(the text of these pages is taken from the catalog of the exhibition which took place at Drents Museum Assen, from September 17 to November 13, 1988. Text: Mieke van der Wal. Final editing: Jan Jaap Heij. Layout: Albert Rademaker. Drents Museum Assen ©)
Evert Musch was born March 16, 1918 in Groningen, north of the Netherlands, son of Jan Musch and Grietje Kiers. His father worked for the postal service, while his mother ran a grocery shop on the "Grachtstraat."
View of the "Grachtstraat" in Groningen, near the birthplace of Evert Musch (Photo: © Guido Musch ) Location
Evert had a sister, Jantje (called "Jennie"), three years his senior.
Evert Musch, at the age of three with his parents and his sister. Link
In his ninth year, the family moved to Bussum, near Amsterdam, because of his mother’s health. But soon they were overwhelmed with nostalgic feelings about their native land and, after a year and a half, the family returned to their hometown Groningen where they settled permanently in the Brugstraat.
Buildings of the University of Groningen, seen from Evert Musch’s parents house in Brugstraat (1948). Pencil Drawing, 23 x 18 cm. Location
Musch remembered that from an early age, he spent his time drawing. In an interview in “Kijk op het Noorden” in 1985, he said this: "I must have been 3 years old when I could not prevent myself from seizing any piece of paper. For example, I took the wrapping paper in my mother’s shop, I spread it on the floor and made drawings on it. I always said I wanted to be a draftsman”.When he was eleven his mother showed some of his drawings to the reformed church deacon, who was also an art teacher on the local high school. He immediately recognized the boy’s talent and advised the parents to send him to the Academy of Fine Arts.
But first he had to go to the high school. In a 1987 interview he recalls ; "It was something extraordinary at the time, going to the high school, because my father worked for the postal service and normally I should not go beyond the primary school. I worked well. I had a sense of discipline. I could not afford to be easy-going because my parents paid for everything themselves. I made drawings for an advertising agency to earn some money. After high school I started studying to become an art teacher." In his high school period, Musch was remarkable also for other talents, including athletics. He was an active member of a sports club. "At the age of 16 I was selected for the championships where I won lots of medals. Moreover, it was only from l8 years onwards you had the right to participate in championships, but my sports club registered me as if I were older than 18.”
Drawing still remained at the forefront and after obtaining his high school diploma Musch enrolled in 1936 at the Academy of Fine Arts in Groningen. In addition to artistic training Musch was preparing for a graduation to be art teacher. The practical subjects were taught by professors of the Academy. For theory, history of art and psychology, Musch had to cope for himself, these subjects not being taught at the Academy of Groningen at the time. In 1938 and in 1939 he successfully passed exams for the diploma of art teacher.
Evert Musch posing in front of his easel, circa 1939. Link
In 1939 he was in military service. He remained under arms for three months (in anti-aircraft artillery in Egmond-aan-Zee), but after that he was granted a year's reprieve for the preparation for à teachers degree in secondary education, a diploma he obtained during summer. (Later, in the 60s and 70s, Musch would become an examiner himself.) The reprieve also saved him from the battlefields of May 1940, when the German war machine crushed the Netherlands (in spite of their neutrality) in such an unexpected manner that it was impossible for Musch to join his army unit.
At the time when Musch was studying at the Academy, the cultural climate in Groningen was mostly dominated by the famous group of artists called "De Ploeg" (the plow), whose most illustrious members, such as Jan Wiegers, Johan Dijkstra and Jan Altink, worked in a style similar to that of some German Expressionists like Kirchner, Nolde and Kokoschka. Musch expected the education to be inspired by the style of "De Ploeg" on entering the Academy of Groningen.
It was not at all the case. The two professors who taught drawing, AW Kort (1881-1972) CP and C.P. de Wit (1882-1975), resented expressionism. These teachers, who both were already attached to the Academy since 1908, insisted on teaching particular skills and traditional techniques. Kort taught drawing, lithography, etching and glass painting. His own work is characterized by vague contours and a dreamy atmosphere that evoke the work of Matthijs Maris. De Wit taught drawing, anatomy and didactic teaching. His work tends to a colorful impressionism. Painting was not part of the course schedule, but students who were preparing for examinations for the professoriate could receive additional courses by Kort and De Wit. Apart from these two teachers there was the sculptor W. Valk (1898-1977) who taught wood-carving and sculpting wax and clay. Matters like perspective and mathematics were taught by teachers from the Naval School and the School of Engineering in which the Academy was incorporated. The number of students was not very high during the thirties. There were no more than 15 students inscribed in the Academy. This allowed the teaching to be very individual. Some students who were studying at the same time as Musch were Johan Bolling, Ruurd Elzer, Abe Kuipers, Anno Smith, Wladimir de Vries and To Jager, who became his wife in 1943.
After finishing his studies, Musch did not immediately focus on education, but he rather tried to make a living as an artist. In 1939 the publisher Boom in Meppel charged him with the illustration of a novel by L. Jonker, and in 1942 the publisher Bosch & Keuning ordered the illustration of a novel by P. Keuning.
Greeting card for Ir A.H. Schelling, 1941. Lithograph, 10.5 x 6 cm, private collection. Link
In those years he also made bookplates and New Year’s greeting cards, for instance for the engineer A.H. Schelling.
His first exhibition was held in January 1940 in Groningen, where he exhibited with other artists. In a newspaper of the time we read: "From Evert Musch we notice a beautiful etching with a pitcher, and a sophisticated litho of a dead duck. His "Ambulatory of Martini church" was certainly made with love and patience, but, as a painting, it is less plastic.
The somewhat polished still life (being the size of a postcard) makes us forget that we are dealing with the work of a young artist. Or can we no longer associate "youth" with boldness and spontaneity ". The same still life on the other hand is described in another newspaper as "the masterpiece" of this exhibition and the work of Musch is praised for his "great sensitivity and purity."
At that time Musch attended Riekele Prins (1905 - 1954), who lived in a boat north of Groningen. Musch was proud the famous etcher considered him a friend. They often went drawing the landscape around Groningen and the mudflats at the seaside. Thanks to Prins Musch got to know Nico Bulder (1898-1964), the renowned wood engraver. They remained friends until the death of Bulder. With Bulder and Prins, Musch was part of a group of artists who, from 1941 exhibited under the name "De Jongeren" (the youth) in a showroom near Groningen. The other members of this group were the painter Klaas Bouma (who also managed the exhibition hall), Johan Bolling, illustrator and advertising artist Herman Dijkstra, the potter Anno Smith and textiles-decorator R.de Vries. What united these artists, was mostly their technical ability and the evocation of atmosphere.
Musch exhibited mainly etchings and lithographs. A newspaper of 1941 said this: "Regular visitors of these exhibitions will remember the work of Evert Musch, his etching of a church interior, his fine lithograph of a dead duck. We also notice three small lithographs: a new year’s greeting card and two bookplates, which are of a fine imagination and a sophisticated composition.”
Still life with mallard, 1939. Lithograph, 30 x 52 cm, private collection. Link
The exhibition hall would not last very long. When, in 1942, the "Kultuurkamer" (censorship of art by the Nazis) was introduced Bouma closed the exhibition hall.
Later the Germans made a raid into the building where Bouma printed fake identity papers. He was arrested and was executed in 1944 in the deportation camp Westerbork.
Despite shortages Musch gained a relatively good living at the beginning of the occupation. He sold his paintings especially through the art dealer Koos Niezen, for whom he also restored antique paintings. This allowed him to simultaneously study the traditional painting techniques.
Seashells, 1943. Polychrome lithography, 5.5 x 11 cm, private collection. Link
The Nazi occupation during World War II resulted in Musch no longer being able to move freely and, above all, he could not travel as he would have liked. In a 1961 interview he said this:
"If there had been no Hitler I would have traveled in France, Spain and Italy.
I would have loved to see the world and I would have wanted to work everywhere." Working outdoors, the ideal of Musch, was also hardly possible.
After marrying To Jager, in 1943, Musch continued to live with his parents.
A year later, his daughter Elizabeth was born. The last years of the occupation, Musch didn’t go much outdoors, because he had refused to sign a paper of allegiance to the Nazi regime. He then risked deportation to Germany. During these years of confinement he worked mostly on lithographies, including eight color prints which, after the war, were edited and sold as a collection under the title "Monumenten der Zee" (Monuments of the Sea).
Cassis cornuta (VII leaf collection Monumenten der Zee), 1943. polychrome lithography, 32 x 25.5 cm, coll. particular.
After the war Musch would leave the city (where he had so many bad memories) to live in the country. Despite his adoration for the scenery of vast plains in the north of Groningen, he chose Drenthe, south of Groningen, as his home place.
Chickens in a farmyard, 1945. Oil on canvas, 65 x 45 cm, Drents Museum Assen. Location
He was especially attracted by the more "intimate" landscape of Drenthe with its groves and hedgerows. Apart from the mystery in this landscape, Musch was struck by something inexplicable and indescribable. Immediately after the liberation, Musch and his family settled in Midlaren. At first they lived in a caravan and then they settled into part of a rental cottage which they shared with an old peasant woman. During winter they rented a small house near the lake of Midlaren.
In that country Musch returned to his favorite subject, the landscape painted outdoors. The first painting he made after the liberation was that of a pole at the edge of a cornfield.
He never wanted to sell this painting, because for him it symbolizes the beginning of a new period. The art critic Johan Bolling described it in this words:
While making "The landscape with the pole ", Musch was probably inspired and touched by the beauty of the subject, because the artist is not tweaking. This painting is a deed in itself."
What this new environment meant to Musch, the novelist and painter Hans Heyting described it in this words:"The vast landscape and yet so intimate groves of Drenthe, with its streams and its tortuous scattered clumps of trees, with its old farm houses that seem to loom from the ground in diffuse light, all this was a revelation to the eyes of the painter Musch. He painted like a man possessed, but with much joy, digesting his new impressions, freeing himself from the darkness of the studio, trying to capture the atmosphere, the quest for light, for the sweet light of Drenthe.”
Musch decided to settle permanently in Drenthe and in 1946 he bought a small house in Zeegse. The house was nicely situated in the woods, and Musch found many subjects to paint in the immediate vicinity; forests and heathlands, dunes, old farmsteads and villages like Anloo, Gasteren and Oudemolen.
In the mean time the family welcomed the birth of a boy, Jan Evert. At the urging of his stepmother, who was afraid that the existence of a painter would not have a solid foundation, Musch applied for the professorship at the Academy, left vacant by the retirement of De Wit. Musch himself did not have this ambition, since he sold his paintings quite easily through Niezen. More so as not to offend his stepmother, he half heartedly wrote a letter of application, without any illusions about getting an appointment. But to his astonishment, he was appointed in 1947.
During the 34 years that Musch was attached to the Academy there would take place far-reaching changes. In 1947 the Academy was not an independent institution, but, as already mentioned, it was incorporated into the Naval Academy and the School for Engineering, with one director, the engineer J.A. Muller. The three schools were under one roof in one of the first concrete buildings built in the Netherlands in 1922-23.
It is only after 1951 that the Academy would take the name of "Minerva" and it was not until 1964 that it became detached from the other two schools to become independent, with as director the painter/writer W. Zwiers.
When Musch was appointed professor there were only 20 students. In 1981, on his retirement, there were over 500. New specializations were incorporated in the Academy, such as advertising, fashion and decorative design. With these new specializations new faculties made their entrance. At the beginning from only three professors, the number rose to 80 in 1981. With some of them Musch had friendly and constructive relationships, amongst others with Rudi Bierman, Folkert Haanstra, Diederik Kraaypoel, Jentsje Popma, Johan Sterenberg, Wim van Veen and Frans van der Veen.
Although the Academy was independent it remained without a proper building for a long time.
Demands for a building were rejected. By necessity the Academy had to do with eight outbuildings, which were often only abandoned factories scattered throughout the city of Groningen.
Dependence of the Academy of Fine Arts in Groningen, located in an old mustard factory in the Mussengang (Photo taken in 1981; Beeldbank © Groningen) Location
This did not suit the idea that Musch had of what should be an Academy of Fine Arts, and he has always argued for a building that could house all disciplines. But it took three more years after the retirement of Musch when, in 1984 a new building was opened (designed by the architect Piet Blom).
Thus in 1947 Musch began teaching. At first he did so with some reservation and with the ulterior motive he could always leave the job in case he was not satisfied. The beginnings were not easy because he lacked experience in education. At first he tried to emulate his predecessor De Wit. But gradually he began to impose his own ideas.
For example, he introduced the drawing of a model in motion, to catch the essence of a movement. Another difficulty at the beginning was his age. Musch was not much older than his students. And some of them already had some years of Academy behind them and they had already developed a personal style, including Wim Crouwel, Herman van Dulmen Krumpelman and Hendrik Korteling.
But Musch became soon fascinated by teaching, as he started to become curious about the emergence of each new generation. Former students remember him as a very different personality from his predecessor De Wit. Musch left more room for sentimental values of students, while De Wit followed a rather traditional way by being more aloof towards his students. Musch was less "academic" and he showed his students the poetic side of painting. He knew how to convey his enthusiasm for the things that touched him.
He continued to carry his message with enthusiasm over the years. It can be seen through the recollections of former students, gathered in a booklet published to mark the retirement of Musch. The etcher Reinder Homan, Musch’s student from 1973 to 1975, put it this way: "Apart from the pictorial problems that you helped me to solve, it was (and still is, because we’re still in close contact) especially your enthusiasm which made communication easier. Yes for me that are, next to your skills as a painter and art historian, your two most striking qualities; your enthusiasm and your ability to put yourself in the shoes of someone else."
Musch has always considered very important for each student to master the basic techniques and crafts. But he found that the technique should not predominate. In a 1984 interview he said about it:
" I have always considered art education as a means to develop the creativity of human beings. If we limit ourselves to crafts, we take a risk of falling into the trap of pastiche and imitation. And so I would say: "Go draw it, and see what you can achieve." But by doing this you’ll not necessarily achieve your goal. I've always been against imitation ".
Paw of pheasant, 1943. Lithograph, 4.5 x 16.5 cm, private collection. Link
Musch never wanted to impose any style to his students. He always respected their ideas and he found that everyone had to work according to his own personality. Students' work should not be imbued with the "pedantry" of the teacher. Thus, it was possible that in the same year there were students who were into abstract painting next to students who preferred the pure realism. On his manner of teaching, Musch said in an interview in 1972 (at the 25th anniversary of his professorship): "Being a teacher is also a form of creativity, because you are a stimulus for others. Being a teacher of an academy is not just reciting a lesson. A teacher of art is not only there to tell a story that’s already known, but he must rather be open to unknown and still non-existent forms. The teacher must contribute to the implementation of this new form. My starting point has always been the interaction. Here’s the student with his intellectual background, and it is from that point that the teacher must act, in an attempt to materialize the student’s potential."
Although this attitude towards education asked a lot of energy and effort, Musch saw it as the only way to teach effectively. Jan van Loon, a student from 1957 to 1961 and now himself a professor at the Academy, wrote concerning the commitment of Musch with his students: "As a colleague I saw him focused with an unbridled energy to reveal light, color, spontaneous elements, to his pupils.
During workshops it was Evert who even in the most ignoble watercolor could discover unsuspected qualities. Thus he always found a way of encouraging students with poor talents. He remained confident in the possibilities of his students and as such he was a remarkable teacher."
Although Musch was reluctant to impose his own style to his students, we can nevertheless perceive a certain affinity in the work of some of them with their master. Musch himself feels this affinity particularly in still lifes of Ben Snijders (student from 1961 to 1965), because for him they seem quite similar to the still lifes he painted earlier in his career. But Musch emphasizes the independent development of Snijders. Snijders himself remembers Musch in this way:
"He inspired me especially in the painting of still life. His enthusiasm was indeed "contagious". It was nice to arrange with him a few bottles, cans, draperies so that it became a still life worthy being painted. Usually he had no theories. When we were painting he would walk around the classroom, and occasionally he would stop at your painting when he saw it didn’t progress. After exchanging a few words, and having a close look together, we were usually out of trouble."
Elephant in Emmen Zoo,1958. Pencil, charcoal and ink washing, 34 x 40 cm, private collection. Location
The courses did not always take place in the Academy. Musch went out regularly with his students to paint the landscape outdoors or to make studies in the Botanical Gardens of the University of Groningen, or to Emmen Zoo. Arend Kuiper, Musch’s student between 1972 and 1978, speaks of painting sessions outdoors. "I have never seen Musch as a teacher who taught me how to paint, but I saw him more as a painter who mixed his passion for color, light and atmosphere with yours. It did not only take shape in the Academy. but also outdoors in the presence of a landscape or people in the street. By his sensitivity for the landscape he showed you the landscapes’ soul.".
Musch painting outdoors near Anloo, 1960. Location
In addition to painting, Musch also taught art history and he would regularly visit exhibitions with his students. He even managed to "infect" some of his students with the "virus" of collecting old objects and ancient works of art. His colleague Ralph Prins noted in 1981: "Discussing with you I noticed the intensity with which you treated topics such as graphical art, ancient chinese porcelain or archaeology. You were in your element when the boundaries between dream and reality became blurred. Like when you spoke of an etching by Rembrandt that you had first seen in a dream and then you actually managed to acquire it.”
In the memories of many former students one can detect the existence of affinities that go beyond a usual student-teacher relationship. Often this led to friendships that endure to this day, for amongst Musch‘s friends one can count many of his former students.
Painter in Drenthe
Being a professor at the Academy did not allow Musch to spend much time on his own work. Nevertheless, he felt it was very important for him to have his own artistic development. He describes it in this way: "I never wanted to see the professorship outside the context of my painting. If one does not continue to work as a painter, one can probably become a good teacher, but it is not unlikely that in this case one can no longer understand the problems with which students are confronted.”
To what extent his professorship had an influence on his artistic work, he describes in this way: "It is of great value to constantly exchange ideas with young people who think differently from me. This has surely some influence on your work although it may not be expressed through my work immediately. But the influence is still there. I'm happy to be a professor at Groningen Academy.”
After settling in Drenthe he met other painters of that province, with whom he began exhibiting his paintings. Between 1946 and 1953 he exhibited regularly with the "Drentse Schilders" (painters of Drenthe) in the grammar school in Assen. Other painters were B. von Dülmen-Krümpelmann, Hans Heyting, L.A. Kortenhorst, Hein Kray, Arent Ronda, Willy van Schoonhoven-van Beurden, Klaas Smink, Antony Keizer, Albert Torie and Jentinus Ponne. Musch’s contributions to these exhibitions (mainly landscapes of Drenthe) found mostly wide acclaim.
Sheeps trail in Meppen (Drenthe, Netherlands), 1950. Oil on canvas, 45 x 60 cm, private collection. Location
In 1954 was founded more or less as a continuation of "Drentse Schilders" the "Drents Schildersgenootschap" (Society of Painters of Drenthe, usually referred to as "DSG"). The founders were; Evert Musch, E.B.-von Dülmen-Krumpelman, Arent Ronda, Antony Keizer, Albert Torie, Joop Schuurhuis, To Jager, Marieke Eisma and Herman von Dülmen-Krumpelman. The DSG organized exhibits that traveled around the province in order to allow the rural population to become familiar with fine arts. Musch was almost always involved in these exhibits over the years. To this day Musch is still a member of the DSG and he continues to participate in their exhibitions.
Meanwhile, in 1952, Musch chose to live in Schipborg near Zeegse. Three years later his youngest son, Johannes, was born. Schipborg and Zeegse were villages where several artists had chosen to settle down. During the sixties they often showed their work on exhibition in Schipborg primary school. The initiative for these exhibits was very popular then, as shown in this newspaper article: "An exhibition like this one is important not only for the village, but also for the entire province of Drenthe because it has something to offer in cultural terms, and this was formerly only possible in the Western provinces. And then, exhibitions in small towns are important for the cultural education of people who up until now haven’t had the opportunity to become familiar with cultural events.”
Since the fifties Musch made several trips abroad where he acquired new inspiration. He has especially traveled and worked in France.
Montagne Sainte-Victoire (Provence), 1953. Watercolor, 37 x 49 cm, private collection. Location
About France he said: "It’s an amazing country, like Drenthe, and it’s a country with a human scale. And then of course the landscapes over there! And this light. I like the pastel colors over there.”
In 1961 came the opportunity to make a trip to Israel. Musch was one of 12 artists who were invited to make a trip aboard a cargo ship with a destination of their choice. Musch took the train to Livorno, Italy and embarked on the ship "Arizona" with destination Israel.
Storm in the Mediterranean, 1961. Watercolour, 54 x 76 cm, private collection. Link
During the trip he made several watercolors and drawings, of the Mediterranean sea and waves, as well as the landscape of Israel/Palestine and its Arab towns. The paintings made by the 12 artists during their voyages were exhibited in several places in the Netherlands.
The old Arab city of Akko (Palestine /Israel), 1961. Watercolour, 48 x 34 cm, private collection.
For Musch it was important to continue to paint next to his teaching work. But that did not fail to be a source of tension. Looking back he said this: "This tension ultimately was something of a burden. I had to stop working for a while."
During that period, he did not paint much and had to put his teaching work on the background. In stead of this he worked on the restoration of a farm in Anloo where he still lives nowadays.
He had purchased the building with his son Jan Evert in 1970.
Te Anlo in het Landschap Drenthe, 1760-1818. Etching by Egbert van Drielst (1745-1818), Drents Museum Assen. Link
Just before acquiring the derelict building, Musch found an etching of the eighteenth century in an antiques shop. It was a view of a village by the artist Egbert van Drielst entitled; "Te Anlo in het Landschap Drenthe" (at Anlo in the province of Drenthe). In observing it well, Musch discovered that the building that was for sale at that time, was depicted actually on the etching. This was decisive. Musch bought the etching and then the building.With his two sons he began restoring the building in order to bring it back to its original appearance of the eighteenth century, with the etching as a basis.
He tells about this: "We started work in the middle of the winter. At first I hired workers for the basic constructive works. Then we moved into a part of the house once it was habitable. The remaining work, we have done it almost entirely ourselves. This took us several years. All holidays and many evenings and weekends were devoted to this project."
In 1980 the restoration was completed and the exhibition hall, which was housed in a portion of the farm, was opened. Musch organized several exhibitions with his work, but also with the work of colleagues and former students.
The etching by Van Drielst is one of many works of art acquired by Musch over the years. He collects engravings and etchings of old masters, among which Rembrandt, Antonie van Dijk, Piranesi. Jacques Callot, J-.F. Daubigny, Daumier .... He also collects Japanese prints by masters such as Hokusai, Hiroshige and Utamaro, and finally he is particularly fond of lithographs by Theo van Hoytema. All this is just a small reflection of the entire collection of Musch which, incidentally, is still growing. Musch collects mostly things that please him from an aesthetic point of view, but he is also interested in technical and historical works of art. Because of his great knowledge regarding ancient art, he was appointed advisor to the Museum of the Province of Drenthe. It also happens that Musch lends works from his collection for exhibitions.
Musch had hoped to devote himself entirely to painting after his retirement in 1981. However, this was without counting his commitment in two events. Early 1984 an official of the Province of Drenthe said in an interview that the painters of Drenthe were not able to respond properly to a command for a portrait that the provincial government wanted to present to the Governor of the Province at his retirement ...
For this reason they made the order elsewhere. Outraged by this cold shower an event was organized at the initiative of Musch and a few other artists of Drenthe. The artists had chosen to give this event the form of an exhibition where artists would show the public that they were highly skilled as to making a portrait.
Public interest was enormous and even the governor came to take a look. The event even attracted television interest.
In any case this event had the result that the provincial government assigned the next order for a portrait to be made by Musch, who himself declined the offer, and proposed via this command his colleague and former student Jan van Loon.
Later in 1984, another event would mobilize Musch and his colleagues, in this case because of concern about a project to build a camp for military maneuvers in a forest near Anloo.
In an interview at the time, Musch expressed his concern:
"There will be tracks in all directions for the movement of tanks. Not many trees remain standing. Did you know that in this area there are remains of two dolmens and sixty burial mounds dating from prehistoric times? And the forests are of a kind you won’t find anywhere else in Drenthe. It would be a mortal sin to do away with all this!“
Many of his colleagues and former students went into the woods with Musch to fix the image of the threatened landscape. The results were displayed in Musch’s gallery and were assembled in a booklet. This booklet was given to all relevant authorities, including the General Council of the province of Drenthe and the Queen of the Netherlands. It may well be that the artist’s protest has contributed to the cancelling of the project. In any case, shortly after this event the decision was made to suspend the building of the military camp.
Only in recent years Musch was able to find the tranquility that allows him to devote himself to painting. His focus has particularly been on to the painting of flowers.
View of the Drentsche A near Schipborg, 1946. Indian ink, gouache and watercolor, 20 x 77 cm, Drents Museum Assen.
Because of all the activities he deployed over the years (painting, teaching, exhibits, lectures, collecting, protesting....) Musch has had considerable influence on cultural life in Drenthe. In recognition he was granted the Award for cultural merit of the province of Drenthe in 1985. This distinction was motivated as follows: " The painter Evert Musch received the 1985 Award for his outstanding merits as an artist, for his contributions to the popularization of Fine Arts in Drenthe, and for his merits as a teacher and for his contributions to the defense of the landscape of Drenthe. Amongst the qualities of Evert Musch can be mentioned a sincere interest in the destiny of the province and an almost intuitive sensitivity to anything related to the fine arts. This is the basis for everything he has done so far, as a painter, a printmaker and a lover of Drenthe, but also as a collector of ancient art, a professor at the Academy and restoring his farm.”
Since the inception of the Award for cultural merit of the province of Drenthe, in 1955, it was the third time the award was given to a painter. In 1957 E.B. von Dülmen Krumpelman was decorated, and in 1967 Klaas Smink. Among the considerations that were decisive for the granting of the award to Von Dülmen-Krümpelmann we note his influence on young artists like Arent Ronda and Evert Musch. Almost 30 years later, the choice of Musch for the same award was motivated by the same consideration, i.e. his influence on a new generation of artists. Musch was very surprised by all this. However, he felt it like a recognition, not only for his artistic work, but also for his quality as a defender of a cause, the preservation of the landscape of Drenthe.
STYLE AND THEMES
Regarding the work of Musch most notably we think of landscapes painted spontaneously, with bright colors. This kind of painting is in fact characteristic of much of his work, but this was not the case at the outset of his career. In the late thirties and in the forties Musch chose the landscape near groningen as a subject. During this period he made mainly drawings with pencil, pen and charcoal. Nature was depicted in a detailed and realistic way. After having settled in Drenthe, the landscape became the most important topic. He worked mostly outdoors, painting in oil or watercolor. It was at that time he discovered the colors in landscape.
While in his oil paintings Musch still clung to detail, we see in the watercolors of the period around 1950 a change compared to the previous work. The design is becoming more loose (e.g. the drawing below).
Duck swimming, 1946. brush, Chinese ink, 7 x 11 cm, private collection.
This development towards a more impressionist style is also evident in the oil paintings, especially after his first trips to Italy and France. Under the influence of the intense light of the Midi, Musch transforms the use of colors.
The landscape of Drenthe, however, forms the main element in his work.
Musch has always been attracted by this landscape. To try to determine what was characteristic in this landscape has been a challenge to this day. The completely original character of this country is expressed among others in his painting of the valley of the Drentse Aa. When he still lived in Zeegse, in 1946, he first made a detailed drawing.
Based on the drawing, and returning from time to time at the scene, he made an oil painting with the considerable size of 55 x 205 cm. This painting, that can be seen as the fruit of a particular involvement, he only finished it in 1955. Let us judge by these words, uttered in an interview: "For me it is a reflection of the country where I lived then; the Drentse Aa around Schipborg and Oudemolen. It’s very remarkable that in the middle of the twentieth century there is still such a landscape! Not a bulldozer has moved the earth, just a peasant with his spade. The river Drentse Aa, still follows its natural course, with all its intricacies. At the time I made this painting there existed a project to turn the river into a canal which would have meant the disruption of the ecosystem. That's why I wanted to fix the still unspoilt landscape by making this painting, before everything would get disfigured. Fortunately, some years later the valley of the Drentse Aa was classified as a protected area. And today you can still see the same landscape as in the painting."
View of the Drentse Aa valley near Schipborg, 1946-1955. Oil on canvas, 55 x 205 cm, private collection. Location
On the working method to elaborate this painting he said in another interview: "I did it while sitting on a hill. First I made a detailed drawing. Then I did the oil painting in my workshop. I did this gradually. I returned regularly to the site to check if the rendering was faithful enough. It really took years to finish this painting. Other paintings may take no more than an hour.”
To select the ideal subject in a landscape, Musch is guided by his intuition. In this same interview one can read: "I rely a lot on observation. At first I make a sketch. By doing so I know what I’m dealing with and I somehow control the subject. After this we can begin to set the landscape on the canvas. All locations are not suitable for an adequate composition. One should be attracted by the light or the atmosphere. Not any spot will do. When you’re walking somewhere you should undergo a sudden shock. And then you say to yourself, "Hey, I like it", and then you start to work."
Although he lives already for more than forty years in Drenthe he is still inspired by the landscape, judging by the words:"I prefer to walk around. Here, around the house, or elsewhere in Drenthe. Near Gasteren for example the landscape is of great beauty. There you have both the valley of the Drentse Aa and hills covered with heather hills as well as moors, in short, all elements of the landscape of Drenthe together. It’s such a nice place! I don’t think you’ll find in Europe a lot of places that are so little wasted as Drenthe. In seeking a beautiful place I walk, and then ............. pffffff, I am affected by this feeling. So that’s the place for me. I have to get a little shock. And then, the place is just what I need. I experience the landscape as something overwhelming. I try to identify myself with the landscape. That, that’s ME."
Despite his love of Drenthe, Musch has made several trips to discover other landscapes. In 1951 he made his first major tour in Italy and two years later he went to France. He has visited the latter country many times over the years. Despite the differences between the landscapes of Drenthe and those of France, Musch sought similarities to depict them in his work.
Landscape near Montbrison-sur-Lez (Drôme), 1972. Oil on canvas, 65 x 80 cm, private collection. Location.
Hans Heyting described thus: "What he found in Drenthe he found it in France; the at once mystical, lyrical and romantic landscape. Although his colors became more vivid, under the sun of the Midi, and even if he enriched his work with new compositions, he painted the French countryside keeping in mind his homeland Drenthe."
In 1960 Musch visited the Dolomites, where he painted landscapes which, by their pure colors, have a more expressionist feeling. And as already mentioned the following year he made this trip to lsrael/Palestine. During the voyage by freighter he painted views of the Mediterranean, and in Jaffa and Acco he painted watercolors in a fast and schematic manner.
Landscape painting already took a prominent place in the early fifties, as can be seen in a newspaper article of 1954 "Does Musch find his greatest strength in the landscape? The answer is positive. It is true that Musch’s character is best expressed through his landscapes. They are more than an imitation of nature, but rather a creative impulse, both as regards to the landscapes of the Netherlands as those from Italy and France.
There is an attention to detail, but what strikes also is a very personal color range.”
In the article cited above, there is also a reference to portraiture in the work of Musch. One reads: "Fortunately Evert Musch is far from bloating and sentimental romanticism. The portrait of a girl with tousled hair could encourage feelings of exalted pity, but this is avoided thanks to the clear view of the painter. The portrait of Professor Van Giffen, with different colors than usual in the background, will remain in the memory of those who saw it. What is striking about this portrait, is the effect of plasticity which gives the impression that we see the professor in person. In any case, Musch’s portraits are very exciting. Precisely because his work is sincere, without the special effects that could ensure an easy success, but it may also disappoint and leave a vacuum."
Portrait of Professor A.E. van Giffen, 1954. Oil on canvas, 84 x 66 cm collection Drents Genootschap.
The portrait of the famous professor of prehistoric archaeology A.E. van Giffen was made following an order from the Cultural Council of Drenthe.This portrait was to be part of a series of portraits of prominent figures who contributed to the social and cultural life of Drenthe.
Musch, remembering this portrait tells the following anecdote: "Van Giffen was reluctant to be portrayed, as he considered it a waste of time. Finally I arranged with him to come to his place, where I did some pencil sketches taken from several angles.
Sketch made prior to the portrait of Professor A.E. van Giffen, 1954. Pencil, 22 x 15.5 cm, Drents Museum Assen.
Then I based the final portrait on one of the sketches, I painted the portrait in my studio. When the painting was almost finished, I asked Van Giffen to come once again to my house for a final session. This has not been of great help. Van Giffen had brought his papers to continue his scientific work during the session ("Time is money", he used to say).He couldn’t keep from falling asleep.
At the official presentation of the portrait I was absent due to urgent commitments. The eve of the presentation a car stopped in front of my house. Two gentlemen came out of the car holding a painting in their hands. They told me that the presentation had been a success and everyone had admired the result, including Professor Van Giffen. But the professor had noticed: "Yes, but these hands. I do not have hands like that!" And he insisted that I should rework the hands, otherwise he would not accept the painting. I did not agree and I did not intend to change anything. In order to not put the two gentlemen in trouble I invented the following solution on the spot: I took a brush without any paint on it, and I scribbled a little on the painting. Thus the gentlemen could certify on their honor to the fact that I had retouched the painting with my brush.
Some time after this event I saw one of the gentlemen. I asked him how it all ended. He told me that the professor had inspected the painting closely, saying: "Yes, that’s a lot better.””
Portrait of Job Moek, farmer in Annen, 1957. Oil on canvas, 57 x 54 cm, private collection.
The fact that Musch was chosen among others to make this portrait shows that in the early fifties he had a reputation as a portraitist. During the forties he had already started to do portraits, mostly sophisticated ones, sometimes more schematic. After the war the execution of portraits became looser and more impressionistic, like the rest of the work. The portrait of the peasant Job Moek seems to be noted with a minimum of strokes. Musch has not only made portraits on command. He also made many portraits of people out of curiosity and personal affinity. In many cases his wife and children served as models.
Early in his career technique played an important role in the realization of his still lifes. During the war he painted some still lifes in the style of old masters. On an oak panel he made first a sketch in grisaille with paint diluted with turpentine, which served as a primer. Then he applied transparent layers of paint diluted with a mixture of linseed oil and turpentine (glaze). This concern for the technique was transmitted to him by his teachers at the Academy. The restoration of old paintings also brought knowledge on technical aspects.
Still life, Bouquet of Chrysanthemums, 1944. Oil on canvas, 42 x 26 cm, private collection.
Kort's influence was significant not only technically but also from a stylistic point of view. This is expressed by very serene and detailed compositions. Until the fifties Musch regularly devoted himself to painting still lifes, which gradually obtained a more personal character, and a more and more loose brush. For a long period he almost abandoned still life as a subject, but in recent years he has painted some flowers.
Still life, bouquet of wild flowers and apples, 1987. Oil on canvas, 80 x 65 cm, private collection. Link
Cityscapes, interiors and other subjects
During the forties Musch spent some time drawing cityscapes. From that time he conserves some drawings of Groningen, including a view over the rooftops of the city taken from his parent's house in the Brugstraat. He did not produce oil paintings of the subject during this period. By cons, he made a painting of the interior of the church Martini and he made an etching of the same church.
The views of towns and villages he would make later in the fifties and sixties, are often the result of voyages abroad.
We thus find among others a series of watercolors made during a trip along the Moselle, where he was enchanted by the character of the old timber framed houses as in Zell an der Mosel.
View of old house in Zell an der Mosel (Germany), 1963. Watercolour, 52 x 37 cm, private collection. Location
He also painted views in some cities in the Netherlands, as Groningen, Amsterdam, Harlingen and Franeker.
In the mid sixties there is a surprising expansion in the range of subjects. His concern for nature threatened by industry and modern agriculture, was expressed in paintings and drawings showing today’s "progress". Most notable is an “aggressive” watercolor showing the Agricultural Fair in Zuidlaren (below) and some drawings of factories and shipyards.
During those same sixties Musch also experimented using different materials to make sculptures. He tried with both wood and metals. Most of these sculptures were shown in an exhibition at the factory "Stork", a pump manufacturing company. As an example of visual art from this period we mention an assembly of different parts of pumps that was placed outside the factory "Stork" in Assen, where one can still admire it today.
Sculpture, 1966 . Composed using mechanical parts, height about 4 m. Location: Factory "Stork", Assen (map).
Unlike his paintings and his drawings, which have subjects taken from the real world, Musch’s sculptures are almost always abstract, although the relationship with the real world was never completely abandoned. As such should be mentioned "'t Hemeloor" (heavenly ear), a sculpture which was inspired by the radio telescope in Dwingeloo, in the west of Drenthe.
Although Musch has undertaken sculpture with great pleasure he has not continued to explore this path. Since then he has limited himself to painting and drawing.
Graphical works and illustrations
In the mid sixties Musch has also experimented with some graphical techniques. Among others, he made an engraving on cardboard, entitled "Macchina".
Macchina,1965. engraving on cardboard, 37 x 49 cm, private collection. Link
It was the first time in almost twenty years he embarked on a graphical technique.
During and immediately after his studies he made several etchings and lithographs. The etchings he made during the year 1938-40 were primarily an exercise for him. He printed these etchings at the academy, printing only limited series. An example of his etchings is a self-portrait from 1940.
Self Portrait, 1940. Etching, 28 x 18 cm, private collection. Link
The technique that Musch has most practiced is lithography. He worked mostly for himself, like for example the still lifes with shells. But he also worked on command, making bookplates, greeting cards and views in Groningen for calendars of 1949 and 1950 for the publisher Van Dingen. What is striking in the lithographs of Musch is the frugal and soft colors that give a special and serene touch to these prints.
After 1950 Musch would no longer make lithographs, but he ventured by exploring the field of book illustration. We have already mentioned the two novels that he illustrated just after his studies (Keuning and Jonker). In the sixties he illustrated several books of poetry and prose in the dialect of Drenthe. The final book he illustrated, in 1982, is the work of Jan A.Niemeyer entitled "Drenthe, d’olde lantschap" (Drenthe, the old province ). For this book he made a series of landscapes drawn in Indian ink.
Musch's work has, since its inception, received a generally positive assessment. Critics and articles published over the years are mostly full of praise and negative reviews are rare, although some journalists have occasionally made a caustic remark. About an exhibition in Groningen in 1945 a journalist judges as follows: "Evert Musch is a born painter but, however, he has not yet reached the level he would like to achieve. His paintings give an impression of the development of his work. When we look at "The house by the canal" we may presume that it has a somewhat reactionary trend, but there emerges a lively sense of reality and an acute perception. This is reflected also in the rest of his work. "The house by the canal" is probably older. His "Autumnal still life " is an evocation of very refined matter. But it’s not the pitcher that he paints that matters. It’s only a means, a symbol, with which he expresses his joy of color, light and shapes. The portrait in a curved frame is almost religious in its devotion, full of love and harmony in his reassurance. But he reaches his summit in the "Pole in front of a cornfield". Here's the poetry of things of the countryside, but it's even more than that. In the relative monotony of color there are a variety of shades that reminds us of arias of Bach. In his playing with light and shades he rivals with the best impressionists, The dynamic brushwork has an expressive value but is not intrusive and the pole itself is the motive, around which everything is concentrated. We would like to say to the painter: "A little bolder now."”
Portrait of To (spouse of Evert Musch), (1942). Oil on panel, 28 x 16 cm, private collection. Link
In his work of the forties some critics saw the influence of other painters, like his teacher Kort. On the occasion of an exhibition in Groningen in 1948 a journalist wrote: "He is a typical follower of traditionalism and the glorification of the romantic school. Musch was a pupil of the painter Kort. He can not yet escape from that environment. Probably the rest of his life he will continue to rely on this heritage, unless he succeeds to free himself from all this by taking another path. The portrait of the painter Ronda and the very pure portrait of a boy lead to the supposition that he is already shifting gear? An artist may receive a good education but when he persists in choosing just a single lane he will not find his own identity and will ultimately become sterile and unimaginative. He will not have the spiritual courage that makes the work of some young people so refreshing. It would be unfortunate for Musch as a young artist, who certainly has technical capabilities."
Soon after, there was a change in his style of painting, as we see through a critique of an exhibition a few months later:"Evert Musch showed work of good quality, although I wonder if he remains himself. I suspect the influence of his fellow Von Dülmen Krumpelman. His brushwork becomes more sketched, his wonderful treatment of light and dark stays the same. Hopefully Musch will go in the right direction, but I doubt it.”
Bastide Saint Jean à Rousset (Bouches-du-Rhone, Provence), (1953 ). Gouache, 37 x 49 cm, private collection. Location
In the early fifties, the stylistic development towards a more free and sketchy approach continues. In a report on an exhibition in 1953 a journalist characterizes his evolution: "The work of Musch does not comply with those Groningen painters grouped in "De Ploeg" (the plow). His colors are softer, and his touch is lighter. He’s certainly not an impressionist, but on the other hand one can note a development towards a style more and more bold and robust. Apparently his horizon has extended, together with the artistic points of view, by his travels in Italy and France. About forty oil paintings, ten gouaches and almost twenty watercolors give a good impression of the most recent work of the artist, because most of the paintings date from 1950. This shows a high productivity, combined with a capacity of expression that he handles with ease, for example in some watercolors. But he's also got a lyrical and romantic charm, as in some of the landscapes of southern France. Drawing and enchanting color manage to create the whole atmosphere. Some of his paintings made in Drenthe are more robust. And his portraits show a tendency to want to depict both form and specific character."
In paintings made while traveling in France in the fifties the influence of the french impressionists is notable, and, according to critics, this is expressed mainly by "sparkling" colors. In the early sixties he made some paintings in the Dolomites, which were met with critical notes, because of an approach that was considered "too objective and too realistic".
Storm falling on Toblach / Dobbiaco (Dolomites), (1960). Oil on canvas, 66 x 91 cm , private collection. Location
During this period Musch continued to paint landscapes in Drenthe, as well as portraits and still lifes. His rendition of the landscape of Drenthe was widely appreciated as much for the color as for the composition. Thus, a review of an exhibition in 1960 tells us that:
"His love for the landscape of Drenthe appears again at the exhibition. We feel through his paintings the calmness that emanates from the typical old farmhouses with thatched roofs, half hidden in the countryside. Bursting spring is very well rendered in the painting of the grove with its purple and yellow colors. It takes the eye of a painter like Musch to see a beautiful composition in a piece of nature that most people would find relatively insignificant."
His portraits also received a favorable reception. Critics said Musch managed to make portraits not only with a striking resemblance, but also a painting of the characters' personalities.
Naval demolition shipyard on the island of Terschelling, (1965). Ink Drawing, 50 x 65 cm, private collection. Location
In the mid-sixties there was (as we have already seen) an extension in the range of subjects and material use. Most of his paintings and visual art from this period were shown in an exhibition at the factory "Stork" in Assen (where pumps are manufactured). The exhibition was entitled "Kijk op techniek" (technique put forward) and took place in late 1966. The change in his work was noticed by a journalist who noted that: "We know Evert Musch as an impressionist. Here we also encounter paintings by him to which we are familiar, painted with a good heart, almost always a bit studious, and with a somewhat excessive attention to detail. Musch has now also immersed in the industry. He first started to absorb the hot atmosphere of an iron foundry. Here the feeling has become almost a thing of less importance. The "traditional" artist has tried for some time to break free from the appearance of things. This summer, in Westerbork, he dared to show a series of experimental works made with waste. And an abstract engraving on paper. He started playing with materials of any kind. He found life in a piece of wood that he carved and planed to remove the dead parts, in order to obtain rhythmic motion. For this exhibition, whose theme is "art", he took gears, metal shavings, pipes and fences, and he began to deal with these materials as if they were musical notes. Some compositions have required much thought. Others have a more spontaneous character. For example "'t Hemeloor" (heavenly ear) inspired by a poem by Roel Reyntjes, and "Opbouw" (construction) have kept this spontaneity. There's no doubt, this man who for years has been devoted exclusively to painting and who is also able to compose a column from heavy blocks of iron by getting a surprising effect of balance, this man deserves some respect. We dare not foresee if Musch will finally continue on this path. But we are convinced that these experiences will have an important effect and will be decisive for his development."
When Musch was granted the award of cultural merit of the province of Drenthe in 1985, an exhibition of his work was organized in the museum of the province of Drenthe. A journalist, having seen this exhibition, summarized the evolution of Musch thus: "Evert Musch has essentially become a landscape painter, but he also made portraits. Initially he worked in a realistic style, and then in the style that emerged in our country during the forties and fifties. This style could be called "Dutch post-impressionist". It differs from the French post-impressionism by its color. In recent years Musch's painting has become more open, less dependent on small strokes and color contrasts."
In the Drentse Aa valley near Gasteren,(1974). Oil on canvas, 62 x 73 cm, private collection. Location
Another journalist said referring to the same exhibition:
"What is striking about the work of Musch is the evolution of realism towards a more impressionistic style, as well as the technical handling of the brush and the colors. Regarding the topics and content we can say that this evolution is one that started from a descriptive approach (look at "View of the Drentse Aa") and that leads towards a more lyrical and momentary approach. The latter approach is naturally close to Impressionism, but Musch succeeds like no other to surpass the momentary aspect of a place, an event, an emotion, and and making it timeless."
Although Musch has been a professor at the academy, he has been able to produce a considerable work all along his professional carreer. His work got widely acclaim, as bear witness not only the many positive reviews, but also the cultural award of the Grand Prix of Drenthe in 1985. This appreciation is however limited to the north of the Netherlands, and his reputation has not so much radiated beyond. On the one hand this may be because Musch was never that much interested in what is "fashionable" at some point. On the other hand he never made any effort to exhibit his paintings outside his region. He even renounced invitations to exhibit his work at galleries in the Western part of the Netherlands. His graphic work, by cons, is best known, although this knowledge is limited to the small group of enthusiasts and connoisseurs of graphic arts. His lithographs are included in several books on graphic art.
If one observes the work of Musch retrospectively one can note that he followed his own path, and he developed a personal and recognizable style. His early works, which are realistic and made in a careful way, are still close to the work of his master Kort. When after the war he began to paint outdoors, his style becomes more loose and becomes close to impressionism. He remained faithful to this style until now, except a few attempts in an abstract style in the sixties. Musch was free to follow his own path and he felt no necessity to be guided by trends in fashion or in contemporary art, because he did not depend on the sale of his paintings being professor at the Academy. He felt this as one of the advantages of being a teacher.
Although he considers himself an Impressionist, one can not say that style and technique are most important to him. He himself said it this way:
"I sometimes feel that many of my students are beyond time. Originally I was a pure Impressionist, but I never had the idea that the image or the subject is important. I have always said that technique is important, but once you're able to draw a line with a pencil on a sheet of paper you already master a certain technique. What matters is that you understand what you do. And what you do has to come straight from the heart. Then it no longer matters if your works are realistic or abstract."
According to Musch, technique alone is not enough. In a 1987 interview Musch again emphasized: "We must rely mostly on the mind and will. That's all. For a "secular" it is often difficult to understand. Because technical perfection may lead nowhere, whereas other approaches may lead to a good result. Everything is in the engagement and affinity with the subject and painting. All this is rooted in man, and not in art."
Feather (1944). Lithography, 9,5 x 16 cm, private collection. Link