Cor Blok drew Tolkien’s world, but also invented his own universe, Barbarusië

The strip day Haarlem can finally take place again after two years of corona. The theme is ‘World Builders’, which is why the Noord-Hollands Archief shows works by Cor Blok (1934-2021). Who was this painter and draftsman?

Joost Pollmann

Can you be a fantasy and a scientist at the same time? Cor Blok (1934-2021) proved it. He was a professor of art history in Leiden, wrote the book Image translation on the interpretation of visual art and provided a catalog of Piet Mondrian’s oeuvre. But Blok was also the creator of Barbarusia: a fantasy land complete with its own alphabet, architecture, history, landscape and religion.

During the festival Strip Day Haarlem, which starts on Saturday, the Noord-Hollands Archief dedicates an exhibition to Block’s ideas. The theme for this Comic Days edition is ‘World Builders’, and Blok fits in perfectly with his Barbarusia. His name does not ring any bells among the general public, but many people know his work because he was also the artist who drew the covers of Tolkien’s Under the spell of the ring


Cor Blok

Around 1960, Blok dedicated about 140 drawings and gouaches to this epic, which also centers on an imaginary world. Het Spectrum publishing house used three illustrations for the front of the famous Prisma pockets without mentioning the name Cor Blok inside, while the translator Max Schuchart was nicely mentioned.

Tolkien himself, who did not really like illustrations for his work, bought a few originals because of the visual quality of Blok’s gouaches and because the hobbits’ adventures in Middle-earth and Mordor had been interpreted so freely by Blok. The vast majority of Tolkien prints have now been distributed all over the world, and prices have risen sharply: amounts between 2,000 and 4,000 euros are paid per year.

    Cor Block's interpretation of Frodo putting the ring on.  Picture

Cor Block’s interpretation of Frodo putting the ring on.

In Haarlem, Blok’s children are now joining their widow Janny Donker for the extensive oeuvre of ‘Pap’. except it on Under the spell of the ring sacred work and the barbarian fantasies, it also contains a graphic novel that Blok worked on in silence from 1967 to 2014: Iron parachute. This book from 2016 consists of hundreds of collages composed of pieces of engravings from the 19th century.

Blok has painstakingly cut and pasted for more than four decades to create his own universe. Janny Donker explains this lifelong need to create parallel worlds based on the fact that Blok had a father who suffered from violent migraine attacks, so there should always be quiet and dark in the house. To escape this gloom, he began to create his own lands at an early age.

An unpublished illustration of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings by Cor Blok from 1962. Picture

An unpublished illustration of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings by Cor Blok from 1962.

Blok, for example, created Barbarusia, from which he watercolored a map of mountains and lakes and provinces with names like Irritania and Bombasturia, Avogadro and Macabria. In another fantasy land, the districts of Wirwar, Janbul and Brulapi emerge, suggesting that he was having a great time with his language jokes and fictional geographies.

Incidentally, Clor Blok was not the only Dutchman who devised his own world in such detail. While immersing himself in the barbarian idiosyncrasies, linguist Rolandt Tweehuysen created his Spokania and artist Jurriaan Andriessen junior Eldorica, imaginary nations that also got their own language and architecture. When asked if Blok had contact with these soulmates, his wife and children cannot answer. “He was a closed man,” they say. And he was reluctant to show his work. In fact, he thought it was very private. ”

A Barbarus work of art by Cor Blok.  Picture

A Barbarus work of art by Cor Blok.

Cor Bloks world, from 3/6 to 8/7 in Noord-Hollands Archief, Haarlem. The strip day Haarlem takes place until 12/6.

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