22.11.1881 (Woerden, The Netherlands) - 26.11.1941 (Hilversum, The Netherlands)
Leo Gestel is considered one of the true modernists in early twentieth-century Dutch art. Together with Jan Sluijters and Piet Mondriaan, he was at the forefront of the so-called Amsterdam Luminism of around 1910, inspired by the new approaches to art that sprung up in Paris. Several trips to the capital of modern art with his contemporary Jan Sluijters gave him first-hand experience of neo-impressionism and the expressionism of the Fauves. The talented draughtsman that he was - his actual name being Leendert, his friends called him Leonardo, referring to the Italian master, a name he adopted from then on by signing Leo Gestel – he incorporated different influences with great ease into his continually evolving style. Through the international exhibition in 1911 of the “Moderne Kunstkring,” of which Gestel had become a member, he came in contact with the work of cubists like Picasso, Braque, and Le Fauconnier. Le Fauconnier, who stayed and worked regularly in Holland, became an especially important inspiration for Leo Gestel, whose work now became infused with the language of cubism.
One of the most important events in Gestel’s career was his introduction to Piet Boendermaker, who devoted his life to collecting art. A lifelong friendship developed; Boendermaker becoming Gestel’s main patron, while Gestel advised him on purchases for his growing collection. In 1913 Boendermaker and his wife traveled with Gestel to Mallorca, where his cubist period reached its peak. In the following years Gestel moved towards a more expressionist art, feeling he could not develop further in cubism without becoming completely abstract. He spent more and more time in Bergen, being associated with the “Bergense School” from about 1915 onwards. The movement was in fact more a group of friends who tried in their own way to respond to new developments abroad, bound to a degree by expressionist compositions, dark palettes, and heavy and deliberate brushwork. Gestel was socially and artistically considered the group’s leading figure, although he still sought new ways to express himself. In 1921 he and his wife An decided to settle in Bergen permanently.
Working outdoors had always been critical for Gestel and one of the reasons for his travels south during winter. In 1923 Gestel and his wife left for Germany on the invitation of his friend the painter Adriaan Lubbers, who lived in the Erts-mountains. They worked in the open as much as they could, working out the sketches in the studio during the evenings. From Germany they traveled to Italy, visiting all the major sites before coming to Positano. From here Gestel left for Sicily, where he stayed in Taormina during approximately the first six months of 1924 with the painter Van Blaaderen, their wives and Zus Boendermaker, daughter of the collector. The smooth brushstroke he developed and his almost monochrome palette, inspired by the barren landscape of the Etna, made him accentuate the outline of different shapes by letting the unpainted canvas show through, thus creating a rhythmical arrangement of the geometrical shapes of the houses of Taormina. Some critics claim the motive of geometric shapes to be a return to cubism, but nowhere is there a division of shapes; merely the realistic portrayal of his observations brought about these results. Gestel died in Woerden on 26 November, 1941.
D.A. Klomp, In en om de Bergense School, Amsterdam, 1943, p. 27-56; H.L.C. Jaffé, cat.tent.Gezicht op de Bergensche School 1910-1935, Bergen (Noordhollands Kunstcentrum Bergen), 1967/1968, p. 18; W.H. Vroom, 'Leo Gestel, Piet van der Hem en de O.E.R.I.N.O.E.P.',Maandblad Amstelodamum 55 (1968), p. 199-202; B. Bakker e.a, De verzameling Van Eeghen, Amsterdamsche tekeningen 1600-1950, Zwolle /Amsterdam 1988, p. 456; A. Ligthart, cat.tent.Bergense School 1915-1925, Kortenhoef (Stichting Kunst aan de Dijk), 1995, p. 31; P. Spijk, cat.tent. De Bergense School en Piet Boendermaker - kunstverzamelaar in Amsterdam en Bergen, Bergen (Museum Kranenburg)/ Zwolle (Waanders), 1997; C. Denninger-Schreuder,Schilders van Laren, Bussum 2003, p. 62; M. Jonkman, E. Geudeker, Mythen van het atelier. Werkplaats en schilderpraktijk van de negentiende-eeuwse Nederlandse kunstenaar, Zwolle 2010, p. 118.
Gezicht op de Bergensche School 1910-1935, Bergen (Noordhollands Kunstcentrum Bergen), 1967/1968;
Bergense School 1915-1925, Kortenhoef (Stichting Kunst aan de Dijk), 1995;
De Bergense School en Piet Boendermaker - kunstverzamelaar in Amsterdam en Bergen, Bergen (Museum Kranenburg)/ Zwolle, 1997;
Works by Leo Gestel are represented in the collections of diverse major Dutch museums, among others the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Rijksmuseum Twenthe in Enschede, the Frans Hals Museum Haarlem and Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.
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