Barend Cornelis Koekkoek, called 'Prince of landscape painters' by his contemporaries, seemed destined as the eldest son to succeed his father Johannes Hermanus as a marine painter. Barend Cornelis learned the basics of painting from his father, ancestor of four generations of painters in the Koekkoek family, while at the same time taking lessons at the Middelburg academy, a breeding ground for painters of the sea and ships. With this background and education, a specialization in navies would not have been surprising. Barend Cornelis, however, preferred the land to the sea. As early as 1822, at an exhibition in his hometown Middelburg, it becomes clear which genre he prefers. His entry then consists of six landscape watercolors, copies after 17th-century masters, but he soon finds his own way. His education was continued at the academy in Amsterdam, where he studied from 1822 to 1825 as a student of Jean Augustin Daiwaille, his later father-in-law, and Jan Willem Pieneman. Does Barend Cornelis' surprising choice for landscape painting stem from originality and idiosyncrasy, qualities that characterize a great artist, or was the wind taken out of his sails by his brothers Johannes and Hermanus? Be that as it may, extraordinary artistic talent and inspiration have made him a successful artist, creator of landscapes so beloved to royal circles that a waiting list was created and enthusiasts had to look forward to their much-coveted painting for years.
Initially Barend Cornelis painted his landscapes in Holland. As he undertook study trips to Belgium, Luxembourg and the Rhineland, to the Harz and to Switzerland, in search of motifs for romantic motifs for his paintings, his work acquired a different, foreign and hilly appearance and wooded panoramic landscapes were decorated with castles, ruins. , streams and rivers in rocky beds. In his summers, the German High Mountains are often the setting. His book 'Memories and Communications of a Landscape Painter' shows how much the beauty of the German Rhineland landscape touched him, especially the area of the Zevengebirge with the famous Drachenfels. In almost ecstatic terms he tells about this: `` At last, here a mountainous landscape with a stately stream, which meanders through it in a hundred curves, is presented to the gaze, and all this gives rise to sensations in the soul, whereby man, in a melancholy mood. , feels so well. You no longer think you are standing on the globe, which here displays its richest and most beautiful landscapes. Koekkoek mastered the representation of figures, sky, water and trees to perfection and his landscapes show a refined incidence of light and enormous depth effect.
For Barend Cornelis Koekkoek, winter is secondary to summer: it is estimated that he painted about a hundred snow and ice scenes, about a fifth of his oeuvre. It is striking that Koekkoek specialized in the summer landscape, while his contemporary and counterpart Andreas Schelfhout - much admired by Barend Cornelis - was especially renowned for his meticulously painted skating scenes. Unlike most winters of Schelfhout, or those of its 17th-century predecessor Hendrick Avercamp, Barend Cornelis does not show animated ice entertainment in his earliest snow landscapes, but depicts the silence in nature when she is clad in white. From the 1930s onwards, winters have become more lively, and skaters on frozen ditches, canals and lakes make their appearance, making them more similar to the compositions of Schelfhout. The winters of Barend Cornelis, however, are often richer with trees, shrubs and castles or ruins. The majestic oak appears in almost all of his paintings, making it almost his logo. This tree is the symbol of strength, power and imperishability, stands for immortality and eternal life. In Barend Cornelis' paintings his presence also emphasizes the insignificance of man in relation to nature. The winter landscape gave Koekkoek the opportunity to immortalize his beloved millennial Wodanseik with its whimsical structure of branches in all its bare glory. Like seventeenth-century painters, he did not work directly from nature. By combining drawings made during his travels, the master composed his ideal romantic landscapes in his studio.
In the wake of his sixteen years older colleague painter Andreas Schelfhout, Koekkoek developed into the best landscape painter that Dutch Romanticism has ever produced. With its landscapes, whether they were winter landscapes or summery forest scenes, Koekkoek built up an enormous reputation at home and abroad. His clients included royal families such as King Friedrich-Wilhelm IV of Prussia and Tsar Alexander II of Russia. The Dutch King Willem II owned no less than eleven works by Koekkoek. In addition to many prizes, medals and honorary memberships, this also earned the painter a lot of prestige and wealth.
In 1834 Koekkoek, now married to Elise Thérèse Daiwaille, daughter of his teacher Jean Augustin Daiwaille, settled in Cleves, Germany. He would live here for the rest of his life. The couple had four daughters, two of whom devoted themselves to the arts: Maria Louise and Adèle. The former, like her father, specialized in landscapes, while Adèle continued the tradition of her mother Elise Thérèse and painted flower still lifes. Cleves, which is situated on several hills, offered beautiful panoramic views, including a view of the Rhine and the plains around the city. Koekkoek also found its inspiration in the forests and parks that were created in the city in the 17th century. He was the first to have a studio tower built in 1843, the Belvédère, founded on a historic tower of the medieval city wall and with windows in all directions. Koekkoek worked here every day, supported by his assistant, who prepared the paint in the rooms on the ground floor, stretched the canvases and prepared the panels. From Kleef, Koekkoek took part in exhibitions in Kunstsalons in Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and other cities, where he received many awards.
In the meantime, Koekkoek had started his Drawing Academy, which attracted numerous students such as his brother Marinus Adrianus Koekkoek, Johann Bernhard Klombeck, Louwrens Hanedoes and Cornelis Lieste. As part of Dutch Romanticism, the Kleefse painting school was thus created in Cleves, which later became widely known. Koekkoek's influence on 19th-century Dutch painting was therefore not only great through his own work, but also through his numerous students. In 1948 the construction of his city palace in Italian Renaissance style was completed, where Koekkoek lived with his family on the top floors and received his important clients on the first floor. The guests who came from far and wide were all admirers and buyers of Koekkoek's work. Today, this former home of Barend Cornelis houses the Museum Haus Koekkoek.
Koekkoek's last years of life were seriously overshadowed by a stroke and after his death in the year 1862 the house and the inventory were sold by his widow. Small renovations took place, but the layout of the first floor and many details in the stairwell are still original. The house withstood the bombing of Cleves at the end of the Second World War and from 1945 to 1960 the building served as the town hall. At the inauguration of a newly built town hall it was converted into the municipal Museum Haus Koekkoek. Works by Barend Cornelis and his students and other members of the Koekkoek family are exhibited here.