The Gemeentemuseum Den Haag regularly uses the Triton Room as a place to hold exhibitions based mainly on cooperation with private collectors. This summer, the focus is on the work of Frisian painter Gerrit Benner. The exhibition is directly motivated by the donation of a number of major works from a private collection. The museum is now putting these splendid new acquisitions on display to the public for the first time. Benner gained international recognition in the 1950s with work on natural themes executed in an Expressionist manner. A number of retrospectives were held around Europe and in 1953 he represented the Netherlands at the São Paulo Art Biennial.
The last time that Gerrit Benner’s work hung on any scale in the Gemeentemuseum was in 1956, when a one-man exhibition was held. That exhibition, organised during the directorship of L.J.F. Wijsenbeek, occurred shortly after Benner’s international breakthrough, when there was great public interest in the artist.
Initially, Benner battled with his work; up to the war, he burned virtually everything. In the early years, he worked mainly in Friesland, cut off from external influences. It was there that, without any formal training, he developed an entirely individual style of painting that can perhaps best be described as rough and expressive, showing every sign of an unbounded love of nature. After the war, he came into contact with Appel and Constant and found his own sensibility reflected in their work. Consequently, his art coincided with the Zeitgeist of the 1950s.
Benner’s oeuvre features a succession of landscapes, flowers and birds, but also includes fabulous paintings of horses and equestrians. He worked in a figurative style but gradually simplified his depictions, going furthest towards full abstraction in his landscapes. He found the inspiration for his paintings close to home, in Friesland. Talking about this, Benner once said, ‘You mustn’t think about the result. You have to put away all thought of art and just be yourself: take a quiet walk around inside yourself, in your own private territory.’
Private art collecting is the engine behind the Gemeentemuseum. Over the years, the museum has not only acquired many works of great art historical interest via private donations and bequests, but has been regularly gratified to receive major items on loan from private collections. Last year, for example, the Gemeentemuseum acquired two major Morandi paintings by way of a donation. The Benner paintings recently donated to the museum are also a splendid addition to the collection.
The exhibition is sponsored by Spaarnestad Photo.