Oorsprong, eenvoud en natuur. De bloeitijd van de kunstenaarskolonies, 1860-1910
Back to basics, simplicity and nature. The Golden Age of artists’ colonies, 1860-1910
During the nineteenth century, the Low Countries saw the rise of a large number of artists’ colonies in rural areas. The density of these colonies in the Netherlands and Belgium was the result of the marked contrast between the towns, which were gradually modernizing, and the seemingly unspoilt and completely traditional countryside. The colonies followed a standard pattern. The painters settled in villages in picturesque natural surroundings, preferably also with picturesque inhabitants, not too far removed from the main urban centres. An inn providing cheap lodgings was a basic requirement.
Often, a slightly older artist with paternal leanings acted as a benevolent host. The ideas behind the colonies usually consisted of a mixture of Utopian expectations, national and historical reminiscences, a longing for medical and spiritual regeneration, and a veneration of ‘nature’, both in the landscape and in the supposed innocence of the local inhabitants. In general, the colonies were soon overtaken by tourism and suburbanization.
Toward the end of the century, the accent came to rest more and more on experiments in lifestyle, and less on the arts as such. The ideologies of the fin de siècle aimed on the one hand to establish a new contact with ‘nature’, which was seen as a regenerative power, but on the other hand strove to overcome ‘nature’, which was also viewed as the source of baser instincts and the materialist aspects of life. This ambivalent conception of nature stimulated the founding of numerous colonies and at the same time made them superfluous, as the new spiritualism turned away from the visual representation of natural reality. The career of Piet Mondrian, a frequent visitor to several artists’ colonies, exemplifies this fundamental paradox.
This article is part of the special issue 'De menselijke canon en de Lage Landen'.
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