étapes de la peinture française contemporaine, Gallimard, 1946). Geer participated in group exhibitions at the Maeght Gallery: 1946-1947, “Black is a colour” (Derrière le miroir, no. 1, text by Jacques Kober, with six lithographs of Geer Van Velde). 1947, “4 walls” (Derrière le miroir, no. 2, text by Michel Seuphor and René Guilly).
It is useful to note that Geer travelled repeatedly to the Netherlands in the post-war years, the immediate consequence was the influence on him – the clear structure and rigorous features of the landscape of his native country. In addition the strong impression felt at the Mondrian retrospective in Amsterdam in 1946.
November 1952, the ultimate personal exhibition at the Maeght Gallery, catalogue with texts by Roger Chastel, In Front of the Mirror and Frank Elgar, “Geer Van Velde” (Derrière le miroir, no. 51, with two coulour lithographs). As for Bram, the event ended in commercial failure. Both took their distance from the gallery, each now following his path alone.
Never abstract, the work of Geer, in a colourful, sometimes monochrome subtlety, offers itself as a long meditation on light. In its unspeakable movements, light stresses the intermediate spaces, whose plastic equivalents are those of a linear architecture that discreetly fades to better suggest the depth.
“The essential that is not visible but our inner world”
Geer van Velde
Without ever joining the radicalism of Mondrian, Geer disassociates backgrounds from the chromatic surfaces cut into segments, to release “the essential that is not visible but our inner world”. Vertical lines identifying a central void define the space of the painting. Gradually these traits disappear in favour of the square in turn divided into four. It is from this centre plans and colours are distributed, bright or dark surfaces that come to highlight short strokes in gouache, or a few strokes of charcoal or chalk. Piet Moget, a painter friend, reported the way Geer worked, according his own explanations: “the artist always prepared his own canvases. He needed an even, absorbing background… He drew large rhythms and masses in charcoal, then covered the canvas, the entire surface, with a thin layer of white zinc oil applied very dryly without thinner. Traces of charcoal remained very slightly visible. Then he stuck newspapers on to absorb the oil… He hated drag on the canvas”(in the “Retrospective” catalogue, city of Paris, 1982). He never made major changes to this technique.
Excerpt from “The School of Paris, 1945-1965 Dictionary of Painters”,
Ides and Calendes publishing, courtesy of Lydia Harambourg www.idesetcalendes.com