Anyone who reads reviews about the work of Harm Kamerlingh Onnes can hardly imagine that until a few years ago this artist was only known in a small circle. Because few artists received support from both progressive and conservative critics. It says a lot about the art of a man praised by friends for his modesty and kindness. Harm Kamerlingh Onnes was neither a modernist nor a traditionalist; he was himself, an artist who managed to translate his talent into an oeuvre that still appeals to many art lovers.
Harm Kamerlingh Onnes' story is not one of loudly proclaimed artistic manifestos or of imitation and resignation. It is the story of an artist who followed his own path for almost the entire 20th century. His artistic life can be roughly divided into two periods. The first from 1914 to 1935, in which as a seeking modernist he maintained contacts with avant-garde movements. The second, running from 1935 to his death in 1985, in which he came up with his own realistic, narrative style. He was not only limited to oil and watercolor, but also designed stained-glass windows, showed an interest in interior design, designed stamps and was a skilled ceramicist. The same versatility can be found in his theme. When asked by an interviewer: 'What subjects did you like most as a painter?' He replied: 'Mainly landscape, sometimes portrait, also flowers that my wife successfully arranges, and also genre work such as the people around me. busy see. Actually, I could call these little pantomimes. ' You could compare here with the recently deceased columnist Martin Bril, who, like Harm, managed to make the ordinary into something special with appropriate irony. Events that we - people of our time - tend to ignore. The talent to notice and depict or to express it is not given to everyone, but it appeals to many because everyone can identify with it.
Harm Kamerlingh Onnes was born in 1893 as the first son of a family that would eventually have three children. His father, Menso Kamerlingh Onnes, was a painter, his mother had a musical gift; it almost made a career in art a natural choice. At first it seemed that Harm would choose a career as a musician. He was a talented pianist and cellist. Yet he waived it. On his eighteenth birthday he got permission from his father to devote himself to painting. Self-employed, and not at the academy, because his father was afraid this would mess up his talent. The talent was soon visible in his first drawing studies. The influence of his father, and even more of his uncle Floris Verster, is reflected in it. Nevertheless, both grandmasters, who are counted among the painters of Eighty, kept in the background. To get in touch with other artists, Harm became a member of the Leiden drawing society De Kunst om De Kunst in 1913. Important for him was the introduction to architect J.J.P. Oud, who had also joined the same year. It would be the start of a lifelong friendship.
In 1916 artistic Leiden was shaken up by a number of young, progressive artists. The arrival of avant-gardist Theo van Doesburg to Leiden and the art association De Sphinx, which he co-founded, meant that Harm was not only introduced to progressive views but also had the opportunity to exhibit. That he was open to the avant-garde ideas of his new friends soon became apparent in a series of modernist paintings. Occasionally, and somewhat uncomfortably, he approaches an abstract visual language. However, he never made the last step towards full abstraction. Visible reality would always be his starting point. In the early 1920s, Harm also became acquainted with the work of another Style artist: Bart van der Leck. His flat stylization and the use of bright colors attracted him greatly. It must have appealed to Harm that Van der Leck worked from the idea that visual reality has its origin in nature. Like Harm, he did not like the painterly, formal issues that were raised by De Stijl. This Van der Leck-style stylization is