Bart van der Leck

Maler der Moderne

16. 12. 1994 — 26. 2. 1995


Bart van der Leck (born in Utrecht in 1876) was one of those artists – alongside Frank Kupka, Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian – who in the early twentieth century made the transi­tion from figura­tive painting, by way of ornamental styliz­a­tion, to geometrical abstrac­tion. Now, thirty-five years after his death, Bart van der Leck is still relatively unknown as a painter – although, alongside Piet Mondrian an d Theo van Doesburg, he is regarded as one of the major figures in the De Stijl group of artists.

In colla­bo­ra­tion with the Rijks­mu­seum Kröller-Müller in Otterlo, the Kunst­mu­seum Wolfsburg is now showing a wide and repre­sen­ta­tive selection of his work in man different fields. The exhibi­tion is struc­tured chrono­lo­gi­cally, to make clear the parallels between his different activi­ties: he painted, drew, practised typography, worked in the craft field, designed a large stained-glass window, and produced many ideas and plans for the use of colour in architecture.

Bart van der Leck’s work has a great openness and acces­si­bi­lity. Without ever allowing themselves to be pinned down to a single inter­pre­ta­tion, his colours and forms, dimen­sions and materials form a striking unity and an entirely natural-seeming harmony with imaginary worlds on the border­line between figura­tion and abstraction.

He belonged to a genera­tion that was acutely aware of the deep-seated changes that came with the turn of the century: the growth of locali­ties into great cities, and the drift of great sections of the popula­tion away from the country­side. Trams, motor vehicles and aircraft became part of everyday life; speed and motion came to be taken for granted. New forms of commu­ni­ca­tion, such as the telephone, the radio and an ever more-active press, brought the world’s events closer together and greatly accele­rated the spread of infor­ma­tion and knowledge. People now had different expec­ta­tions of homes, work, leisure, recrea­tion and life itself, and all this demanded a different  and more oen archi­tec­ture. New techni­ques of building allowed cities to expand rapidly. Bart van der Leck was a close observer of this process. He saw people and the things around them; he saw the markets in the great cities, and workers at the factory gate at the end of a shift; he saw the leave-takings that the new means of transport, such as railways and aircraft, brought into people’s lives. But he also saw Nature and respected its sublimity, which moved him as deeply as it did Van Gogh or any of the other artists of the previous generation.

The specific character of Bart van der Leck’s work lies in his quest for a balance between the incre­a­singly ominous weight of the masses, on the one hand, and the indivi­dual with his everyday concerns, on the other. The old life and the new slide in front of each other like screens of gauze. Details fade into the background (which is often white), and what remains is a painting that is no  longer anchored but nevertheless remains acces­sible, open to new ideas.