In 1939, artist Bram van Velde met Irish author Samuel Beckett: this meeting would determine the path his life was to follow. Bram van Velde was born in Zoeterwoude, started work at a painting and decorating studio in The Hague and left the Netherlands in 1922. He worked in an Expressionist style in the artist's colony of Worpswede in Germany, and he developed this further in Paris into a highly individual level of abstraction from which he would never deviate. This style set him apart from the French artists, who had come to abstraction through Impressionism and Cubism.
Page  with lithograph by Bram van Velde
Page - withlithograph by Bram van Velde
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Van Velde spend brief periods on Corsica and Mallorca, where his wife Lilly Klöker died suddenly in 1936. He returned to Paris, where there was actually little interest in his art. He participated in occasional group exhibitions in the Netherlands. In 1929 J. Greshoff wrote a long review of such an exhibition (the article also appeared in a French translation), in which he voiced his preference, after listing many pros and cons, for the work of Geer van Velde, the brother of Bram van Velde, who also lived in Paris.
Van Velde and Beckett
Bram van Velde's meeting with Samuel Beckett was to change the course of his life. Not only were they kindred spirits who both followed their own strict and uncompromised path, but neither man was to acquire fame and status until after World War II. Beckett's work received international recognition, while Van Velde's name is still known around the world but to a smaller audience. Beckett wrote an article about the Van Velde brothers, in which he clearly favoured Bram. His words were elevated by the painter to unassailable judgments. Bram van Velde seized upon every opportunity to sing Beckett's praises - on those occasions where he chose to say anything at all.
During the war, Van Velde was unable to paint. He took up his duty again directly after the war: like Beckett, he felt that art was not meant to express the artist's inner life. The only thing that mattered was the quest for an autonomous, perfect result. His first solo exhibition took place in Galerie Mai, Paris. Geer van Velde meanwhile got the Parisian art dealership Maeght to offer the brothers a five-year contract. This was not extended, because sales of their work remained poor. But the Kunsthalle Bern did organise Bram van Velde's first large special exhibition in 1958- he was 62 years old by then- and from that time onwards, sales of his work improved. In his later years, the gallery owner Jacques Putman took him under his wing.
Van Velde's career as a book illustrator really began in 1949 with four lithographs he produced for Enfants du ventre by Marthe Arnaud. In the 1950s he returned Beckett's favours designing lithographs for the covers of his books. Strictly speaking, these aren't illustrations in a literal sense, as they bear no relation to the text. The lithographs were printed in Pierre Badey's studio in Paris.
Need, fear and suffering
In October 1964, the young author Charles Juliet paid his first visit to Van Velde. In 1978 Juliet, who kept and published a diary, published the collected quotes he had teased out of Van Velde over the course of the years - the silences would always last longer than the conversations. An elaborate edition appeared in 1984 from Fata Morgana in Montpellier. That publisher also printed Juliet's poem Sans fin l'affamé in 1976. Van Velde produced four lithographs for this edition. The poem (Without a hungry end) was carefully distributed across the pages, and was set in Garamond in a large point-size. The themes of need, fear and suffering suited Van Velde's ideas very well: within a sombre atmosphere, the reader is made a party to fundamental experiences, such as: 'death / gnawing / already on / all / my / fibres', death which, according to Juliet, 'helps you to die'.
|Description:||Sans fin l'affamé / Charles Juliet ; [lithogr. de] Bram van Velde. - Montpellier : Fata Morgana, 1976. -  p. : ill. ; 35 cm|
|Printer:||Pierre Badey (Paris) (lithographs)
Impr. de Charité (Montpellier) (text)
|This copy:||Number 74 of 120 on Arches|
|Bibliography:||Accoord CR 186 ; Bénézit 14-98 ; Fata Morgana-100 ; In liefde verzameld 50|
|Shelf-mark:||Koopm A 235|
- Bram van Velde 1895-1981. 's-Gravenhage, SDU uitgeverij, 1989
- Fata morgana 1966-1993. Saint-Clément-la-Rivière, Fata Morgana, 1993
- Paul van Capelleveen, Sophie Ham, Jordy Joubij, Voices and visions. The Koopman Collection and the Art of the French Book. The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands; Zwolle, Waanders, 2009
- Charles Juliet, Rencontres avec Bram van Velde. Montpellier, Fata Morgana, 1984
- Erik Slagter, Bram van Velde, een hommage. Leiden, Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, 1994