Nikolaas Mathijs Eekman 

Nikolaas Mathijs Eekman 

Biography of Nikolaas Mathijs Eekman  ( 1889-1973 )

Nicolas Eekman was born in Brussels on 9 August 1889, precisely in the house where Victor Hugo began writing Les Misérables. At the age of 18, he gave his first lecture in Brussels on Vincent Van Gogh, who was still unknown to the general public at the time. After graduating in architecture from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels, he moved to the presbytery of Nuenen in the Netherlands, where he stayed during the First World War. Welcomed by the vicar de Ligt, he lived where Van Gogh had lived and declared that he had found in the very heart of the Brabant peasants "a manageable dough, a wonderful dough that I could peel, eat and feed on. It was magnificent."

Until the end of the war, exhibitions multiplied in the country and Eekman was the subject of numerous acquisitions by both major museums and Dutch collectors.

In 1921 he moved to Paris, made friends with the gallery owner Jeanne Bucher and, between the wars, took part in Parisian artistic life, particularly in the Montparnasse district. There he rubbed shoulders with Lhote, Chagall, Picasso, Dali, Fernand Léger and Piet Mondrian.

In the 1930s, he exhibited regularly in France and Europe, as well as in the United States. At the Paris International Exhibition in 1937, he won a gold medal for his painting La pelote bleue, later acquired by the State for the Jeu de Paume museum.

At the start of the Second World War, he was sought out by the Nazis and had to take refuge in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, where he temporarily signed his works under the pseudonym Ekma. 

Eekman's early works were marked by Cubism, and he produced numerous portraits, large watercolours and, above all, important woodcuts (of thread) that immediately placed him among the best in this field. The lives of humble people (peasants, fishermen, workers, vagabonds) were the main source of his inspiration. He focused not only on the psychological expression of his subjects, but also on the composition and architecture of his paintings. A simple man, Nicolas Eekman observed the peasants of Brabant with acuity and tenderness as they went about their familiar tasks, and transposed them into a dreamy phantasmagoria. This deep-rootedness in a dark, harsh land helps him to give priority to drawing in a country where the graphic tradition serves an ethic dominated by man. At the same time, the fantastic was an integral part of his pictorial work, as he put it: "The fantastic, that exhilarating colour of the false when it becomes true again... established itself somewhat without my knowledge, to the point where at first I was worried about this intrusion... Little by little I observed the clues and accepted them. Fantasy is the revelation of the imaginary".

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