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Bram van Velde
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Zoeterwoude, Holland
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
Grimaud, France
A Dutch painter, printmaker and illustrator, Bram van Velde achieved success during the decades after the Second World War as an Abstract Expressionist artist. Abraham Gerardus van Velde was born in 1895 in Zoeterwoude, a small town near Leiden in the Netherlands, to a family of modest means. At twelve years of age he was apprenticed to a firm of house painters and interior decorators in The Hague, and developed an interest in fine art. Largely self-taught, Velde probably copied art in the Mauritshuis museum there. Supported by his employers, he was sent in 1922 to the German Expressionist artists’ colony in Worpswede, in northern Germany near Bremen. He probably learned lithography at Worpswede; his earliest print is a lithograph from 1923. Velde moved to Paris in 1924 or 1925, studied the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, and painted in Fauvist colors. He married the German painter Lilly Klöker (1896-1936), whom he had known at Worpswede, in 1928. Although he still enjoyed the financial support of his former employers, he moved to Corsica for a year in 1930 to save money. The effects of the Great Depression ended his patron’s financial support, and Velde and his wife moved to Mallorca in 1932. The death of Lilly van Velde-Klöker and the effects of the Spanish Civil war led Velde to return to Paris in 1936. His younger brother Geer van Velde (1898-1977), also a painter, had worked in Paris since 1925 and introduced Velde to the writer Samuel Beckett (1906-1989), who later became one of Velde’s strongest supporters. He also met the writer Marthe Arnaud (d. 1959), whom he married. Velde’s style of painting became more abstract, as was a 1939 lithograph. Arrested in 1938 because his residency papers were not in order, he was imprisoned for 4 weeks. He remained in Paris during World War II, but stopped painting, resuming his work in 1945 when he had a solo exhibition at the Galerie Mai in Paris. The Galerie Maeght, also in Paris, agreed to represent him for five years, but the exhibition of Velde’s work there in 1948 was not successful despite a catalog written by Velde’s friend Beckett, and an exhibition at the Kootz Gallery in New York City later that year was a similar failure. By the end of the decade Velde’s work had become almost completely abstract, and he actively pursued lithography, including book illustrations, while painting and creating works in gouache. He had met the art critic and editor Jacques Putman (1926-1994), who would become an important supporter. A 1952 show at Galerie Maeght was no more successful, and the gallery terminated the contract while keeping the stock of Velde’s works. Putman then became his leading advocate. Velde’s works began appearing in solo shows in museums, including Kunsthalle, Berne in 1958 and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, in 1959, the year Marthe died in an automobile accident and he began spending much of his time in Geneva. His works attracted the attention of form CoBrA artists Asger Jorn (1914-1973) and Pierre Alechinsky (b. 1927), which no doubt led to the appearance of a color lithograph by Velde in Walasse Ting’s (1929-2010) 1964 book 1¢ Life, in which 62 color lithographs illustrated Ting’s racy poems. The book contained works by Abstract Expressionist, CoBrA and Pop artists. Velde became widely exhibited, with more than thirty solo exhibitions in museums and galleries during the 1960s and 1970s, including a 1965 show at the San Francisco Museum of Art (now SF Museum of Modern Art). He moved permanently to Geneva in the mid-1960s, but returned to Paris in 1977, and then moved to Grimaud, on the French Riviera near Saint-Tropez, in 1980. He was actively making lithographs after his move to Grimaud, and had completed over 400 prints when he died there in 1981. (TNB 5/2015)