Bram van Velde

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Bram van Velde and Peter Bramsen (1969) by Erling Mandelmann.

Bram (Abraham Gerardus) van Velde (October 19, 1895December 28, 1981) was a Dutch painter known for an intensely colored abstract painting style. He is often seen as member of the 'Ecole de Paris' but his work resides somewhere between Expressionism and Surrealism; it evolved in the 1960's into an expressive colorful Abstract art.

Quotes of Bram van Velde[edit]


  • Part of your work feels as clear, it gives you a sense of liberation or beauty and you recognize it as necessary pavements. You are thus in a sense ready. In the other part of your work this is not the case. Therein is the hidden development, which is the true essence of art... the higher purpose, the pursuit forward that art automatically calls. The unclear part of your work needs to progress (stopping is no option, is no life, no art) and it is clear when by working with head and heart, the real step forward has been achieved.
    • Letter to B. Kramers, 1926, as quoted in: Bram van Velde, A Tribute, Municipal Museum De Lakenhal Leiden, Municipal Museum Schiedam, Museum de Wieger, Deurne 1994, p. 18 (English translation: Charlotte Burgmans)
  • Paris with its multitude of art directions calls continuously to the deepest penetration and recognition of your inner essence. Only in this way it is possible to create work that refers the time span.
    • Letter to H. E. Kramer, 25-10-1926, as quoted in: Bram van Velde, A Tribute, Municipal Museum De Lakenhal Leiden, Municipal Museum Schiedam, Museum de Wieger, Deurne 1994, p. 44 (English translation: Charlotte Burgmans)
  • Art is not for the personal satisfaction of one or the other, but art wants to return all what’s in life... Art wants to give back everything what’s in our lives. The more comprehensive the artist stands in life the more powerful his work will speak, and therefore a work of art is a measure of the mental size of his creator.
    • Letter to H. E. Kramer, 25-10-1926, as quoted in: Bram van Velde, A Tribute, Municipal Museum De Lakenhal Leiden, Municipal Museum Schiedam, Museum de Wieger, Deurne 1994, p. 44 (English translation: Charlotte Burgmans)
  • My work is independent of my will. My best works are created when driven by an inner strength. This has nothing to do with my will. It is that immediate spontaneity of my intense way of living that makes the difference between my work and a lot of other artists who make art works with their mind.
    • Letter to H. E. Kramer, 14-11-1927, as quoted in: Bram van Velde, A Tribute, Municipal Museum De Lakenhal Leiden, Municipal Museum Schiedam, Museum de Wieger, Deurne 1994, p. 46 (English translation: Charlotte Burgmans)
  • I'm now in a big working period, which takes me up so much that hardly anything of me remains. I have never been strong in theories and this becomes worse and worse. My work should give me satisfaction, and that is about life and death.. .Several paintings full of life and beauty arose again and give me the courage and joy to proceed on the road. There are also several paintings in which I am involved for less than half, discharges in a short time, which have existence for a while, but will not reach shaping.
    • Letter to H. E. Kramer, 28-07-1929, as quoted in: Bram van Velde, A Tribute, Municipal Museum De Lakenhal Leiden, Municipal Museum Schiedam, Museum de Wieger, Deurne 1994 (English translation: Charlotte Burgmans)


  • When I am painting, driven by lively tensions, I want to express what’s going on in me. When that tension has ceased, when the life in me became visible, then something happened which had to happen. Over and over again you experience a work which is created in this way. What happened? It is hard to say, because it was not my mind that led but the inner desire that revealed its inner life.
    • Letter to H.P. Bremmer, 17-11-1930, City Archive The Hague, as quoted in: Bram van Velde, A Tribute, Municipal Museum De Lakenhal Leiden, Municipal Museum Schiedam, Museum de Wieger, Deurne 1994, p. 50 (English translation: Charlotte Burgmans)
  • Life and mind are continuously in conflict with each other. I want happiness, security. I won’t reach that by considerations of my mind; on the contrary they will lead to a certain despair of the inner person. Not what he thinks engages the artist, but what he feels.
    • Letter to H.P. Bremmer, 17-11-1930, City Archive The Hague, as quoted in Bram van Velde, A Tribute, Municipal Museum De Lakenhal Leiden, Municipal Museum Schiedam, Museum de Wieger, Deurne 1994 (English translation: Charlotte Burgmans)


  • The real world with its common logic pushes us toward catastrophe. The artists seek in his work to free himself from this weight. Art is being transformed into politics, love into trade, education into an apparatus for stifling the mind. In the midst of such horrors, clearly only the dream within me has life. But how do other people live? -There is color, virginal expression - new, without a cage, without routine, without limit, a bath of sun and light. We must realize that nothing man does is of any value. The trouble is that people want to be paid. Only sick men can be artists. Their suffering pushes them into the accomplishment of deeds which reinvest the world with meaning. The sensitive man or the artist can only be a sick man in our civilized life, so full of lies. To think of art as a profession, how appealing! – Painting is man in the face of his downfall.
    • In: Abstract Painting, Michel Seuphor, Dell Publishing Co., 1964, p. 134

Conversations with Samuel Beckett and Bram van Velde (1965 - 1969)[edit]

Conversations with Samuel Beckett and Bram van Velde, ed. Charles Juliet, First Dalkey Archive edition, 2009, London and Champaign
  • A painter is someone who can’t use words. His only escape is to be a seer.
  • Painting is so stupid, so simple. I paint to get out of the through. I paint my misery.
  • Artists don’t live in the everyday world. That’s why people think they’re an odd bunch.
  • The most difficult thing is when you can’t do anything. When you just have to wait.
    • short quotes, 9 November 1965; p. 54

  • The most difficult thing is not to want anything.
  • Everything has to end before it can begin.
  • You are in constant danger of being destroyed.
  • I can’t say anything. There are no words.
  • The important thing is to be nothing.
  • The less you think, the better it is.
  • The more you know, the less you are.
  • The beauty other people create is not for the artists. Artists have to live alone.
  • Everyone cheats. Only artists don’t. They don’t fool people and they aren’t fooled. They are outside all that. Nobody can understand them.
  • Painting is an eye, a blinded eye that continues to see, and sees what blinds it.. ..this tiny little thing, which is nothing, which dominates life.
    • short quotes, 31 October 1966; p. 58

  • Picasso.. ..the master.. ..being a master: 'I don’t search, I find' [a famous quote of Picasso, where he criticize the 'searching' artists] ..the master, the mastery.. ..Producing, producing.. .He [Picasso!] only knows how to work, can’t do anything else. What lost souls!.. .The great risk is producing for its own sake. You must never force things. You just have to wait.
    • 31 October 1966; p. 59

  • In the first piece that you Beckett wrote about me [circa 1946], you never once used the word color. That was important. I was struck by it.
  • To be true, you have to take the plunge, to touch bottom. But most people want to be in control. They fear the worst. You can’t control anything. What you have to do is let yourself be taken over.. .All the paintings I have made, I was compelled to make. You must never force yourself.
  • They make you and you have no say in it. It’s w:Godot all the time. A chain around your neck and the whip cracking behind you.
  • Yes, I abandoned everything. Painting required it. It was all or nothing.
  • Painting is being alive. Through my painting, I beat back this world that stops us living and where we are in constant danger of being destroyed.. .No, you have to know when to keep silent.
    • short quotes, 31 December 1966; pp. 60-61

  • Painting is an aid to vision. It turns life, the complexity of life, into something visible. It reveals things that we don’t know how to see.
    • 2 April 1967; p. 62
  • Mondrian? His mind was too subtle. He worked in the light. I work in the darkness.. .Mondrian is the Buddha of painting. I saw him once. You wondered how a man could radiate such charisma.
    • 2 April 1967; p. 62

  • I’m trying to see, when everything in this world conspires to prevent us from seeing.
  • I paint the impossibility of painting.
  • In this world that destroys me, the only thing that I can do is to live my weakness. That weakness is my only strength.
  • The artist is living a secret that he has to make manifest
  • I can’t say or explain anything. Pictures don’t come from your head but from life.. .I am always looking for life. All that escapes thought or will-power.
    • short quotes, 2 April 1967; p. 63

  • When you cross any border there is always an uneasy moment when you feel yourself automatically an enemy. Artists don’t belong to any group or country.. .When you are living the truth, the world no longer exists, events become unimportant. But the way of truth is not easy.. ..if you are on the side of truth, you have no power. That’s why you are always defeated. The power, all the power, is on the side of the world.. .I have been completely absorbed in my adventure. No country, no family, no ties. I didn’t exist anymore. I just had to press on.
    • 2 April 1967; p. 63

  • Life is so difficult to catch.
  • Each time it’s an attempt to get there. To get to see. To get where you can see.
  • Through painting I try to get closer to nothingness, to the void.
  • The artist is the bearer of life.
  • Life is wrecked by living.
    • short quotes, 14 September 1967; p. 63

  • Oh Baudelaire.. .He used to be enormously important to me. It’s thanks to him that I was able to get through the war [in Paris, during 1940 – 1945 Van Velde had a long and painful break, with only a few paintings he finished]. A true loyal mind without hypocrisy. The most universal spirit. The greatest Frenchman. I have always been much less interested in painters [than Baudelaire - a great surprise to hear for Charles Juliet the interviewer].
    • 14 September 1967; p. 66

  • Of course painting is ridiculous. But it’s the only way I’ve got to get closer to life.
  • An artist’s life is all very fine and moving. But only in retrospect. In books.
  • Artists who are the defenders of true life become phonies. That’s the perfidious thing about this world. Society turns anyone with a bit of life inside them into a medical case.
  • I don’t like talking. I don’t like people talking to me.. .Painting is silence.
  • A painter is somebody who sees. I paint the moment when I set out. When I set out to see. And it’s the same thing for the viewer. When he approaches the canvas, he is advancing towards an encounter. The encounter with vision.
    • short quotes, 14 September 1967; p. 67

  • There’s a perpetual duel going on between the world of the spirit and the world of things. Although the one only has meaning in relation to the other.
  • Most people’s lives are governed by willpower. An artist is someone who has no will.
  • To be nothing. Just nothing. It’s a frightening experience. You have to let go of everything.
  • At is taking risks.. ..a sincere attempt to achieve the impossible, the unknown.
    • short quotes, 14 September 1967; p. 68

  • I am in the void. Nothing to hang on to.
  • Waiting for the truth.
  • Van Gogh.. Fascinating. The fragility of that strong spirit.
  • There’s always doubt. There’s nothing you can get hold of.
  • Each of my paintings is a cycle. It’s like existence, life. They are always in motion.. .If they were fixed and static, they would be false.
  • When you get to the bottom, you discover that there is no room for pride. That’s what I paint.
    • short quotes, 28 December 1967; p. 69

  • Painting doesn’t interest me.. .What I paint is beyond painting.
  • I am powerless, helpless. Each time it’s a leap in the dark. A deliberate encounter with the unknown.
  • I don’t set out to speak a comprehensible language. But my language is authentic.
  • Each painting contains so much suffering.
  • When I look back to a recent painting, I can hardly bear th suffering in it.
  • Each painting is linked to a fundamental drama.
  • I have to try to see where seeing is no longer possible, where visibility is gone.
  • Yes, perhaps there is some enjoyment in it [his paintings] too, somewhere.
    • short quotes, 13 April 1968; p. 70


  • It was truly revealing. The strength of the intervention, the intensity of colors and the happiness of this work, has never left me.
    • In: article Schilder Bram van Velde in Dordrecht, by Paul Groot, newspaper NRC Handelsblad, 1979 (English translation: Charlotte Burgmans)
    • Quote about the painting 'Piano lesson' of Matisse, Van Velde saw around 1925 for the first time and inspired him strongly during the 1930's
  • I met Beckett at my brother’s [ w:Geert van Velde, also an abstract painter] place. That was a Big meeting [circa 1938, in Paris], in capital letters. It was before war started, life was still normal. That time I was very lonely. We saw each other often. Before the war he had published already something, but his fame came in 1953. We never spoke about his work. He was a taciturn man. Sometimes a word escaped from his mouth. Sure, a word you would never forget. It would stick in your head... This friendship with Beckett is the most important experience in my life. He was fully alive for my way of working. What he could express in words, I did with my paintings.
    • In: article "Schilder Bram van Velde in Dordrecht," in: NRC Handelsblad by Paul Groot, 1979 (English translation: Charlotte Burgmans)
    • About his contact with Beckett in Paris, before and during World War 2.

Conversations with Samuel Beckett and Bram van Velde (1970 - 1972)[edit]

Conversations with Samuel Beckett and Bram van Velde, ed. Charles Juliet, First Dalkey Archive edition, 2009, London and Champaign
  • Perhaps he Mondrian was too faithful to a single discovery. And perhaps that kind of painting was right for the period. But now peace and harmony are no longer possible. There is only anguish.
  • Van Gogh.. .In this world of petty calculations, he was too intense. He frightened people. They cast him out.
    • two quotes, 16 July 1970; p. 77

  • What makes a painting fascinating is its sincerity. Sincerity is such a rare thing. Most people don’t dare to be sincere.
  • Because it’s an adventure out of all proportion. You have to devote all your strength to it and it’s never enough.
    • two short quotes, 24 August 1970; p. 78
  • It is true that other people can help you, and to lasting effect.. .If I hadn’t had Beckett in 1940 [in Paris, when Van Velde was strongly demoralized by the death of his wife], I’m not sure I could have stood it. I am really not sure.. .At that time he [Beckett] he was driven by an extremely aggressive and fiery Irish spirit. That has lessened as time has gone on.. .I don’t know anywhere in modern art any more faithful or more impressive picture of contemporary humanity than the one he offers us in 'The Unamable'.
    • 2 November 1970; p. 79

  • I am well aware that a painting must inevitably be a bizarre, incomprehensible thing.
  • I start off on the canvas and, little by little, it imposes its own solution. But that solution is not easy to find.
  • A painting is not a battle against other people, but against oneself.
  • Painting, an oeuvre, is not such a big deal, it is so unimportant. But that’s precisely what makes it interesting.
  • I don’t know if I’ve got close enough [in two recent paintings he made] to what I was really trying to achieve. But at least I’ve tried, I’ve made the attempt. I’ve done what I could. I’ve gone as far as my powers permitted.
    • short quotes, 2 November 1970; p. 81

  • If these gouaches [Bram van Velde recently made] live at all, it is because they are true, they derive from life. They are born of the unknown – and not of habit or know-how, or intention, or of some recipe.. ..there comes a time when serious work is no longer an effort. When demanding work of that kind no longer tires you.
  • However terrible it is, the thing never involves any sadness
  • It is important to see that my paintings are ultimately stimulating. They are not at all the kind of thing that inspires despair.
    • short quotes, 2 November 1971 pp. 84-85

  • Painting is getting in touch with the truth. It’s a matter of summoning up the vision I need.
  • You are in an area where knowledge fails. Where you have to advance in ignorance, not even knowing where you are going.
  • The real horror is mass production. Painting when there is no compulsion to do so… …Pictures like that are all unpunished crimes.
    • short quotes, 3 April 1972; p. 86

  • When you are working, you are so far away and so absorbed, it’s inevitable that you fall into a vacuum when you stop.. ..every time when I finish a painting, I always have to wait to get my strength back before I can begin another.
    • 3 April 1972; p. 90

  • I am in a thousand pieces. Painting somehow makes me whole.
  • Painting lives only through the slide towards the unknown in oneself.
  • The world of architecture – and of works conceived for architecture – tends towards beauty. True beauty tends towards ugliness and panic.
    • short quotes, May 1972; p. 87

  • I need to go towards the illogical. This world we live in destroys us. It is always governed by the same laws. You have to create images that don’t belong to it. That are totally different from those it presents us.
    • 11 August 1972; p. 90
  • Mondrian.. .The constructivists?.. .They had certainties. They wanted a stable basis to work on, but I’m afraid that that was enormous arrogance on their part. Nothing is stable and no certainties are possible.
    • 11 August 1972; p. 90
  • What the eye can see won’t get us very far. And what it can see is so limited, so restricted. But a gouache or an oil painting can be seen at a glance, can take in a whole world at a single glance.
    • 11 August 1972; pp. 90-91

  • Creating a painting is a matter of ensuring that all its parts achieve unity. Though it’s a precarious, fragile unity.
  • Something is trying to come into the world. But I don’t know what it is. I never start by knowing. It’s impossible to know. Truth is not knowledge.
  • The greatest moment is when you realize that the painting you’ve just finished is nothing. When you manage to detach yourself from it.
  • I think there is a degree of primitivism in what I do.. .You have to see without illusions. Without trying to protect yourself.
  • There is only the present. A painting is an instant of time that has escaped oblivion.
  • I feel myself tied to life. To the immensity and complexity of life. Each painting is an impulse towards life.
    • short quotes, 29 August 1972; pp. 92-93


  • About Van Gogh.. a man who is on fire, a torch. His sincerity is absolute. His best painting is the grain field where he kills himself. There we find ourselves at the border of the art of painting. We cannot go further.
    • In: Je peins l'Impossibilité de peindre, by M. Nuridsany, newspaper Le Figaro, 24-10-1989, p. 35, as quoted in Bram van Velde, A Tribute, Municipal Museum De Lakenhal Leiden, Municipal Museum Schiedam, Museum de Wieger, Deurne 1994, p. 40 (English translation: Charlotte Burgmans)

Quotes about Bram van Velde[edit]

  • Bram van Velde could have been made for Beckett. He could, come to think of it, have been made by Beckett, not only in the sense that he has the characteristics of the typical Beckettian character, but in that it was as much thanks to Beckett’s private and public support as to his own talent that he was able to lift himself out of the extreme poverty which he had suffered for much of his life.
    • w:Nicholas Lezard (Jan. 22 2010): 'Expressions of the inexpressible', The Guardian - review on the publication of Charles Juliet’s translated book Conversations with Beckett and van Velde
  • [Bram van Velde’s work] is a painting without precedent, in which as in no other I find what I am seeking, precisely because of this fidelity to the prison-house, this refusal of any probationary freedom.
    • Samuel Beckett (1949), a letter to Georges Duthuit; as quoted in Samuel Beckett in context, Anthony Uhlmann, Cambridge University Press, 2013
  • [Bram van Velde] is the first to repudiate relation in all these forms. It is not the relation with this or that order of opposite that it refuses. But the state of being in relation as such, the state of being in front of. We have waited for a long time for an artist who is brave enough, is at ease enough with the great tornadoes if intuition, to grasp that the break with the outside world entails the break with the inside world, that there are no replacement relations for naive relations, that what are called outside and inside are one and the same.
    • Samuel Beckett (9 March 1949), in his letter to Georges Duthuit; as quoted in The New Cambridge Companion to Samuel Beckett, ed. Dirk van Hulle, Cambridge University Press; p. 81

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