Belgian artist Jef Claesen proved an influential force in the promotion of a Belgian school of artists who celebrated their natural surroundings. Living and working his whole life in the Kempen region, Claesen would influence future generations with his naturalistic, evocative depictions of the De Liereman nature reserve.
Claesen was born in Oud-Turnhout, a town bordering De Liereman. Here, he would receive tutoring from two local artists, Eugène Surinx (1850-1936) and Albert Sohie (1873-1927). Together with these two men, Claesen would begin to produce works of the surrounding countryside and establish what would become known as the Liereman School.
Inspired by the French Barbizon School, Claesen painted in a naturalistic manner which looked first and foremost towards nature as inspiration. He evoked the spirit of De Liereman’s heathlands through loose, imperfect brushwork. There is an organic sense to the laying of his paint upon the canvas which captures nature in all its varieties.
Coupled with clever colourisation, Claesen captures the rustling sway of trees, the fuzzy stoking of the grasses in a gentle wind. It is likely he painted many of his works in situ, allowing them to be as reflective and evocative as possible.
Claesen’s works would bring the spirit of the Barbizon to the Kempen region of Belgium. The Barbizon School had been revolutionary in their approach to landscapes, and Claesen was bringing the same revolution to his homeland. His works influenced the next generation of painters, including his nephews Theo Op de Beeck (1901-1993) and Jozef Op de Beeck (1904-1966).
As well as being an artist, Claesen is also listed as being an organist. It seems he lived and worked his whole life in Oud-Turnhout and the surrounding area, and he very likely played a role in the everyday community. His lasting legacy, however, was to put the De Liereman area on the map and help establish a school of painting which celebrated its natural beauty.
Born in Oud-Turnhout, Antwerp, Belgium.
Died in Oud-Turnhout, Antwerp, Belgium.