World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 81 - Marie Louise Elshout

The studio of Marie Louise Elshout is located on the north side of Rotterdam, in Schiebroek. It used to be a school. A part of the former classrooms is for habitation, the other part for artist studios.

It is a nice big room with lots of light. It looks empty and clean. At the spot where undoubtely the chalkboard used to be, she has hung recent work. On the left wall is the first draft of a painting showing a girl with long hair and a skull. ‘Two Sisters’ is the working title. In het background and around her birch trees will be drawn and painted.


I see more girls with long hair. Usually captured from the back or the side. She calls it ‘the  Mädchen series’. The first came in 2009. This was followed by more, at least two per year. The girl’s hair is always curled, and if you look closely you see underlying figures, sometimes somewhat ominous. There’s a certain silence in het girls. Marie Louise: “I’m looking for that silence. I see it as a sculpture. In that curly hair is so much to see.  Mädchen #12 from 2013 is almost a landscape.”

The girl can be seen as her alter ego ánd as an archetype.  “These girls have been the basis of my development as an artist. The first girl was an Aha! Moment for me. I found my tone, along with the color and technique. The hair acts as a projection screen. It a fantasticality hiding something. There emerges something, I am steering but sometimes it is also for me a surprise what it will be.”

Guilty landscape

It is not surprising that the girls are her key work. But there are two more key works. More about that in a moment. First something about the atmosphere and tone of her work. Two things stand out: 19th century  Romanticism, and especially the English romanticism  and the almost phographic landscapes, with sepia tones. The latter appears to be closely related with a stay in America in her final year of the Willem de Kooning Academy.

After staying at the MICA, the Maryland Institute College of Art, in the context of an exchange, she went touring. The beautiful landscape fascinated her immensly. Years later she discovered, through an online library, photos taken by the pioneers of the American landscape in the 19th century. She was very impressed. Almost all the landscapes she paints are based on photographs of the American pioneers. In line with Kiefer and Armando she speaks of ‘guilty landscape ’. Because it is a landscape with a violent history.

Alienation, solitude, and the landscape are her themes, she says. Her inspiration has more aspects. “First painting in itself, especially Romanticism, Caspar David Friedrich, William Blake and my respect and love for nature. Secondly photography, 19th century photographs from America where pioneers conquered their land. The first sectarian communities there, such as the Amish, are inspiring because within these small communities there is room for superstition, taboos and strange rituals. This form of ‘madness’ in man fascinates me very much.”

The Painted Bird

That is precisely why she situates her paintings in the 19th century. “It allows me to create my own world where everything is possible. What I paint is what frightens me as a person. The cruelty of man, incest and abuse of children and the ambivalent attitude of humans towards animals. We treat them mostly in a terrible way and we get rid of them in an unscrupulous way when they are no longer needed.”

A great source of inspiration is the novel ‘The Painted Bird’ by Jerzy Kosinski. “A wonderful statement  about war and cruelty of man and again the landscape. The Painted Bird literally stands for the disruption of what is different. I my work I want to pinpoint the cruel aspects of man who seems often to act only out of self-preservation and self-interest and cannot stop making war.”

The woman with the hare

Besides the girls, Marie Louise has more key works. The second key work is the woman with the hare, Der Hase. The work was part of an exhibition in TENT in 2011 with the title ‘Every picture tells a story’. There were artists invited who were specifically concerned with painting and who had a certain need to do so. In her work she used a lot of natural materials such as soil, leaves, sand, pine needles. She puts it firmly on the canvas with preservative glue. Her own pubic hair she used in the painting. “It was not to shock, but it was a result of the materials research in my work, I also wanted to use something of myself. It’s my own DNA which makes it even more personal. The woman is an albino, I painted the pubic hair white, so you have to look good. It is about vulnerability. The woman stands on a precipice. She balances there, with the hare that she has captured. It refers to animal cruelty and classical painting. The work brought me ahead. This resulted among others in Der Wolf, Der Schwan, Das Lamm. The women that I paint in the landscape serve as archetypes for specific emotions and feelings.”  

Museum Gouda

The third key work is LIFE, she made it on the occasion of the exhibition ‘The dark side of beauty’ in Museum Gouda. It was to be seen in the final months of 2014 and the first months of 2015. It was an exhibition of the NOCTURNE collective, where besides Marie Louise also Henrique van Putten, Birgitta Sundström Jansdotter and Dindi are part of. “The director of Museum Gouda had invited us to create a site-specific work.”

“I chose the painting ‘Deathbed of a child’of Bartholemeus van der Helst, a painter from the 17th century, which is part of the permanent collection of the Museum. I my work I have emphasized the emotions around the issue of loosing a child. In this work you see a woman  looking at herself in the mirror, reflecting on her life. Her face is deformed as often happens with antique mirrors with damage in it. Especially because of the technique I’ve used here, leaving parts empty  and showing a lot of the original drawing, it is a key work. The technique I used here, I also use in my recent work.”

Recently she started painting a lot lighter, there are more lines to see. Drawing begins to take over. In ‘Two Sisters’ you see the drawing. She still paints, but less than before, which results in lighter and freer work, also less heavy as to subject matter.

We walk past the paintings. She points it out. “In my paintings I try as it were to paint silence, an ‘implosion’ of light, like looking at the negative of a photograph. I try more to open the image so that the viewers get more space for their own interpretation. In terms of subject at the moment alienation, vulnerability are important to me.”

Two careers in art

Marie Louise Elshout graduated in 1994 from the Willem de Kooning Academy in graphic work. In her final year she did an exchange program in Baltimore, Maryland. “This changed my view on the USA enormously and generated an obvious fascination.” In 1988, she wanted still more depth in her work and she went to study at the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam. She didn’t complete this study. “I received a scholarship and was told that I wasn’t allowed to work , only study. There were several exhibitions planned, so I decided to keep it a year. I do have a little regret. I would have liked to get the master’s degree.”   

Actually, Marie Louise has two careers in the arts. She started after her graduation in photography and videos in which she was quite succesful. “While video at that time was not seen as art.” As for photography, she worked with Polaroid. She mostly made self-portraits. Recently, these photos have been featured in an installation with PAK, Platform for Contemporay Arts, in Belgium.

But she got more and more need to return to what she calls ‘the tangilble in the art, the physical and the craft’. “My video and photo work was often about painting and was mostly based on Romanticism. In 2006, I thought it was time to start using the brush. I made a switch, against everyone’s advise. First, in 2006 painting was totally ‘not done’, and second, I was able to live of my video and photo work. “


She sold well, amongst others to the Caldic Collection, and received recognition. She received a couple of times a stipend and several grants for projects.

“In my early years I was floundering with painting to find my technique and I had to prove myself all over again in this new medium. Gallery owners all wanted to await my development. My first painting I  sold  in 2009, at an art fair. It was a hard time, financially as well.”

Recently it goes a lot better with her painting. “Especially through the exhibition at the Gouda Museum, where some 6.000 visitors came, I sell well lately.”

She often went against the prevailing direction. In the 90s she made video and photo work that hardly was seen as art and when painting was considered dated, she chose right for that.”That such an amazing turaround came in the visual arts in favor of painting in a few years time, I find striking, but also very good.”


1) Mädchen 1, 2009, 2) Mädchen 7, 2010, 3) Der Hase, 2011, foto Bob Goedewaagen, 4) Der Wolf, 2012, 5) Mädchen 12, 2013,  6) The Husband, 2013, 7) LIFE, 2014, 8) Mädchen 15, 2015, 9) Two Sisters, 2015, 10) Two Sisters, detail, 11) Two Sisters, detail, 12) Buffalogirl, 2015, in progress, 13) Birdlady, 2015, in progress, 14) Marie Louise Elshout, Ten Words and One Shot.



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