Rien Poortvliet

Armand Cabrera

I have been planning to do a post on Poortvliet for some time when I found this video in English on YouTube put up by Erik Fernström  its about 20 minutes

He is most famous for his book of Gnomes but had many other books including Journey to the Ice Age, Noah’s Ark, The Living Forest and He Was One of Us. He was the first artist I ever came across that produced books that seemed to be based on sketches loosely built around a theme. They were very organic, and looked to be created the way one would create a personal sketchbook.

While there have been many artists who have produced books of sketches or drawing going back to the beginning of representational art, those books always seemed planned and very formal to me. His books are a marvel, filled with hundreds of drawings and watercolor or oil vignettes stuck all over the pages. Each book also has full page finished paintings every few pages to anchor the rest of the work.  Usually the accompanying text is in script.

I don’t have any biographical information from any of his English language books that I own but Wikipedia has some information here

If you are not familiar with his work I suggest picking up one of his books, The Farm Book, My Grandfather’s House or Dutch Treat are a good place to start. All of his books show a joy of drawing and painting.


The Living Forest

He Was One of Us

The Farm Book

 Co-authored with Wil Huygen


Dutch Treat

Secrets of the Gnomes

Noah’s Ark

In My Grandfather’s House

The Book of the Sandman

Daily Life in Holland in the Year 1566


Journey to the Ice Age

10 thoughts on “Rien Poortvliet

  1. Thanks for mentioning Poortvliet.
    The man was a genius with ink, paint and pencil. He could draw and paint any animal in any pose or action by exercising his well honed skills, imagination and observation.
    Sure he was a romantic in much of his approach and often discounted because of that by those who didn't comprehend the breadth of his abilities.
    Noah's Ark is the favourite in my collection of Poortvliet books.
    This inspiring book ( large too ) is jam packed with gorgeous drawings and paintings of just about every creature you can think of.
    He left behind an amazing volume of beautiful work. I really don't know how he accomplished so much before a quite early death.

  2. Thanks for this post, Armand. It's so exciting to see Rien on video just a short time before his untimely death. He speaks such good English, and he is just as funny, smart, and expressive as one might imagine him. He mentioned admiring the wildlife art of Harald Wiberg, who illustrated a lot of books by the beloved Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. I didn't understand his reason for preferring watercolor in one season and oil in the other. Did you?

  3. Jim,

    That comment was a little weird but I think he meant he thought it was easier to switch from outdoors to indoors with watercolor than oils. He also mentions Bruno Liljefors who I think was an influence on Poortvliet's style.

  4. At 14:00 when he works on his painting, I am assuming he is painting in oil wash over a brown ink drawing. Is that what you thought? His comments at the end are interesting: "They have no taste, American people." He talks about the importance of deep tradition or roots (something Americans lack, I suppose), and how it is connected with a feeling of mystery and taste. I never heard of anyone making that connection.

  5. I think they were looking at a copy or copies of Wildlife Art News and making snide comments about some of the paintings they were seeing. They make specific comments about things that don't relate to what we are seeing in the video while they are talking.

  6. Poortvliet and his books (he was often on TV and published over a dozen books and many more calenders) were so hugely popular in the around the 1970-80' you can find them now in any car boot or charity shop in the Netherlands by the hords. You can pick them up for next to nothing and can build a nice collection giving hours of pleasure. His look at nature, God, hunting (he was a keen hunter), horses Dutch society, history and ofcourse Gnomes was unique. His books will stay with you for ever. Hard to believe he started as an advertising artist learning how to draw from Walter T. Foster's books in the 1950'-60's.
    Gerrie (aka the Linosaurus Blog, )

  7. James, I understood Poorvliet to be talking about the dramatic seasonal shifts in daylight hours in northern Europe. He apparently prefers painting under natural lighting conditions, and in the winter that window can be quite short, depending on how far north one is. With his watercolours drying much more quickly than oils, he could consequently take a work much further in the reduced daylight hours.

    I've run into this same issue here in Stockholm. I have a decent daylight lamp in our studio, but I definitely prefer to paint in natural light. November can be quite dark here, due as much to the typical regional weather in that month as to the time of year – and by December, it's getting dark about 3 in the afternoon.

    Of course, the tradeoff for this is the glorious summer light, when the dreamy sunsets linger for hours and eventually just melt into long sunrises. Around midsommar, it's never truly dark.

    If you like painting en plein air, then at that time of year you literally have all day to do it!

  8. I love his books and drawings and wish I knew more about him. I know there was a museum in Holland–thanks for this info.


  9. I consider Poortvliet to be the greatest nature artist to ever have lived. Not only was he amazingly prolific, he could work in seemingly any traditional media too.
    I visited his museum south of Rotterdam in October 2012 and was blown away by his original work. It's a worthy trek.
    I have over 100 of his books, as well as most of his calendars and various other objects. I love that man!

  10. Great post! I am very late in commenting here)
    I wish there was more footage of him working. A book on his life, works and techniques would be a wonderful thing.

    I had to look it up, and the image he is working on is on page 64 of "Journey to the Ice Age."
    I found myself getting frustrated with the cameraman for not getting more close ups on his brush touching the surface of the work.

    I adore his work and am very interested in his techniques. So James, you think he was using an oil wash over water-soluble ink? He is certainly using it like a watercolorist, very thinned and building up washes light to dark. And scrubbing the hell out of his brush! He must have gone through them quickly.

    So if it was non-waterproof ink, watercolors or oils would have dissolved it after some working and that is why he refers to going back over with ink when he lost some marks he wanted.
    I also have thought that he sometimes went over watercolors with pencils.

    (Not to mention the gorgeous charcoal drawings he made!)

    Did he work from reference photos, from life (the zoo, perhaps), or did he just have enough knowledge and observational experience under his belt that he really knew the construction of the animals he depicted (especially mammals)?

    And I agree that Noah's Ark contains his best work.
    May he rest in peace.


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