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In 1868 the landscape painter Johannes Warnardus Bilders (1811-1890) wrote from the castle at Vorden: ‘The weather is going to be glorious again, so I can use my last day to explore the many beautiful spots around here a bit more.’ Bilders became known primarily as the paterfamilias of a group of young artists who made studies in and around the village of Oosterbeek. Having discovered the area in 1841 he returned there every year. In the 1850s he was regularly host to artists such as Jan H.L. de Haas, Constant Gabriel, Anton Mauve and the Maris brothers as they were setting out on their careers. His son Gerard also took up painting. Bilders encouraged his young visitors but generally left them to their own devices, believing that art should be personal in character rather than imitative. He also strove to free himself of existing conventions. By 1868, the year in which he wrote the letter shown here, he had left Oosterbeek. Tuberculosis had taken away his wife and then his son Gerard and daughter Caroline, and the village in the Veluwe forest carried too many sad memories. For many years he retreated to Vorden to paint. Bilders decorated his letter at the top with a little watercolour of the castle at Vorden. The abandoned and overgrown castle had a ‘sad poetry’ about it which matched the sentiment of his own heart and captured the ‘ground tone’ of his existence. Most importantly, it was the place where he found himself able to paint. From 1875 onwards Bilders was accompanied by his pupil Marie van Bosse whenever he went to Vorden. Gradually he recovered his energy and in 1880 Marie van Bosse became his second wife. The couple settled in Bilders’s old haunt, Oosterbeek

Letter from J.W. Bilders to an unknown woman, possibly G.J.L. van Dijk van ’t Velde (1835-1917), Vorden 20 August 1868, collection RKD

The RKD (Netherlands Institute for Art History) is the world’s leading information centre and central source for the study of Dutch art.

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