A personal tribute to Willem Dolphyn May 1935 – January 2016
The funeral took place on 30 January of Willem Dolphyn in Antwerp Cathedral. He was one of the finest still life painters of the Antwerp school and it was fitting that his funeral should be conducted in the Cathedral surrounded by masterworks by Peter Paul Rubens, Quentin Massys and Frans Floris. The fact that nearly 700 people on a wet and miserable Saturday morning turned out for the service says a great deal for Willem’s popularity and the affection in which he was held.
Chief amongst the mourners was his son Walter, also a painter and Willem’s long-term partner Dennise Herrmann. I had the honour of representing Willem in London at the WH Patterson Gallery who were his London agents for nearly 30 years, including the time when Gladwellls took over Pattersons and Willem felt that he wished to continue with the name of Patterson’s rather than move to any other gallery.
Willem was always very generous with his time as the many students he had over the years will attest. He was born in Antwerp in 1935 and was only 15 when he was accepted into the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. His father Victor, who was a very accomplished portrait painter, was also a teacher at the academy and from him Willem learnt a great deal. Two years later he entered the National Institute for Fine Arts in Antwerp, the youngest student they had ever accepted.
Willem studied the works of the old Masters of which there was no shortage in Antwerp and specialized in painting “Still Lives” using the wet on wet technique which goes back to the days of Van Eyck.
He had a very fine collection of Chinese porcelain and Venetian glass which he used in his compositions. When he had a successful exhibition in London he would go off to one of his favourite dealers to buy himself a new piece to use in future compositions. One such time he was admiring a lovely delicate Chinese bowl when he noticed it had a red spot underneath it.’ Is this really sold?’ said Willem. ‘Yes’ replied the dealer, ‘you bought it last year’. He also had what is probably the finest collection of Japanese arms and armour in the Netherlands.
I well remember those drives from London to Antwerp to collect Willem’s paintings. We used to stay in an old ferryboat which was moored up in one of the harbours and used as a hotel. The great advantage of the boat was the piano bar which stayed open till about three in the morning and how Willem drove home from there was beyond my comprehension however by nine next morning he was at the studio ready to load up the paintings.
He was diagnosed with cancer just before Christmas and I just over a month later, such a short time but in a way the right thing. Williem was far too bright a light to just slowly gutter and finally go out. Truly a fascinating man and one I’m proud to say I knew.
To celebrate his 80th birthday Gladwell Patterson gallery in London put on an exhibition of 80 of his works and if anyone would like to see more of his pictures go onto their website by clicking here www.gladwellpatterson.com