Johannes Warnardus Bilders (Utrecht 1811-1890) lived and worked from 1841 to 1857 mainly in Oosterbeek, Gelderland, where many other painters came, not entirely coincidentally. Bilders was more or less the discovery of the natural beauty and painting genius of Oosterbeek. Bilders enjoyed the variety that the Gelderland landscape offered him. He liked to paint under the mighty old oaks, on the heath near Wolfheze, at Doorwerth Castle, near Renkum and at Beek near Nijmegen. He married the German Frederika Staudenmeijer in 1934; Together they made many study trips to the river landscape of the Rhine and Ahr and the Black Forest.
Bilders never had painting lessons, but he did take drawing lessons. He was inspired by romantic artists such as B.C. Koekkoek. Oosterbeek has a varied landscape with views, old oak and beech forests and heathlands and is therefore very attractive to painters and certainly to Bilders.
The hospitable Bilders became the center of a group of young painters who followed his example and came to work in the countryside around the picturesque village. Johannes organized an annual party at the Wodanseiken. This is how the Oosterbeekse School was founded. Bilders had a flamboyant personality. When he told a story everyone hung on his every word and he inspired many; also to increasingly let go of the romantic and to portray nature realistically. Constant Gabriel, Anton Mauve and the Jacob brothers, Matthijs and Willem Maris, among others, were later part of the Hague School.
Bilders and his wife had three children, including son Gerard, who, like his father, became a painter and would also develop into an important precursor of the Hague School. In 1858 Bilders moved to Amsterdam and became a member of Arti et Amicitiae. Every summer he returned to Oosterbeek. Of the late Romantic painters, it was Bilders who took the first step towards this freer way of painting with a lighter brushwork with an impressionistic touch. He made smooth studies of twigs, stones, trees and plants in charcoal. As a result, romantic elements gradually disappeared from his works and made way for a more realistic approach to nature. The mood became increasingly important in shades of green and gray.
In 1860 he and his son Gerard were introduced to the Barbizon School in Brussels. Bilders adopted the 'plein air' way of working from his French colleagues, just like Willem Roelofs. With his son, he also regularly participated in exhibitions as a landscape painter in both Europe and the US. After the death of his wife, he spent a lot of time in Vorden, where he met, taught and married the much younger Maria van Bosse. After their marriage in 1880, they lived in Oosterbeek where he worked until 1883. That party was over due to an illness. He died in 1890.