Toon Kelder is one of the painters who developed their own style at the beginning of the 20th century under the influence of the avant-garde painters in Paris. He was also driven by a constant urge to innovate. In the 1920s he painted flowers, figures, nudes and cityscapes in expressive and strong brushstrokes and colors, characteristic of the Bergen school. Then, between 1930-1945, a time followed when his work became more and more imaginative and rarefied in character. Dreamy ideal images of riders, amazons, musicians, horses and groups of nudes in Arcadian landscapes, painted in blonde tones or amber colors. Critic Jan Voskuil called these kinds of paintings admirably 'Dreamed reality'. This also applied to Cellars nudes and fantasy images, borrowed from Biblical stories and mythology. Ethereal female nudes, for which his wife Alexandrine often posed, in graceful postures, standing, lying or sitting. They are subtle, stylized paintings, the background light in tone and the figures painted in soft, hazy tones, making them seem almost abstract in quality. They are characterized by an emphasis on the feminine forms. This was more important to Kelder than the facial expression of the model; the pronounced curves symbolize the sensual female figure. He is very successful with this work, both with critics and the public. Kasper Niehaus writes in 1942 about Toon Kelder in Levend Nederlandsche Kunst, 1942. '(…) there are, so to speak, two souls living in the chest of this painter: that of a realist and a romantic. ”Still, always looking for innovation, he changed course again after 1946. When he was confronted with his ‘old, opulent’ work during a group exhibition in the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum in 1947, he no longer thinks it worth the least effort. He qualifies it as 'rubbish' that should get out. He was apparently stuck in personal expressionism, so much so that he bought back older work and even destroyed it. His images soften and diffuse colors make way for limited areas of color. Brush drawings in smooth lines - he didn't paint anymore - mark the transition. Under the influence of the École de Paris, Kelder abstracts form and color and works more and more abstractly to capture the essence of his subjects. In the late 1940s, Kelder also became a sculptor. His sculptures look abstract, but the starting point always remains a motif from nature; birds, horsemen, masks and women's bodies. Kelder then sighs that he 'finally makes something worthwhile.'
Born in Rotterdam, Kelder attended the Academy there, and also in The Hague, the Academy of Visual Arts. After several trips to Spain, France and North Africa, he settled in The Hague in 1924, where he married Alexandrine Gortmans in 1925. Besides being a wife, she was also the muse of Kelder. After a trip to France in 1960, she would discover her artistic inspirations there and start painting the exotic nature, which reminded her so much of her native Indonesia. Toon Kelder did not play a major role in the Hague painting circuit. He had his friends in the academic and literary field and led a fairly sober life. He was also choosy about visitors, you didn't just come in to him, only after an appointment by telephone. Since Kelder was a true Francophile who read a lot of French literature and even corresponded in French, he also expected his visitors to comment on his work in French. He had blinded the windows of his studio to avoid distraction, and from time to time displayed erratic behavior that could quickly turn into a fight.
Kelder did not care about the recognition of the public, he acted on principle from inner conviction and made everything subordinate to his art. Nevertheless, he participated in many exhibitions during his life and his work has ended up in many museums, even the MOMA in New York that accepted one of his sculptures as a gift. If he banned all color from his gouaches after the war, which would eventually lead to geometric-abstract gouaches in deep black paint on white paper, only small circles appreciate this. The Hague celebrities such as art critic Jos de Gruyter, Wim Beeren, then curator at the Gemeentemuseum and art collector Frits Becht admired and supported Kelder's vision and attitude. Kelder would continue to make this work until his sudden death in 1973, which was announced in a local newspaper only with a small message after his funeral.