Kees de Kort (87) was a painter of biblical stories and pigs

Artist Kees de Kort from Bergen (North Holland) once told the newspaper with a smile Fidelity that the Germans sometimes described his work as ‘Bibel und Schweinerei’: the Bible and boars. And that is right. He liked to paint pigs. But De Kort, who died on August 19 in Bergen at the age of 87, gained ‘world fame’, as the Dutch-Flemish Bible Society calls it in a press release, for the colorful, accessible Bible illustrations he made between 1965 and 1980.

A total of 28 parts of De Korte’s picture books were published What the Bible tells us which is again bundled in See the Bible. They were intended for children, with little text: especially De Kort’s paintings had to tell the story. That series was a huge success – in the Netherlands and beyond, and still is. The picture books, regardless of whether they are bundled in See the Bible, has now been translated into more than 65 languages. Therefore, the director of the Bible Society Rieuwerd Buitenwerf states: “Kees de Kort is the Bible’s Dick Bruna”. Because Bruna’s children’s picture books have also been translated into more than 50 languages.

Joseph and Mary drawn by Kees de Kort.
Joseph and Mary drawn by Kees de Kort.

There is another deal. Both artists owe their success to their talent for simply depicting stories. As a painter, de Kort was sometimes visibly inspired by Chagall.

De Kort developed his own, simple and clear painting style especially for the Bible series. It was originally intended for developmentally disabled children: in the 1960s, the Bible Society wanted to make a highly pictorial version of the Bible especially for them. The association held a competition among artists in 1965. On the last day he could, De Kort made a painting of Joseph and Mary on an easel, submitted it – and won. When given the assignment, he first visited the target audience and then taught himself “to look like a child,” according to his website.

Kees de Kort. Photo NBG/Sandra Haverman.

Kort’s Bible paintings are recognizable and well arranged. Like children’s drawings, built from below in a clear horizontal line. They have little perspective. People are always central in compositions with areas of color – portrayed with clearly recognizable emotions. So memory on Twitter according to De Korts, some adults still remember the images of Bartimaeus crying after going blind.

Human aspect

De Kort’s Bible paintings are not cute. He broke with the Renaissance tradition of portraying biblical figures as exalted, paternalistic types. For him it was primarily about the human aspect, De Kort once said in Fidelity. He had to submit his drawings to representatives of the Catholic, Reformed and Jewish faiths and child experts – it was hard work, he said. He himself was born in 1934 in the reformed Nijkerk, in a Catholic family, and not too ecclesiastical. It is understandable that De Kort’s art has a Catholic visual narrative power, in forms so sober ‘that they become hard Protestant again’, as he himself said, given his background.

De Korte was so busy making commissioned Bible paintings, among other things for the Pope in 2017, that he had little time to paint himself. But he did. He enjoyed painting pigs, which he found sympathetic and intelligent animals. He made piercing paintings of pigs with stress symptoms: “People are sometimes more like a pig than the pig itself,” he said. Both the pig paintings and especially the Bible paintings are exhibited, among others in the Jan Cunen Museum in Oss and the Biblical Museum in Amsterdam.

His fascination with pigs came in part because he painted them for the biblical story ‘The Prodigal Son’ in the 1970s. And biblical painting went better, he said in an interview after he did his first pig painting as an independent artist.

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