CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

De schepping van Melle

Melle's creation Exhibition: 25 October 2008 - 1 February 2009

From the museum website, 6 October 2008

Melle (1908-1976) – who as artist dropped his surname Oldeboerrigter because it was difficult to remember – holds a unique position in Dutch art. His early drawings and graphic works are full of social protest and solidarity with the oppressed. His later work was populated with hermaphrodites, disabled veterans, skeletons, people suffering from syphilis as well as children and animals. Male and female genitalia turn up everywhere in the most improbable places. From 25 October 2008 through 1 February 2009 the Museum voor Moderne Kunst Arnhem will present a retrospective exhibition entitled Melle’s creation.

At the age of fourteen Melle Oldeboerrigter, who was born in Amsterdam, began training as a typesetter in that city’s school of graphic arts. In addition he also took evening classes in technical drawing and lithography. Beginning in 1922 he produced illustrations bursting with social protest for Moker, an inflammatory newspaper for young workers. Other politically engaged journals would follow. He also illustrated books and book jackets. He found a permanent job as a typesetter at the Arbeiderspers (Workers’ press) but continued to draw, illustrate, and produce water colours. In 1938 Melle took up painting. Right after the war he gave up his job as typesetter to devote himself full-time to art. He would ultimately produce pencil drawings, embroidery, pastels, lithographs, and more than 250 oil paintings.

Melle has sometimes been classed under surrealism, but he resisted this categorisation; he considered himself a visionary artist like Hieronymus Bosch and, like Bosch, he always produced minutely detailed work. His postwar work, full of hermaphrodites, disabled veterans, skeletons, people suffering from syphilis, children, animals, and male and female genitalia, was characterised by the opposition between the vulnerability of nature and human aggression, and dealt with the theme of the eternal cycle of procreation and decay. In the late 1950s the genitalia in Melle’s work led the psychiatrist C. van Emde Boas to analyse his work, which caused a stir.

Melle was not so much a Painter’s Painter as a Writer’s Painter, and he became friends with Gerard Reve, Albert Helman and Theun de Vries who, like the publisher Geert van Oorschot, collected his work and declared themselves his fans. Thus Melle was one of the models for the painter Kade in Reve’s De Avonden, which provides a striking artistic and intellectual (group)portrait. Although he may be considered more of a Writer’s Painter, Melle was also admired by many visual artists, including Nicolaas Wijnberg, who portrayed him in paintings and drawings. Along with the exhibition ‘Melle’s creation’ the retrospective exhibition ‘Nicolaas Wijnberg: Figura’ is on view at the Museum for Moderne Kunst Arnhem. Only at the end of his life did Melle also become known to a large public who flocked to see his first museum retrospectives. To this day Melle continues to enjoy a great number of fans.


De schepping van Melle: visionair in de wereld van de moderne kunst 1908-2008 | The creation of Melle: visionary in the world of modern art
Bram Kempers
Published on the occasion of an exhibition held in 2008-09 in Arnhem (MMKA)
102 pp., 29 x 24 cm., 100 illustrations in color, 50 in black-and-white
Bussum (Thoth) 2008
ISBN-13: 978-90-686-8476-6