Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits


WILLEM VAN DEN BERG (The Hague 1886 – Leiden 1970)

Ice Fishing and Sledding in Volendam

signed in the lower right center WILLEM VAN DEN BERG

oil on board

14 x 19 ¾ inches          (35.5 x 50.2 cm.) 


Guildhall Galleries Ltd., Chicago

Private Collection, Chicago until 2012


Willem van den Berg painted still lifes, animals, genre, landscapes and portraits but was best known for his renderings of peasants, farmers and particularly Scheveningen and Volendam fisherfolk.  He first trained with his father Andries van den Berg a renowned painter, print-maker and teacher at the Academy in The Hague. He later enrolled at the Academie voor Beeldende Kunst in The Hague and was a student of Carel Frederick Louis Wild and Willem Adriaan van Konijnenburg. Van den Berg also took study trips to Belgium, worked with the Barbizon artists in France, as well as Italy and England. Afterwards he became an instructor in the Eerste Nederlandse Vrije Studio in The Hague.  In 1926 he exhibited a painting at the Jeu de Paume, Paris. In 1938 he moved to Amsterdam. From 1939 until 1953 he was the director as well as an instructor of the National Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam. In 1959 he received second prize at the International Art Exhibition in Edinburgh. He was a member of the “Arti et Amicitiae” Association in Amsterdam, the Pulchri Studio in The Hague and one of the Gooische artists who painted in Laren. He also worked as a graphic artist executing linocuts and lithographs. His works can be found in the museums of Amsterdam, Budapest, Enkhuizen, The Hague, Laren, Rotterdam and Trieste.{C}[1]

The chief influences on his work were the paintings of Willem Adriaan van Konijnenburg, Johann Joseph Aarts and the old masters, particularly Pieter Brueghel the Elder.[2]  As a result of his work among the Barbizon painters, a connection to Jean François Millet is also evident.[3]  Van den Berg has been characterized as a naïve artist and was included in such shows as Meesters der Europese Naieven at the Centraal Museum, Utrecht in 1970. Such terminology seems somewhat inadequate when describing the particular magic this artist created as he always remained unaffected by contemporary trends, continually seeking his own way perpetually defying definition.[4]

The unmitigated joy portrayed in this winter scene is reflective of the love Van den Berg felt for the people of Volendam. Just eleven miles north of Amsterdam the village remained frozen in time, largely untouched by modern life. The simplicity of the lifestyle within the fishing community led to the belief that Volendammers were generally pious, honest, healthy, happy and modest. Their colorful outfits and tiny wooden homes with doll house interiors crammed with objects were considered immensely charming.[5] Easily accessible after the move to Amsterdam in 1938, Van den Berg often visited the village which had been popular with artists as well as tourists since the 1880s.

Van den Berg’s imagery connects to an earlier period in which the influence of Brueghel is unmistakable. In a landscape with the glimpse of an endless horizon broad simple masses convey people, snow and sea. Vigorously painted the scene is enlivened by the participant’s clothing infused with yellow, magenta and the artist’s favorite color Persian blue.[6] The use of magenta is emblematic of Volendam as it was dubbed “The Magenta Village” by a number of visiting artists around 1900. Aptly named this color was visible throughout Volendam – on the sails of the fishing boats, in the clothing of the villagers, on the brick work and paint of their houses.[7] Wry smiles dominate the weather beaten faces of these revelers testifying to the harsh reality of their existence yet their unabashed pleasure in these wintry pursuits proves infectious



[1] Biographical information taken from Hans Vollmer, Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler des XX. Jahrhunderts, volume A-D, Veb. E. A. Seemann Verlag, Leipzig, 1953, p. 177; Joachim Busse, Internationales Handbuch Aller Maler und Bildhauer des 19. Jahrhunderts, Verlag Busse Kunst Dokumentation GMBH, Weisbaden, 1977, p. 94; and K.G. Saur, Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon Bio-Bibliographischen Index A-Z, München, 1999-2000, p. 318; and Dirck Brinkkemper, Peter Kersloot, & Kees Sier, “Willem Hendrik van den Berg” in Volendam Schildersdorp 1880 – 1940, Waanders Uitgevers, Zwolle, 2006, p. 56.

[2] K.G. Saur, op. cit., p. 318.

[3] Ellwood Hendrick “Netherlanders at the Arts,” in The Art World, A Monthly For the Public Devoted to the Higher Ideals, volume 3, The Kalon Publishing Company, Inc., New York, 1917, p. 234.

[4] Dirk Brinkkemper, op. cit., p. 56.

[5] Brian Dudley Barrett, Volendam Artists Village: The Heritage of Hotel Spaander, uitgeverij d’jonge Hond, Zuiderzeemuseum, 2009, pp. 132, 144, 150, 154.

[6] Iverson Harris, Jr., “Modern Dutch Art” in Ràja-Yoga Messenger, An Illustrated Magazine Devoted to the Higher Education of Youth, volume XII, Point Loma, California, October, 1916, no. 4, p. 165.

[7] Brian Dudley Barrett, op. cit., p. 12.

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