Under-appreciated Dutch Artist Anton Pieck
Painting and illustrating are skills the Dutch are well known for. After all, paintings by Dutch artists hang in museums all over the world! Some of the best-known Dutch painters are Vincent van Gogh, Rembrandt van Rijn, Jan Steen, Johannes Vermeer, Pieter Mondriaan and Karel Appel.
Illustrators like Marjolein Bastin, creator of the character “Vera the Mouse” and Dick Bruna, creator of the “Miffy” character, are also well known worldwide, but there’s one Dutch illustrator who never got the recognition worldwide I think he deserved... his name is Anton Pieck. His work is very popular with the general public, but is often seen by art critics as the epitome of kitsch. I disagree, but judge for yourself..
Who Is Anton Pieck?
Anton Pieck is in the Netherlands best known for his romantic illustrations and as the creative force behind one of Europe’s leading theme parks: the Dutch fairy theme park De Efteling, a kind of Disneyland. However, he was in fact a very versatile artist, judging from his drawings, illustrations, oil paintings and graphic work.
His work resembles contemporary artist Swedish-American Gustav Tenggren, but Pieck’s work is far more detailed and portraits the very typical, charming Dutch way of life. His quaint 19th century scenes have appeared on millions of Christmas cards worldwide. A favorite theme was daily life, although often in an idealized version of the 18th and 19th centuries in which the rags of the poor are more picturesque than pathetic.
“I want to give a bit of romance”, he once said in an interview with The Associated Press, “There is nothing romantic now.” Pieck’s Dutch publishers have estimated that 4 to 6 million of his Christmas cards are being sold annually around the world while sales of his nostalgic calendars amount to hundreds of thousands each year.
Also in the English expenditure of Dickens' boasted work 'A Christmas Carol' became Pieck's drawings taken.
An Extraordinary Artistic Talent
Anton Pieck was born in 1895 in the Dutch city of Den Helder. Both he and his twin brother Henri had a remarkable talent for drawing. Anton won his first prize for art at the age of 11 with a still life in watercolor at a craft exhibition, for which he received five tubes of paint and a fixative atomizer. Both brothers enroll in art college where they study drawing and painting, and learn about perspective, anatomy and art history. They graduate at the age of 17.
While Henri enrolls in a course at the Amsterdam Academy for Fine Arts Anton goes on to teach drawing, a tragic waste of his extraordinary talent. He educates himself further by following evening classes and in 1920 receives a permanent teaching post at Kennemer Secondary School in Overveen, where he is to be employed until his retirement.
In 1937 he made a six-week trip to Morocco and the country made a huge impression on the then forty-two year old Pieck. He visited Marrakech, Fez, Maknes and Tangiers; while being there his working method didn’t change and he worked every day in the inspiring environment. His beloved small, dark gates, crumbling walls, beautiful stalls and shattered people can be seen on the seventy five illustrations he made during his visit with no more than chalk, a piece of cardboard and a sheet of paper.
He used these illustrations for his work on the complete 16 volume series of ‘Stories of the Arabian Nights’. Although the fairy tale sage presents mythical giant birds, spirits bottles, flying carpets and humanoid inhabitants below sea level, the atmosphere of the drawings is based on pure realism.
Anton Pieck and Efteling
It is in the early 1950s that Anton Pieck is approached to contribute to a fairytale park and playground. By that time, he is well-known as an illustrator of famous fairy stories, such as those from the Brothers Grimm and Tales of One Thousand and One Nights.
On May 31, 1952 the Efteling 'officially' opened when the Fairy Tale Forest, designed by Pieck, was declared open. Initially, the Fairy Tale Forest was home to some ten different fairy tales, all of them brought to life using original drawings by Pieck’s hand alongside ingenious movements and lighting and sound effects designed by the Dutch film maker Peter Reijnders. The life-size fairy tales, displayed together in an atmospheric forest, proved to be an enormous success.
From 1952 to 1974, Pieck was responsible for designing almost anything for fairytale park Efteling in Kaatsheuvel, which by than became one of the most important theme parks in Europe. His work for Efteling has been of a huge importance for the future of the park, since almost all later designers used many of his graphic characteristics in their designs (such as materials, colors and shapes).
There’s no doubt, that it’s due to Anton Pieck’s designs that the Efteling became a national phenomenon in Dutch recreational culture. It’s a fact that Walt Disney visited the Efteling for inspiration, before he started his Anaheim, CA adventure, think about that.
Anton Pieck passed away in Overveen, the Netherlands on November 25, 1987 at the age of 92. An unfinished drawing was found pinned to his drawing board. Over the years, he made some 1500 designs from small to large for the Efteling. Many of them can be found in the park while others are carefully preserved.