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From Butter Merchant to Parisian Painter: The Naïve Cityscapes of Berend Groeneveld

This past summer, I was once again a guest at the home of an Amsterdam collector. This gentleman boasts an impressive collection of paintings and drawings; from Amsterdam impressionists, Flemish old masters to international avant-garde. There is a wondrous dynamic between us, as he invites me every month to showcase a part of his collection, giving me the choice to either purchase works directly or take them on consignment. Each time, he presents me with a different folder, box, or painting on the wall that he suspects might pique my interest. A ritual that has now persisted for about two years. This time, he unveiled a painting that didn't immediately strike me, until I examined the work up close. In the oil painting of a naively painted street in Paris, one of the shop signs revealed the name of an old acquaintance: French artist and theoretician André Lhote.

Berend Groeneveld, Rue d'Odessa (Atelier André Lhote), oil on canvas, 45 x 37,5 cm. For sale.

'The Dutch Painter' and Piet Mondrian in Paris

This playful street scene was crafted by Dutch artist Berend Groeneveld (1866-1941). His career began in the Groningen town of Bedum as a trader in butter and cheese, but once he passed the age of forty, he changed course entirely, dedicating himself fully to the art of painting. He moved to Amsterdam where he received painting lessons from both Martin Monnickendam and his mentor Simon Maris, becoming a valued member of Arti et Amicitiae. From 1929 until his death, Groeneveld spent every summer, from early June to mid-September, in the cultural capital of Europe: Paris. There, he immersed himself in the bohemian lifestyle, earning the nickname 'le peintre Hollandais'.

Thanks to Simon Maris, Groeneveld became acquainted with Piet Mondrian, from whom he received painting lessons in the 1930s. This led to a friendship, with Groeneveld attending lessons every other week, culminating in culinary delights at one of their favorite restaurants. The former butter and cheese merchant immersed himself in the cultural scene, encountering remarkable figures such as Ernest Hemingway and the painter Salvador Mundi. Groeneveld's artistic focus primarily lay in painting Parisian cityscapes, capturing strolling ladies and characteristic streets in a naive style, playing with perspective and color.

Rue d'Odessa: The Sign of Académie André Lhote

The painting in question serves as a prime example of this, likely crafted after 1929 and before the outbreak of World War II. The work offers a glimpse of Rue d'Odessa in Montparnasse. Around 1900, Montparnasse became the international hub for avant-garde artists, succeeding the Montmartre district. An outstanding artist on this street was the famous cubist and theoretician André Lhote (1885-1962). In 1925, he founded his own art school, the Académie André Lhote at number 18. Throughout his career, he would teach and inspire hundreds of artists from around the world. Lhote wrote theoretical treatises on painting, such as "Traité du Paysage" in 1939, organized lectures abroad, thus attracting a large group of international artists of Turkish, Swedish, Egyptian, and even Japanese origin to attend his classes. He was particularly popular among women, as they were often excluded from regular institutions such as the national art academy, the École des beaux-arts. Dutch students of André Lhote include Charlotte van Pallandt, Sárika Góth, Sierk Schröder, Julie van der Veen, and Anne Marie Blaupot ten Cate. Groeneveld likely painted Lhote's sign by chance. It is not known whether the two artists personally knew each other.

The Amsterdam collector had, of course, not hung this work without reason. He knew of my special connection to André Lhote, stemming from the discovery of an oil painting by Lhote in the summer of 2020 and my academic research on André Lhote and his relationship with the Netherlands. The Amsterdammer's preconceived plan had succeeded. He was one painting lighter, and I, a package of bubble wrap richer. The next appointment is scheduled, and it remains a delight to see what I will bring home this time.


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