On a hot sultry August day in 1956, Peter van Berkel was born in Rotterdam. Circumstances were not very easy for his mother, Cornelia van
Berkel, as Peter was not her first born. The family consisted of four sons and a daughter at the time of Peter’s birth.
At the City Hall the newborn baby was registered as Petrus Jozephus, after his father, whom was called Chef. His mother affectionately called
her son Peter. At the age of four Peter went to live with his oldest brother, Jan Hovener, as his mother was hospitalized. Jan, a child of his
mother’s first marriage, was twenty-four at the time and was a good painter. At an early age Peter was inspired by his brother’s talent and began
to learn about painting. When Peter was five, he painted his first oil painting, together with Jan, who lived in the neighborhood of
Krabbendijke, a picturesque village in Zeeland.
Shortly thereafter, Peter decided to become a chef. He entered a hotel and catering school called V.H.B., but after two years in school, Peter,
with hair hanging down to his shoulders, was asked to have his hair cut. He refused to do so and was expelled from school. Following this,
Peter goes to a junior secondary technical school attending painting and decorating classes. At the age of sixteen, he is a qualified painter and
decorator. He had two options at this point in his life; he could apply either for admission to a course of commercial art at the national school
of painting in Utrecht, or at the Porcelijne Fles in Delft. The Porcelijne Fles is the well-known factory where Delftware is painted. In Delft
he was accepted as a trainee, and was scheduled to start in August. Peter spent his summer holiday in Zeeland at Jan’s home and decided to
follow in his brother’s footsteps. He chooses to paint and not go to Delft.
In a camper with Jan and his family, Peter travels through former Yugoslavia, painting and constantly watching his brother, who paints
whatever he likes. In the process, Peter learns more about painting than what would have been taught in any school.
After turning eighteen, Peter, along with his girlfriend, Elly Geys, leave Rotterdam for Wemeldinge in Zeeland. They moved into a house in
the country. The small village they now lived in was a big change from the big city of Rotterdam.
Before the construction of the Delta works, traveling from Rotterdam to Zierikzee involved taking a train from Rotterdam to Goes, then a steam
train to Katseveer, and then a ferry across the Scheldt River. Once the Scheldt River was bridged, all Zeeland islands were connected and the
province of Zeeland became part of the Netherlands. Now one can travel to Zierikee by car in less than forty minutes. Tourism has greatly
increased since the islands of Zeeland are accessible. Fortunately, as most tourists travel to the coast and beaches, the original countryside has
remained unspoiled, providing long, quite walks over medieval dikes and through the picturesque scenery of Old Zeeland. No wonder the
painter, Peter van Berkel, has moved from the bustling city of Rotterdam to this lovely countryside.
After meeting the local villagers, he learns of several well-known artists among them including Lodwijk Bruckman, Frans van der Heide, Henny
de Korte, and Rein Sievers. Peter began to spend time with Frans van der Heide, and even traveled to Spain with him. Rein Sievers, who was
a close friend of Jan Hovener, supported and advised van Berkel.
In 1976, Peter and Elly were married and two years later their first child was born, a boy whom they called Cheyenne. Peter worked in Yerseke
and enjoyed the beauty of mussel fishing, oyster ponds, and little harbors. He began to take his easel to the harbor and paint the old fishing
boats and mussel processing factories. After a year van Berkel had completed enough paintings for his first exhibition in December 1979, in
the old City Hall of Goes. The exhibition was a great success with favorable reviews that gave him enough strength to continue, although
financially, life was not easy.
Gradually the dark colors in his paintings gave way to lighter tones. His preferences for the colors of the Hague School pushed into his work.
After he visited Paris, seeing Monet’s water lilies and other art by French Impressionists like Cezanne and Van Gogh, he became inspired by
their use of light and shadow. Peter decided to travel around France to capture the impressions that inspired the French masters. While
traveling he noticed that a French landscape painting results with more brilliant colors than a Dutch landscape.
In 1983, when the van Berkel family lived in Goes, a second child is born, a daughter whom Peter and Elly call Sheila. The new baby made
traveling impossible, Peter’s Dutch landscapes began to grow darker again. He began to paint flower paintings, which he enjoyed so much that
for a year he painted nothing else. At first roses fascinated him, but Elly bought a pot of hydrangeas, and these quickly became his favorite
In 1985, his home began to grow overcrowded; therefore, Peter rented a studio. In this studio he paints and exhibits his work. Here he started
painting the first of a number of townscapes. As his brother Jan also paints townscapes, the two brothers,
Charmed by the combination of harbor and city, often roamed about Goes, Zierikzee and Yerseke. Rein Sievers, who returned from spending
several years in the United States, advises Peter on the skills of the townscape painting. In 1994 Rein Sievers died.
When van Berkel is asked to paint a portrait, he has to overcome many difficulties. However, he does like portrait painting. He had painted
many studies and portraits of his wife, children and friends. As he neared fifteen years of painting, Peter had tried his hand at all subjects. He
can paint whatever his eyes see. The public loves his landscapes most of all, he is even well known in the United States. Many of his paintings
are found in the United States and Japan.
In 1986, Peter and his family traveled in Jan’s roomy camper. They enjoyed the feeling of being free again, so much that in the same summer
Peter bought an old Mercedes van and converted it into a camper. The family’s first destination was Portugal. Peter was anxious to see the
lovely seaside, sandy beaches, and rugged countryside where he could still feel as one with nature. He delighted in seeing the Portuguese
fishermen draw their nets from the sea by hand or with the help of oxen. He enjoyed the sun, the good food and wine. With all of the
relaxation and enjoyment, finding time to take up his palette was difficult for him.
Van Berkel manages to produce paintings at regular intervals, sometimes in the blazing sun, at thirty degrees centigrade. Painting away in the
shade of a big parasol, his brush strokes often get rough. In this heat the paint dries quickly, so he works at a fast pace, and is continually pleased
with the results.
Peter has decided to paint Dutch landscapes in the winter and travel to Portugal in the summer. He is very successful and his paintings are
many times sold before they have properly dried. Apart from a number of early exhibitions and at the large art fairs in Frankfurt, Germany and
the United States, he does not exhibit his work very often as his paintings are usually sold prior to completion. In 1991, Peter took part in a
traveling exhibition through Japan together with other recognized Dutch artists.
Van Berkel has been painting for nearly 25 years. He spent the first 10 trying to decide exactly what style he wanted to focus on and which
subjects he wanted to depict. His paintings used to be very detailed, almost photographic, then he saw the art of the Impressionists and chose
to utilize brighter colors and more light and shadow.
The moment life gets less hectic, Peter and his family board their camper and leave for Portugal, Spain, or the beautiful south of France. In
recent years, Peter mostly visited Provence,France, not only because of the pleasant climate, but also due to the light that once inspired the
French Impressionists, his great example. Under their influence, the grey and sometimes somber Hague tones in his impressionistic color
scheme turn into bright, somewhat garish, colors in his French landscapes. Peter believes that a painting should emanate the atmosphere in
which it is painted.
1979 City Hall, Goes
1981 De Zaete, Yerseke
1982 City Hall, Goes
1985 Art Gallery Mat, Goes
1986 City Hall, Goes
1988 Art Fair Frankfurt, Germany
1989 City Hall, Goes
Artexpo New York, United States
1990 Art Fair Frankfurt, Germany
Art Fair Munich, Germany
1991 Traveling exhibition through Japan
1992 Artexpo New York, United States
Artexpo Chicago, United States
1993 Art Fair Frankfurt, Germany
1994 Art Fair Frankfurt, Germany
Artexpo New York, United States
1995 De Hefbrug, Rotterdam
Art Gallery Arti-Choc, Biest-Houtakker
Artexpo New York, United States
Artexpo Las Vegas, United States
1996-2003 Artexpo New York, United States
In June 1995, Peter van Berkel was invited by “Foundation Trechter Vijf” to paint a townscape of his favorite city, Goes. The
oil painting, on panel, measuring 160x200 centimeters, was acquired by the City of Goes.
The paintings of Peter van Berkel are found in galleries throughout the United States.