Life & Work

Gérard Héman (1914 – 1992)

(English synopsis with links to the site in Dutch)

During his 60-year career as an artist Héman made a large number of artworks many of which had a religious subject. His work is often described as traditional but it is also very personal. He was inspired by his youth and a mix of personal fascination and phantasies for stories, myths, fairytales, biblical stories and legends. His religious work is also inspired by a wilfull interpretation of the story of his own life. With his madonnas, his memories of his mother who died at an early age, are important. After an early youth with stories from Germany and Russia, he was educated at a Catholic boarding school at Chauny (France). This gave Héman a profound sense of the place Faith has in the life of man in general and in his own life in particular.

Stylistically he has definitely been influenced by the craftsmanship of his grandfather in the tradition of German woodcarving. And though he was considered a ‘Roman Catholic’ in the sectarian Dutch society, Héman was more than that: his work is also autobiographical, narrative, spiritual and often witty. With his great knowledge from his German, French and Russian inheritance he adds a European dimension to sculpture in the Netherlands. Contemporaries often overlook this.

Héman does not belong to a specific stream or ‘movement’. On the one hand this gives him a very specific oeuvre of his own but on the other hand this results in a lack of ‘network’ or followers. Gradually he is passing into oblivion. This is caused by his own character, interests and motivation. But there are also external factors: Artistically the art of sculpture is moving more and more in the direction of modernism and abstraction. After a great many commissions at the beginning of his career his commissions for profane work were growing less and less. The artistic climate in his hometown Rotterdam contributed to this as well. And in Catholic circles there was on the one hand, a diminishing interest in the catholic faith and on the other more modern ideas about religious art were catching on. In spite of the appreciation of a limited group, his religious and realistical figurative way of working were not very popular anymore, with the greater part of the non-religious art society. His individuality but also his modesty worked against him in getting a wider recognition in the second half of the 20th century.

In De kindertijd: Gerhard, Gerard, Gérard en Geert Héman’s life is described, his youth in Germany, Holland and France and also his interest for Russia.

After his study at the Rotterdam Arts College (De Academie en het artistiek klimaat in Rotterdam), the German occupation, and his marriage with Emmy (Emma) van der Loos (Bezetting, huwelijk en reizen), follows an extensive description of artistic life in post-war Rotterdam (the period of reconstruction), to be continued by an explanation of Héman’s Catholicism within the scope of his time.

Receptie en (her)waardering concludes with an impression of the (re)appreciation of Héman’s work from the beginning of the 21stcentury.

The Catalogue (Oeuvrecatalogus) on this site a survey of his work along various lines such as: Development and distribution of the work with reference to materials, use of colour, theme and geographical spread.

Profane and religious work inside and outside Rotterdam in Profaan in Rotterdam, Profaan werk buiten Rotterdam, Religieus werk in Rotterdam and Buiten Rotterdam: ’heiligen, heiligen, heiligen’. Attention for the two dimensional work in Religieuze en Profane schilderijen. And special categories such as: madonnas, cribs, calvaries, castles and fairytales and their backgrounds (Madonna’s, stallen, kruiswegen, sprookjes en kastelen).

(Met dank aan drs. A. Gijsbers-Héman voor de vertaling)