Life as inspiration: the story of painter Henk Chabot

Iwan Smit I don't want to die

Art is about stories and one story in particular: the artist’s life. We’ve seen it happen with LSD-trippin’ artists in the 1970s, the result of it being psychedelic music and visual arts. Four colorful pop-art heads of Marilyn Monroe on a canvas: not sprouting from a sober Andy Warhol, let me tell ya. Life, career, family, and experiences are hugely influential on all artists. Life is inspiration. And my fascination for those background stories leads me to the art rental center in Rotterdam (de Kunstuitleen), where Monique Chabot tells the compelling story of her famous uncle Henk Chabot, the painter and sculptor, including 70 year-old photos. Read on!

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Apart from what life is like as a famous painter, it’s equally fascinating what it’s like to be the niece of one. This lady Monique Chabot was close with Henk Chabot in her youth. On his death bed in 1949, she met other successful painters like Charley Toorop. You can find work of Chabot and Toorop in Boijmans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam and the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague. These modernists / expressionists changed the landscapes of Dutch art, but not after the Germans changed their own.

In May 1940, German Heinkels bombers dropped their deadly load on the center of Rotterdam. Henk Chabot had just moved out of his studio in the center of the city. From his home just outside the city he heard the bombing and saw the black clouds drifting up from the devastated city. His previous studio vanished. The event inspired one of Henk Chabot’s most famous paintings: one depicting Rotterdam in flames (Brand van Rotterdam, 1940).

Henk Chabot’s wife for life

And then the wives, unavoidably. Most of the art history books feature male painters, many of whose wives were paramount for the lift-off of their careers. Women were often their muses or stabilizing factors, and in the case of Henk Chabot: both. Her name was To, she was his wife for life. They met at the art academy, which made her understanding of his profession. She is caught in many of his portraits and moved with him to various places in their lives. One of those places was the tiny village Vrouwenpolder in the province Zeeland, close to where the most successful Dutch painters clustered together, inspiring each other. It’s where Henk Chabot met Charley Toorop.

So much for courage

Most of all I am inspired by the early youth of Henk Chabot. The family looses dad early on and they continued to live in poverty. On an old black-and-white photograph we stare the old mother in the eye. She was a fierce lady sending Henk Chabot off to Rotterdam. Had she listened to her family and neighbors, all her children would have been destined for the shoe factory. But headstrong as she was, she wanted more for him after recognizing Henk Chabot’s talent. And it was hard not to see it: just look at his paintings at 10 years old and you know he was a prodigy child. Had mom not done that, the world would have missed out on many an impressive painting. So long for courage!

Art salons at the art rental / Kunstuitleen

Inspiration is drawn from the art rental / Kunstuitleen 4 times a year. They organize these art salons (read on art salons in the 21st century here) in a cool setting: in the midst of all their art works. They draw from their collection of over 10.000 works, from old to recent and in all styles. The next edition will be held in September / October 2017. No worries, the groups are large so you won’t stand out unwanted. And you don’t have to do anything than to listen and enjoy, if you’re not into mandated networking. Drinks and bites are included in the entrance fee of around € 7. And in case you wondered (I did!): the audience is not only 50+ and counts plenty 20+ and 30+!

The Chabot Museum in Rotterdam is a cool modernist building in which the work, life, and followers of Henk Chabot teach you about expressionism!

Good to see you! I'm Yvette, founder & editor at Museologue. This place serves you stories on cool careers, bold life choices, mind buzzing art, personal leadership, travel, and all the other inspiring things people do and create!
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