In Bergen, North Holland, a new artistic movement emerged around 1912-1913. Around 1910, the first artists gathered in the village, seeking refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city to embrace nature and tranquility. With its serene avenues, old villas, and pathways in a rural setting, Bergen became a magnet for artists. The Bergen School was never truly a collective but rather a gathering of individual artists who alternately worked in Amsterdam and Bergen, sharing common ideas and, above all, inspiring each other while distancing themselves from Impressionism. They preferred working outdoors, drawing inspiration from the beauty of the diverse landscape of polders and dunes around Bergen.
Throughout Europe, groups of artists had been rebelling against classicism since around 1880. During the war, artistic developments nearly came to a standstill due to a lack of international exhibitions and consequently limited market opportunities. Neutral Netherlands, however, provided space and a platform for new artistic developments.
La Faulconier - Stedelijk Alkmaar
Under the inspiring leadership of the French Cubist painter Henri Le Fauconnier and Piet van Wijngaerdt, a new form of painting emerged that broke away from Impressionism. The artistic theories of the group were largely articulated by Le Fauconnier in the magazine "Het Signaal" (The Signal). Le Fauconnier called for social engagement and pure art: 'From art speaks the essence of life itself.'
The Bergen School was the first expressionist art movement in the Netherlands, similar to the emergence of Fauvism in France and Expressionism with Die Brücke (Dresden, 1905-1913) and Der Blaue Reiter (Munich, 1911-1914) in Germany. For their visual language, they utilized the visible power of color and a free interpretation of simple forms and planes.
Piet van Wijngaerdt - Stedelijk Alkmaar
Dutch Impressionism and the Hague School were considered old-fashioned and sentimental by the Bergen School. They wanted to make 'real' art, created from a deep inner feeling. From 1914 onwards, the artists of the Bergen School worked more or less in a common style. The works of the expressionist school are characterized by cubist influences in dark tones. They painted landscapes, still lifes and travel impressions in angular, powerful shapes, painted with broad brushstrokes in high-contrast colors and with strong light-dark contrasts in a color with many deep, dark colors such as browns, greens and ochres. It was a first expression of Dutch figurative expressionism. Colors did not have to be true to life. In the paintings, green, gray and blue hills could flank a winding path to the sea, while in the distance a white shape was supposed to represent a small boat. The landscape could also turn red or dark brown, while white light surrounded gray-purple clouds. Light played an important role.
The great patron was Piet Boendermaker who also settled in Bergen. In the period 1908-1915, Boendermaker provided painters such as Leo Gestel, Jan Sluijters, Kees Maks, Dirk Filarski, Arnout Colnot and Matthieu Wiegman with a kind of constant income by purchasing many of their works.
The Dutch art world was pulled out of its national isolation after the First World War; artists were less dependent on each other and the mutual bond weakened and eventually the curtain fell for the Bergense School around 1920. “The Bergense School”, as it were, paved the way for the Groningen artist collective De Ploeg.
Author Renée Smithuis has published extensively on modernism in the Netherlands and the Bergen School. The Waanders publication is therefore highly recommended. They also made this animation: