Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits


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

Moses and the Israelites at the Foot of Mount Sinai

signed and dated in the lower left center WILLEM VAN DEN BERG – 1970 –

oil on canvas

39 ⅜ x 33 ½ inches          (100 x 85 cm.)


Guildhall Galleries Ltd., Chicago (labeled Moses/Exodus 19/Chapter 17)

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, 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.[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]

Done in the last year of his life Van den Berg labeled this work Moses/Exodus 19/Chapter 17 for its exhibition in Chicago. The Biblical reference is:

      Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God. They took their

stand at the foot of the mountain.

The painting is the culmination of years spent exploring this theme. Moses and the Israelites appear in the guise of Van den Berg’s beloved Volendammers, who having fled Egypt now search for the Promised Land. Awash in clouds and boulders they await God at the base of Mount Sinai. By changing the identity of the Israelites their destination is also altered. To Van den Berg Volendam was the Promised Land. A small fishing village eleven miles north of Amsterdam, Volendam had been delighting artists and tourists since the 1880s. A close-knit community it remained basically rooted to the seventeenth century in lifestyle and dress. Easily accessible after the move to Amsterdam in 1938, Van den Berg visited often and it impacted his work immeasurably.[5] Whereas the majority of artists recorded the picturesque nature of Volendam, Van den Berg captured its essence. Within its confines the artist found an encapsulated Brueghelian world. Its inhabitants became his heroes, their weather beaten faces testifying to the harsh reality of their existence. In his last year Van den Berg’s evocative power came to full fruition. By painting the scene in broad simple masses to convey figures and landscape, defined in a limited palette of brown, grey and white, Moses’ intensity is brought into stark relief. Massive in his strength and determination, Moses is driven forward by his unwavering faith. One senses that Moses’ resolve matched Van den Berg’s own determination and it is probably for this reason that he returned to the subject for at least twenty years.



[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] Ibid, p. 56.

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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