Private collection, Belgium
Museum Kranenburgh, Bergen, Gestel in Bergen , May 18 – October 6, 2002
Leo Gestel was one of the leading artists of Dutch Modernism. He first studied
with his father, Willem Gestel, the director of an art school, and his uncle,
Dimmen Gestel, who had painted with Vincent van Gogh. Later, the young
artist was a pupil at the Amsterdam Academy.
During his career Gestel experimented with Cubism, Expressionism, Futurism
and Postimpressionism. His early work follows the style of the late 19th century,
for example, the Postimpressionist Still Life with Fruit (fig.1). By 1913, he was
painting simplified Cubist landscapes and figures such as Mallorca Harbour ,
1914 (fig. 2). In the same year Herwarth Walden offered Gestel the chance to
exhibit his work in the “Erster Deutscher Herbstsalon” in Berlin. Walden, a
German Expressionist artist, was one of the most important promoters of
German avant-garde art in the early twentieth century.
By the 1920’s, Gestel’s subjects show the clear influence of Expressionism. As
in the present work, his compositions are strongly stylized and tightly
composed. Gestel’s Portrait of Jan Wiegman displays the aesthetics and spirit
of contemporary European Expressionsim during the crisis years following
World War I. The bold handling of line in charcoal and crayon and the subjects
striking emotional form depict an essential reality and human personality hidden
behind the world of surface appearance. The present work is reminiscent of
early oil portraits by Max Beckmann, such as Self-Portrait with Champaign
Glass , 1919, private collection (fig. 3), and Erst Ludwig Kirchner’s Self-Portrait
of 1914, Brücke-Museum, Berlin (fig. 4).
Gestel spent his summers in the Dutch seaside town of Bergen where he joined
the Bergen School. The present portrait, dated Bergen 1921, is of Jan Wiegman,
the son of Gestel’s friend and fellow artist Matthiew Wiegman. Born in 1912,
Jan died in 1925 at the age of thirteen.