Gerard Bilders, born in Utrecht in 1838, received his first drawing and painting lessons from his father, the landscape painter Johannes Warnardus Bilders. From 1843 the Bilders family lived in Oosterbeek, the Gelderse village that the old Bilders had discovered. Gerard's father saw nature as the only teacher and under his leadership Gerard went out to paint 'en plein air'. Father Bilders gave his son an almost religious experience of nature, which ensured that Gerard throughout his life would mainly paint forest scenes and polder landscapes with animals, which expresses an enormous love for nature. Celebrities of the later Hague School such as Willem Roelofs, Paul Gabriel, Anton Mauve and the Maris brothers settled in Oosterbeek in the summer and went out with 'papa Bilders'. While painting in free nature, the realistic romantic style that they had been used to changed into a style in which the personal feeling and mood of nature was the starting point. The green floodplains of the Rhine, the wooded barrages, the wooded area with its age-old oak trees have been recorded in an increasingly loose touch.
At the age of seventeen Gerard met the wealthy literary Johannes Kneppelhout (known as Klikspaan) who lived on the Hemelsche Berg in Oosterbeek. Kneppelhout presented himself as the patron of the young, gifted, but stiff Bilders and sent him to The Hague for a year, where he took drawing lessons at the Hague Drawing Academy and was apprenticed to the cattle painter Simon van den Berg. In the spring of 1858, Gerard made a study trip to Switzerland at Kneppelhout's expense, where it was also good for his health - he was increasingly coughing. He went into the mountains and worked in the studio of the landscape and animal painter Charles Humbert. After returning in November, Gerard lived at the request of Kneppelhout for a while in Leiden, where he hardly knew anyone. There he spent the whole summer out to paint the South Holland polder landscape and the animals. Kneppelhout, meanwhile, became increasingly disturbed by Gerard's lack of confidence in himself, his stiffness and his friendship with the Swiss count Auguste de Pourtales. The costs of maintenance of the Hemelsche Berg were also very disappointing. All this led to Kneppelhout ending the financial support and Gerard again having to provide for his own maintenance. Gerard left for Amsterdam in November 1859, where he moved in with his parents. Socially he fared better there than in Leiden, he became friends with August Allebé and D.A.C. Artz and joined Arti.
In the summer of 1860, Gerard and his father visited the Exposition Générale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, where he himself had three paintings. He was one of the first Dutch painters to get to know the work of the Barbizon School and this made a deep impression on him. He wrote to Kneppelhout 'I have seen paintings I did not dream of and found everything that my heart desires.' He found 'unity, peace, seriousness and above all an inexplicable intimacy with nature.' It would continue to inspire him further.
After Gerard's mother died in 1861, the relationship with Kneppelhout improved again and they met regularly in the summer in Oosterbeek, where Gerard, as usual, painted a lot in nature but was never satisfied with the way he recorded his impressions. He made two good friends: Anton Mauve and his brother-in-law Jan de Haas. In bad weather conditions, he painted in the vicinity of Lochem in 1862. The first symptoms of tuberculosis became apparent and painting became increasingly difficult for him. After each period of outdoor painting and catching, his health deteriorated more. In 1865, at his father's house in Amsterdam, he died at the age of 26 from tuberculosis after a difficult and unsuccessful life.
Within art history, Gerard Bilders is seen as an important link between the romantic tradition of his father and the impressionist, true-to-nature view of the Hague School. His diaries and letters, published by Kneppelhout in 1868, testify to an unconditional love for nature. In his landscapes there is no trace of artificial painterlyness. In a letter of July 10, 1860 to Kneppelhout he wrote: 'I am looking for a tone, which we call colored-gray; that is all colors, however strong, so integrated into one whole that they give the impression of a fragrant, warm gray. My aim is not to paint a cow for the cow, nor a tree for the tree; it is to create an impression through the whole, which nature sometimes makes, a great, beautiful impression.'