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THE VISIONARY REVUE
Spring 2003

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DIANA VANDENBERG
L. Caruana

DIANA VANDENBERG

      In early October 1997, a black-framed notice in the Dutch newspapers announced the death of ‘Angele Therese Van den Berg Blomjous -- Diana -- painter’. At the age of 74, this gifted and dynamic woman had left behind a large number of uniquely inspired works, as well as a surprising number of students whom she had inspired - Frans Erkelens, Axel Kreher, Fred Hansen, Alice Buis - all artists well-known within Holland. Diana was also remembered as the wife for sixteen years of the greatest Dutch visionary artist to emerge during their generation. But much of her life remains a mystery.
      Born Angele Therese Blomjous on April 1, 1923, her interest in spirituality began when her mother took her on a pigrimmage to Lourdes, where the young Angele was deeply affected by the charged atmosphere. This interest in spirituality combined with a passion for painting, which led her eventually to the Royal Academy of Arts in the Hague.
      After finding the academic atmosphere too stifling for her creativity, she quit two years later and took up private lessons with Francien van Davelaar, an Anthroposophist who introduced her to the works of Rudolf Steiner.
      On her 24th birthday, Diavola (as she was then called) met Frans van den Berg, another Hague artist with whom she quickly formed a liason. At various times, this as-yet unknown artist called her playfully Angel, Anushka, and Diana. When the two began exhibiting their works, Angele Blomjous was announced simply as Diana, while her husband became known as Johfra.
      They were partners in crime. Sharing a studio together in the Willemstraat in The Hague, they often painted side by side and exhibited together as Johfra and Diana. Summers, they travelled together to Paris and Rome, studying the old masters and admiring the alpine landscapes so remarkably different from their flat homeland. In 1959, they visited Salvador Dali in his home in Cadaques.
      Throughout her life, Diana’s strong personality asserted itself - she was charismatic, out-going, engaging, even opportunist and manipulative. She quickly made contacts in the art world and established her and Johfra’s reputations as painters of the surreal, bizarre, and esoteric. This helped Johfra immensely who, by nature, prefered to concentrate on the task of painting itself.
      The course of their lives changed when the couple met Cor Damme, a Dutch American collector who introduced them to the Lectorium Rosicrucianum in Haarlem. For the next decade, the couple would deepen their studies of Gnosticism, Hermeticism, and Esoteric symbolism at the school of the Rosicrucians. It became their new creative environment, their world. Eventually, Johfra tried to distance himself from the Lectorium, while Diana continued to make it the centre of her activities.
       In 1958, Diana Vandenberg met Ellen Lorien, a fellow artist who was following courses at the Lectorium. The two became friends, and Diana invited Ellen to come to their home in The Hague, where Ellen could study old master’s techniques. Unexpectedly, Johfra and Ellen fell in love. Distressed, Ellen left for Amsterdam, while Johfra and Diana tried to patch together their relationship - without success. In 1962 Johfra followed Ellen to Amsterdam, and the sixteen year relationship with Diana came to an end.
      Deeply hurt by this turn of events, Diana threw herself into painting and her activities at the Lectorium. She also, from this time forward, took the task of survival as an artist very seriously, acquiring portrait commissions, taking on students, and promoting herself in the media.
      Her work, however, showed how intensely she felt the absence of Johfra in her life. A painting called Rex and Regina ostensibly showed Akhenaton and Nefertiti, but these two bore an undeniable resemblance to Johfra and Diana. A 1964 self-portrait bore the curious title ‘At Peace with Johfra’.
      While Johfra and Ellen had moved meanwhile to Aspremont in the south of France, Diana also bought a holiday home there in Garos, and visited the couple in 1966. Her association with them continued when the gallerist Jan Blok organized a travelling exhibition in 1974 called ‘The Seven Meta-Realists’. Passing through several cities in Holland and Belgium, over 48,000 people visited the well-received show.
      The poster for the exhibition was painted by Diana. Called The Mandala of Love, Johfra appeared at the top of the circle with Diana to the right and Ellen Lorien to the left. Below them figured the remaining four: Victor Linford, Han Koning, Johan Hermsen and Frans Erkelens. After this media coup, the work of all seven painters was in much demand and commanded high prices.
      Diana continued to paint Hermetic works along with her portrait commissions. These Hermetic works were also reproduced as book covers and five of them (The Tree of Life series) became posters for Verkerke. In 1969, a book by J. Stellingwerff was published, The Hermetic Art of Diana Vandenberg (in Dutch only), which offered colour reproductions and extensive commentary, while also cataloguing the 250 works she’d done up to that time.
      From this time forward, numerous magazine articles charted her progress as an artist. In 1985 she exposed ‘the Gaia series’ at Galerie Lieve Hemel in Amsterdam, which attracted much attention.
      Finally, in 1993 the Galerie van Munster created a retrospective of her artistic output, with catalogue, called Diana Vandenberg 70 Jaar. She died four years later at the age of 74.
      The English language sources for the life and works of Diana Vandenberg remain scant. Even the Dutch works remain unreliable (Johfra’s own copy of Stellingwerff’s book is annotated repeatedly with the words ‘It’s a lie!’) The internet as well offers lamentably few samples of Diana’s work (the exception being Andrew Gonzalez’ site Galerie Sublimatio). This article offers a brief outline of a life which, by contrast, was long, rich, and extremely complex. We can only hope that this article will be followed by others on the net - of greater complexity, originality, and depth.

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