Revealing the Mystery Behind the Real, Pyke Koch and Carel Willink's Magical Realist Works

Revealing the Mystery Behind the Real, Pyke Koch and Carel Willink's Magical Realist Works

As Sotheby’s celebrates two seminal works by Dutch artists renowned for their enigmatic paintings we look back at a movement that swept through Europe and captivated creative minds in the twentieth century.
As Sotheby’s celebrates two seminal works by Dutch artists renowned for their enigmatic paintings we look back at a movement that swept through Europe and captivated creative minds in the twentieth century.

"W ith the word “magic” as opposed to “mystic”, I wish to indicate that the mystery does not descend to the represented world, but rather hides and palpitates behind it." (Franz Roh, Magic Realism: Post-Expressionism, in Lois Parkinson Zamora, Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community.

Mystery does palpitate in the landscapes created by artists and peers Pyke Koch and Carel Willink, whose colours and near photographic stylistic precision are full of dreamlike incongruity. Koch and Willink painted in the realist manner however their works reveal the extraordinary in the everyday. Magical Realism eschewed the supernatural, choosing instead to reveal the unexpected within the ordinary.

Although the much-debated term ‘magical realism’ often describes a literary genre associated with Latin American writers, such as Gabriel García Márquez, and later Salman Rushdie and Toni Morrison, the term was originally coined in 1925 by the German art critic Franz Roh in his book Nach Expressionismus: Magischer Realismus: Probleme der neuesten europäischen Malerei (After Expressionism: Magical Realism: Problems of the Newest European Painting). Roh hoped to categorise art that diverged from the strict parameters of realism and incorporated elements of the uncanny or surreal.

The uncanny is unmistakably present in Pyke Koch’s stylized Florentijnse tuin (Florentine Garden) influenced by the garden of Villa La Pietra in Florence. The saturated colours of the vegetation draw us into the centre of Koch’s hortus conclusus. Here, unlike the La Pietra Gardens, the composition is missing its fountain and therefore its lifeforce. The blindfolded woman appears to be reaching for something that is not there. There is an atmosphere of loss, a tension between the real and the intangible, a sense of the unseen and unknown.

Koch was so captivated by the imagery of Florentijnse tuin when he painted the garden for the first time in 1938, that he continued to develop the subject in the 1960s, displaying the lasting influence of magical realism. The result is a series of alluring and enigmatic canvases depicting the same garden shifting through states of dilapidation and traversing both spatial and temporal boundaries.

Amidst an artistic elite that leant towards abstraction, Pyke Koch and Carel Willink, along with contemporaries such as Wim Schumacher stood out. They refused to abandon figurative painting seeking instead to infuse their works with a surreal quality; yet one that omitted the automatism that Surrealism favoured.

Oneiric imagery permeates Carel Willink’s De eeuwige schreeuw (The Eternal Cry). Although uninhabited by people, the stone creatures that populate the cavernous landscape appear alive. Frozen in action, they exude an atmosphere of menace exacerbated by the dramatic interplay of light and shadow and the echoing of their monstrous expressions in the cloud formations that roil overhead.

Like Koch, Willink’s compositions drew on real-life experience. His fantastical creatures were inspired by the Italian Bormazo gardens commissioned by Pier Francesco Orsini in the sixteenth century to cope with the loss of his wife. Yet he manipulates this reality, and through that manipulation creates a composition that conveys the mystery of human experience. De eeuwige schreeuw is a striking example of magical realism and its extraordinary capacity for emotional depth.

Impressionist & Modern Art
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