A History of Willem Dolphyn: 80 Paintings for 80 Years

Birthdays and anniversaries mark special and important milestones and this rather special Willem Dolphyn exhibition remarkably achieves two. With Willem’s typical style and Burgundian love of life we have Willem’s 80th year neatly coinciding with a very special 30 year anniversary of exhibiting with our gallery.

Willem arrived at Bill Patterson’s door in 1985, kindred spirits struck a chord immediately and a deep friendship began between the two gentlemen. Over the years the main characters have changed, some old friends sadly departing, but some new friends arriving, and even Willem’s London home has moved. Consistently watching over all this however has been Willem himself. The one solid constant throughout the ever changing times, Willem effortlessly evolving from an energetic quinquagenarian to a lively sexagenarian to a talented septuagenarian to an awesome octogenarian.

Throughout these years, we have all enjoyed Willem’s generosity, his time, his world and his passionate imagination. The quality of his work has been consistently outstanding and inspiring. In honour and celebration of 80 magnificent years, we have collated together a collection of 80 paintings to illustrate the exceptional talent with which Willem is blessed. We invite you to come and enjoy these masterpieces.

Many, many happy returns from us all on your 80th Birthday and very many thanks for you loyalty and love over 30 years. With all best wishes from all of your friends in London.

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Childhood and Young Adult – Victor and Anna


Born in Antwerp on 17 May 1935, Willem Leo Jan Dolphyn was the only son of Victor Dolphyn and Anna de Ridder.

In 1941 his father, Victor, began teaching at the Academy in Antwerp, and with his father already an established and talented artist, Willem clearly had painting in his blood. He began drawing at the age of 4 with a picture of a group of swans inspired after a visit to the Antwerp Zoo.

It was at the age of 12 that through his grandfather’s tales, he began his interest in Eastern culture, and when he was 15, he signed up as an ordinary seaman to give himself the opportunity to travel and explore for himself. He visited countries including Turkey, Greece, Lebanon, Egypt and Libya and it wasn’t long before he was to travel to the East to see for himself where these tales came from. It is a passion that has never left him and has grown stronger and stronger over the years.

Later that year, in 1950 he joined the Antwerp Academy and at 17 became the youngest pupil to be admitted to the National Higher Institute for Fine Arts where he excelled and honed his skills.

In 1954, Willem joined the army in the 29th Engineering Corps and for two years moved bags of cement around… but his true calling always remained and it wasn’t too long before he found the success which would enable him to fund his extraordinary passion for collecting and more importantly would allow him to share his talent with the entire world.


Studio and Painting – The Early Years

face2In 1957 Willem held one of his rst exhibitions when he exhibited a collection of miniatures at Nijenrode Castle in the Netherlands. It was a great success and heralded the start of good things to come.

However, Willem would have to wait a few years for his rst major breakthrough, and in the interim (around 1964) he began teaching gure drawing and still-life painting at the Mol Academy. He also opened De Kroeg, a simple pub on the Conscienceplein which he ran for 5 years, and supplemented his income by turning his hand to book and cartoon illustration during this time.

It was 1968 which became the pivotal year for Willem with his rst show at the Gebo Gallery. It was very well received, 42 landscapes and still-life paintings were sold and commissions ooded in which enabled him to give up his job at the Academy in Mol. He went on to design stamps for the Belgian post o ce in 1973, and to contribute to the 1974 group exhibition by the New Antwerp Realists.


Home and Family Life

face4Willem is a traditional family man. Brought up in a loving environment, his parents Victor and Anna installed a strong sense of hard work in the young Willem whilst letting him remain the free spirit that he still is today. Willem said of his father “he is in his life and certainly in his work, my daily example.”

In the early 1960’s Willem met a lady called Yvonne de Rudder. He was taken by her love of life and sense of humour and they married on 6th May 1961. Early married life saw them renovating houses for a while and they made ends meet with Willem’s painting. And then on 21st December 1963, Yvonne gave birth to their son, Walter.

Many happy years ensued as Walter grew up and worked alongside his father, painting eventually in the same studio together. After his amicable divorce from Yvonne, Willem met Denise Hermann in the early eighties, and she has become his constant companion, playing a valuable part all aspects of his life.

In 1979 Willem bought a small townhouse in Antwerp which he has expanded now into the neighbouring properties. Willem has created a beautiful home here which has the feel of walking into a museum.

1992 saw both highs and lows, with both the wedding of his son to Inge at the start of the year and the death of his father in the summer. These two events would shape the subsequent years, with a new Dolphyn family just beginning. Willem’s rst grand daughter, Ellen was born on 1 August 1994 and Margot followed on 5 March 1998.

The early noughties saw the death of his beloved mother Anna and in 2004, Walter and his family moved to France. This move allowed his grandchildren to grow up close to the summer house of his father Victor and ensured happy Dolphyn holidays in the sun.

Earlier this year in May, several of us from the gallery were excited to visit Antwerp for Willem’s 80th birthday celebrations. It was a superb a air with over 200 people in attendance – an impressive tribute to a great man


Travelling and adventures

face3When Willem was 15, he went by boat to visit Turkey. It was his rst experience of the Eastern way of life and it made a deep impression on him. During the trip he made a series of miniatures recording the events of the journey. A profound interest in the Orient was formed on this adventure and this has grown into one of his life’s major passions.

It was soon after his return at the age of 16 in 1951 that Willem bought his rst Samurai sword. This was the start of a collection which now contains 95 swords and 20 suits of armour.

In 1982 he co-founded the To-Ken club in Belgium which is a society of Japanese arms and armour collectors and he remains an active member today.

Throughout Willem’s life he has undertaken many excursions, visiting the countries of the Far and the Middle East, Thailand, Nepal, Tibet, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, and North and South America and a childhood dream was ful lled when he visited the Dayaks in Borneo.

The Eastern way of life, the atmosphere, the calm and sobriety that he found there, Willem has bought back to his studio and to his house in Antwerp, which accommodates his impressive collection of armour, swords, carvings, stone and bronze hatchets.

Willem also enjoys sailing and visiting his house in France near Walter, his son.


London and the Gallery

face5Meeting Monique Verschuren in the early eighties was an important moment in Willem’s career. Inspired by his paintings, Monique initially organised an exhibition of his work in her hometown of Zierikzee in the Netherlands in 1983, quickly following this up with an exhibition at Hotel des Indes in The Hague in 1984. These shows were enthusiastically received and were both sold out exhibitions – Willem’s international reputation was secured and Monique then took him to London to meet Bill Patterson. In 1985 Bill held his rst show in Mayfair at W.H.Patterson. Sell out shows were a regular feature as Patterson’s clients embraced Willem’s supreme talent and enhanced their collections.

For Willem the nineties and noughties saw the majority of his exhibitions in the British capital at Pattersons. Every other year ‘the Dolphyn Exhibition’ was widely anticipated. This he alternated with exhibitions in the Sporting d’hiver in the Monaco Fine Art gallery.

The Dolphyn’s also held family exhibitions, Willem showing alongside his father Victor, Victor’s brother Denis and Willem’s son Walter. These group shows brought together the broad range of painting talents and genres from each family member. In Elzenveld in 1990 Willem, Victor and Denis exhibited as “3 Dolphyn’s” and in 2010 at Koksijde, Walter exhibited alongside his father and grandfather.

The death of Bill Patterson in 2002, and the later sale of the gallery by Patricia to the Fuller family from Gladwell and Company saw transition and renewed fortunes. Willem stayed loyal to the gallery through this time of change exhibiting his solid bond and unerring sense of duty. He was rewarded in 2010 with his Silver Jubilee exhibition, a major milestone for any artist and gallery partnership.

International shows continued to span the globe in cherished cities like Kobe and Osaka, Japan, as well as new centres for art like the Middle East and Dubai. W.H. Patterson regularly took Willem’s work to art fairs across America and the Far East – that Salmagundi club in New York, and Fine Art Asia in Hong Kong being highlights.

We are excited about hosting this 30th anniversary exhibition for Willem in his 80th year. It really is quite a show!

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