My Own Private Giverny – Impressionisme for ever

2017, Marc Mulders, essay from publication Marc Mulders My Own Private Giverny

What do you do when, as a painter, you want to get away from all the noise and issues of the day? All those raised voices, opinions and condemnations made by politicians and extreme believers. But also: away from your own sense of being right. It so happens that the painter can behave like a gardener, planting and tending meadows of flowers and then letting these resound as echoes on the painter's canvas. Painting after nature is a quiet process and does not involve loud recitation, but rather the whispering of a vocabulary in a range of hues, gradations and moods derived from nature.

Paint an atmosphere, an aura, paint a melody that sings instead of a battle song. Paint that empty stage at the end of the performance. The actors on the world's political stage have already left, but the dim lights are still on, as a residue of light and mist remains.

My studio is a barn. The easel is situated on the threshold, where inside and outside meet, and the meadow starts just two meters away. The fluttering of butterflies, buzzing of bees and birdsong that accompanies my painting in the open studio is often drowned out, however, by sour notes, shocking news reports. I lure these away from the painter's easel, from my studio in paradise, to two studios where I work in stained glass and watercolor. There I glue them onto supports of paper and glass and set the day's issues among shards of glass and torn paper. This gives rise to a 'two-track policy' in which realism plays a role in collages and stained-glass windows as well as in impressionism on canvas.

When I moved, nine years ago, from my convent-school studio in the middle of Tilburg to the farm-studio on the rural estate Baest, my painter's eye made a transition too. From looking closely at the flower, at its heart, in a vase standing in the studio, to beholding an entire vista across a meadow of flowers. That architecture in nature, with all its different 'rooms' - dew, mist, sunshine, backlighting - that I walk into here on the estate, thus became the guiding principle. In the Tilburg studio, situated in the midst of the city's bustle, nature had to be brought indoors. The flowers and the dead animals were bought and then became, in the studio, objects to observe, study and render in paint.

These early works - the painted roses, irises, lilies and parrot tulips - were mainly an attempt to fathom the flower's shape (and its centrifugal force) in oil paint. The painter could get started: first by rendering one flower, then another, and another, until a carpet of flowers in oil paint began to grow across the canvas. Now I no longer paint a repetition of that single flower; instead I see the flower as an attribute belonging to a wider natural setting. The consequence is that multiple brushstrokes no longer make up a single flower anymore – as they did when each stroke aimed to 'reproduce' a rose petal. Now the brushstroke on linen presents only itself, as a component of nature. From a distance each stroke joins and becomes part of a greater natural melody, an impression.

I have to think of the great French impressionist Claude Monet (Paris 1840 - Giverny 1926) whose dream it was to paint the unattainable, the sublime. There are artists, he says, who paint a bridge, or a boat, and that's it. Finished. I want to paint the air that surrounds the bridge, the house, the boat. What concerns me, says Monet, is the beauty of the atmosphere in which these objects exist.

Equally inspiring to me are the works and words of Émile Bernard (Rijsel 1868 - Paris 1941) who writes that every stroke of paint should meet a great many demands.

“Every brushstroke should contain both air and light, just as the subject, the composition, the character, the essence and the style should do so as well. Giving expression to that which exists is an endless task.”

When I read these words, I realized that my amazement at and admiration of nature was initially expressed in the beauty and the mystery of a single flower, more specifically in the flower's heart. Nowadays I'm not looking at that heart anymore, but aiming my gaze alongside it, over it, toward the source of light that lies beyond that flower.

In an essay Jurriaan Benschop writes that not only nature, but also the dialogue with modern and old masters is crucial to my work. To me, being part of a tradition is just as important as originality. I feel a connection with Claude Monet, with his Giverny garden filled with flowers, water and water lilies that inspired him to create works such as Les Nymphéas, hanging at the Orangerie in Paris. Here photographic focus has given way to a painterly reality, says Benschop.1

“It is from the painted blotch that the image develops, and in it lies the link to connotations in the work of Mulders.”

My studio is situated among fields teeming with wild flowers. That profusion of flowers is my source of inspiration. In spring and summer I inhale their fragrance. In winter I'm driven by the longing for the new flowers that will sprout up on that land. As I paint I stand in the doorway to my studio, looking out across the fields, and walk in among the flowers from time to time. It's as if I'm entering a poem. At a certain point I head back into my studio, pick up my brush again and paint the lines of the poem that I've experienced.2

Marc Mulders, on the estate Baest in the summer of 2017

  1. Jurriaan Benschop, ‘Het buitenatelier. Marc Mulders’, in: Zout in de wond. Kunstenaars in Europa (  Amsterdam: Van Oorschot, 2016 ) 161-171. q.v. 169.
  2. My words, taken from the interview with Renate van der Zee, ‘De troostende tuinen van Marc Mulders’, in Nouveau magazine (May 2017 ) 106-109.