Artist’s archive belonging to Erwin de Vries accessible to the public from 1 December

archief erwin de vries

In 2021 the RKD received the archive of Erwin de Vries (1929-2018), a prominent sculptor and painter from the former Dutch colony of Suriname. The archive consists mainly of documentation, correspondence and sketches relating to De Vries’s artworks, most notably the National Slavery Monument. Members of the public will be able to consult the archive at the RKD in The Hague from 1 December 2022.

Born in Paramaribo

Erwin de Vries was born in Paramaribo but moved to the Netherlands in order to train at the art academy in The Hague. In 1958 he went on to study sculpture the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. After graduating he rapidly established his name as a leading sculptor and painter. Thus he was given two solo exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (in 1970 and 1998), something not granted to any other Surinamese artist either before or after. In 1984 he returned permanently to Paramaribo, where he continued his successful career. He is best known for his sculpture but he also made work in other media. Many of his paintings and drawings are erotic in nature and female nudes play a prominent role.

archief erwin de vries
1. Unknown photographer, Erwin de Vries standing next to the National Slavery Monument, between 2002 and 2009, collection RKD
2. Documentation from Erwin de Vries’s archive, 2021, collection RKD

Iconic sculptures

Erwin de Vries’s sculptures can be figurative or abstract. He tends towards simple abstract forms akin to those used by CoBrA artists. His most striking work in Holland is the National Slavery Monument (2002) in Amsterdam’s Oosterpark, where the abolition of slavery is commemorated each year. He also made busts of prominent Dutch citizens, such as Rudi Fuchs, Simon Carmiggelt, Toon Hermans, Ivo Opstelten and Clarence Seedorf. His sculptures are closely associated with Suriname’s journey to independence: there are many statues by De Vries in Paramaribo representing Suriname statesmen and other important figures.

Artist’s archive

The archive extends to more than six linear metres and contains biographical papers, documentation about exhibitions as well as a great many photographs taken by Erwin de Vries for, or of his work. The archive offers insight into the creative processes followed by De Vries. His beautiful sketches in bright colours are particularly striking, including designs he made spontaneously which show how he ‘thinks as he sketches’. The archive furthermore provides information about his network, the ways in which he worked, sales of his works and extends to his reception in the Netherlands and Suriname but also the Caribbean. His major commission for the National Slavery Monument is well documented, including its execution and reception.

archief erwin de vries
1. Erwin de Vries, sketch for the National Slavery Monument, 2001, collection RKD
2. Erwin de Vries, preliminary design for the AMC sculpture, collection RKD
3. Erwin de Vries, design for unknown project, collection RKD

Research possibilities

Erwin de Vries is without doubt an important twentieth-century artist for Holland and Suriname. Two things that have contributed most to this are his roots in the sociocultural network and the fact that so many of his works have found their way into public collections and public spaces. In 2021 De Vries’s daughters presented his archive to the RKD. Cultural historian Hanneke Oosterhof, Erwin de Vries’s biographer, was given the first opportunity to study the material. Her biography will be published in 2025. Now that she has rounded off her archival research, the documentation will be opened up to the public on 1 December 2022. Erwin de Vries’s archive is a wonderful acquisition for the RKD, not least because of his ties with Suriname. It will play an important role in any art- or cultural-historical research involving the shared recent history of Holland and Suriname, and the artistic and cultural exchanges that ensued.