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Magical Pyke Koch

Magical Pyke Koch

Pieter Frans Christiaan Koch (Berg en Dal 1901-1991 Wassenaar) is one of the most significant representatives of neo- or magical realism. He painted exceptionally detailed depictions that were possible but not probable.

Koch had three older sisters, and at the Christelijk Jongensinternaat in Zeist, he acquired the nickname Pyke. Pyke played the violin and had a broad musical interest from Bach to gypsy music, which he played in the student orchestra Tzigane. During his law studies at the University of Utrecht, he befriended Taeke Botke, who would later become a dentist in Maastricht and the main collector of Koch's work. Through his brother-in-law August Stärcke, he met Charley Toorop. After attending an exhibition of Carel Willink's work with her, he seems to have become fascinated by Willink's art.

In the summer of 1927, Koch decided to start painting when he had nothing to do during that summer. His first work was "Dolores' Breakfast," and he met the model for this painting in a café. Cor Postma was impressed and introduced Koch with this work to De Onafhankelijken. Paul Citroen described him in 1945 as a (self-taught) phenomenon. 'Most painters come from somewhere; Koch seems to have fallen from the sky.'

He received some practical advice on material use, and perhaps technique, from the painter Erich Wichmann, and he attended classes at the Art Historical Institute of Utrecht University. For example, he took classes from J. Lijnst-Zwikker on the chemical side of painting, using the book "Malmaterial und seine Verwendung im Bilde" (Stuttgart, 1925) by Max Doermer. Koch was impressed by various Renaissance painters such as Piero della Francesca, Masaccio, and Mantegna. He also found modern painters like Giorgio de Chirico and Magritte particularly interesting. At the Art Historical Institute, he met Hedwig (Heddy) de Geer, daughter of statesman Dirk-Jan de Geer. They married in 1934 and briefly moved to The Hague, returning within a year to Oudegracht in Utrecht, where he worked and lived his painter's life. The house became a gathering place for other artists like Martinus Nijhoff, Adriaan Roland Holst and Charley Toorop. The attic studio of the house was redesigned by Gerrit Rietveld.

Throughout the 1920s, Koch exhibited regularly, sometimes with painters like Carel Willink. In 1931, Boijmans purchased the painting "De Schiettent," and with this, Koch entered the pantheon of Dutch masters. In the 1930s, his work was highly popular and was classified as magical realism, a term that Koch, unlike Willink, felt suited his work well. During the same period, Koch painted one masterpiece after another. "Het Park" and three paintings of chimney sweeps posing as mannequins attracted much attention at exhibitions and were sold for high prices.

Throughout his life, he painted slowly and thoughtfully, producing less than three paintings per year - there are around 120 known paintings, often with 'doubles,' variations on a composition. His inspiration came primarily from street life in the Utrecht city center, the films he saw there - a vivid green portrait of the film star Asta Nielsen - and German artists of the 1920s, such as the satirical character sketches of Georg Grosz.

Koch sympathized with many of the right-wing ideas of his friends, such as Ernst Voorhoeve. He was a member of the extreme-right Verdinaso since 1934. In the period 1937-39, he and Heddy regularly traveled to Italy. They even had a bed & breakfast in Fiesole for some time. He was inspired both artistically and politically. Only after a visit to Berlin in 1941 did he reject these right-wing ideas, although he still designed stamps with Germanic symbols on behalf of the NSB.

In addition to painting, he engaged in designing sets and other graphic design. Upon returning from Italy, he created "Portret van een Stervende Jongen," a painting based on Mantegna's "Pieta," and a series of portraits of Johanna Charlotte barones van Boetzelaer (1910-1994). The nearly translucent portraits strongly resemble the style of Piero della Francesca.

During the war, he continued to paint, focusing mainly on still lifes - a safe genre that no one found offensive. In 1943, he designed a series of seven stamps with Germanic symbols. He sold reasonably well, although he eventually had to exchange paintings for food. After the war, he faced a ban on exhibitions for several years, mainly because he refused to defend himself against accusations of collaboration.

Post-war, his work became less popular as more conceptual and less artisanal art became fashionable. In 1955, the Stedelijk Museum dedicated a retrospective exhibition to him. In 2017/18, the Centraal Museum hosted a retrospective exhibition of his work.

Koch's work, especially in the beginning, stood out due to the unusual subjects he chose for his paintings. Very often, they were slums, prostitutes, unattractive women, carnivals, and once even a urinal. He often created multiple versions of a painting in different sizes. Koch was an enormous perfectionist. Therefore, he worked slowly and destroyed many works out of dissatisfaction. Hence, he left behind a relatively small body of work, which is nevertheless included in virtually all major museum collections in the Netherlands, such as More, Boymans, and the Centraal museum. Koch stopped painting in 1980, and for the last eleven years of his life, he lived a reclusive existence, first at Huis Oudegein and later in Wassenaar.

Liggende schoorsteenveger-1936
Liggende schoorsteenveger-1936
Postzegel 1943
Postzegel 1943
Florentijnse tuin-Dordtcentraal
Florentijnse tuin-Dordtcentraal
Hedy van Geer-1940-Centraal Museum
Hedy van Geer-1940
Last Summer-1972-Centraal Museum
 
Last Summer-1972
 
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