In Loving Memory, Henri van Bentum, August 13, 1929 - April 2, 2022

Henri van Bentum, Artist
August 13, 1929 - April 2, 2022

“The brightness that leaps from his canvasses 
is like crystals seen through a microscope.” TIME

Artist and colour master Henri van Bentum, 92, of Victoria, BC, passed away tranquilly in the company of his beloved lifelong partner, Natasha van Bentum, on April 2, 2022.

Henri was born on August 13, 1929 in the Netherlands. The son of diamond-facetter Hendricus Johannes van Bentum and Antonia Alberse, Henri began painting after WWII in a sanatorium during a long bout with tuberculosis. Later the doctors said ‘taking up painting saved his life’.

Cured, he immigrated to Canada in 1957, where two years later in early spring he travelled by train to the Rocky Mountains to paint, a trip sponsored by friend and doctor Wilf S. Goodman.

While painting ‘en plein air’ at Moraine Lake, two faculty members of the Banff School of Fine Arts came upon him unexpectedly. When they saw what was on his easel, Henri was invited to attend the school’s summer session (which he didn’t know existed). Having no money, they waived the usual fees.

Ironically it was in the Rocky Mountains that Henri discovered he was a born abstract painter, and left representational art behind, never turning back. In Toronto he studied with J.W.G. (“Jock”) Macdonald, his respected mentor. Two one-man exhibitions at Roberts Gallery followed.

Henri’s work is represented in over 200 public and private collections. He had solo exhibitions in Paris, New York, Banff, Mexico City, Toronto and Montreal. The Paris exhibition was officially opened by then-Ambassador to France, Jules L├ęger.

Henri freely shared his love of art, especially colour, with others, teaching classes with new Canadian immigrants and lecturing widely throughout Ontario.

Henri was a pioneer, as well, of the Artists in the Schools program in Ontario.

All this was done despite a facial disfigurement caused by a failed mastoid operation in his boyhood during WWII in the Netherlands, in which he also lost hearing in his right ear.

Soon after arriving in Canada, a plastic surgeon performed a pioneering, 8-hour operation that restored some symmetry to his face, but sadly this was undone when the original (mastoid) condition recurred in the late 1980’s and another operation was required.

But Henri, a born raconteur, was steadfast. He persevered with sharing and giving teachings despite this disability.

In 1972 while living with Natasha in Morocco and on the island of Madeira, Henri created his opus, the “Organiverse Portfolio” – a series of 100 mandalas in pointillism, each 8.5 cm in diameter. Dot by dot, “atom by atom”.

Later, back in the Rocky Mountains 1980-85 where Natasha worked at The Banff Centre, Henri embarked on a new series in watercolour, “Spatial Rhythms” and gave a solo exhibition at the Peter Whyte Gallery.

Meanwhile the ‘Organiverse Portfolio’, took on a life of its own. In 1975 it had been made into a 35mm film and represented Canada at several international film festivals. In 2005 a limited-edition portfolio of the Organiverse was followed in 2007 by a handheld set, with each mandala on an individual card, contained in a box made from recovered west coast wood.

Henri was actively creative until the very end. Recently Organiverse took on yet another form, a digital video production of the 100 mandalas joined with poems by Rabindranath Tagore’s “Gitanjali”, produced and narrated by friend Brian W.E. Johnson.

van Bentum’s work evokes organic processes of the macrocosmic and microcosmic levels, reminding viewers “what lies above, so below”. This led NASA’s public outreach program of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory to launch an online exhibit, “Coloring Space”.

The exhibit juxtaposed images of space with a selection of Henri’s paintings. Friend and astronaut Chris Hadfield called the project “a lovely fusion of science and art”. While Chris was Commander of the International Space Station, he took along a memory stick containing all 100 mandalas.

Henri was a prolific writer and correspondent with friends around the world. Following a diagnosis of bladder cancer in 2015, Henri wrote five children’s stories, all illustrated by Arizona friend P.J. Heyliger.

He was an intrepid world traveller, having been to all seven continents. These travels were undertaken on a shoestring budget. Henri’s mode of travel ranged from foot, bicycle, donkey, camel, jeep, bus, train, freighter and passenger ship to dingy, dug-out canoe, dive boat, sailboat, to Piper Cub and helicopter.

Henri circumnavigated the globe three times in the company of his partner of 51 years, Natasha, and was a proud member of the Circumnavigators Club. He was also a snooker aficionado, a passion he continued to practice into his 90s at the Union Club, with its heritage Billiards Room, winning a trophy six years ago.

Throughout his rich and varied life, Henri continued to share and give widely. He embodied the motto of his hometown Amsterdam: “Valiant, Steadfast, Compassionate” (Heldhaftig, Vastberaden, Barmhartig).

The obituary of Henri van Bentum can be found on the McCall Gardens website, click here.


Special Announcement : historic works by the late Henri van Bentum from his Private Collection. Now available to purchase for the first time.

Before his passing on April 2nd of this year at the age of 92, artist Henri van Bentum authorized me, Natasha van Bentum, his partner of 51 years, to make available a few of his paintings from our Private Collection. Seventy-five percent of proceeds from any sales will go towards the Henri van Bentum Legacy Project, currently in the planning stage.

Please note: several of these paintings have not come onto the market for many years, and include works from the late 1950's and early 1960's.  (See the end of this post for "What the Critics Say about the Work of Henri van Bentum.")

Henri van Bentum, "Global WarNing", 1965
Acrylic and Chinese Ink on Paper, width 30" x height 24", framed under glass
Exhibited at Roberts Gallery, 1965
Painted long before "global warming" became a common term.
Formerly in the private collection of Mr. Leslie George Dawson

Henri van Bentum, "Veined Ripples", 1965
Acrylic on canvas, width 30" x height 24"
Exhibited in Paris, France in 1966, 
at Galerie Raymonde Cazenave, Paris, France 1966
Reproduced in TIME Magazine, May 20, 1966
Formerly in the collection of the late Mr. Leslie George Dawson.

Henri van Bentum, "Long Before", 1967
Acrylic on canvas, width 40" x height 50", framed
Formerly in the collection of the late Mr. Leslie George Dawson

Henri van Bentum, "Season", 1962
Oil on canvas, width 26" x height 30", framed 
Painted while living on the island of Ibiza, Spain
From the private collection of the late Mr. Leslie George Dawson
$12,000  (canvas requires re-stretching) 

Henri van Bentum, "
ancing of the Spheres", 1977
Acrylic on canvas, width 40" x height 30", framed
Painted while living in Ottawa, Ontario, 1977-78

Henri van Bentum, "Jubilato", 1977
Acrylic on canvas, width 30" x height 36"
Painted while living in Ottawa, Ontario, 1977-78
Formerly in the collection of the late Mr. Leslie George Dawson

Henri van Bentum, "Borealis", 1964
Acrylic on paper, width 30" x height 24", framed under glass
Exhibited at Roberts Gallery, 1965
The only remaining work available in this series

SPATIAL RHYTHMS Series - Watercolour on handmade paper

About the Spatial Rhythms series:   While living in the Rocky Mountains (in Banff, Alberta), van Bentum began a bold, Zen-like series of watercolours that he named "Spatial Rhythms". Henri continued working on this "Spatial Rhythms" series after moving to Vancouver in 1985.

"Spatial Rhythms" are a controlled, simple interpretation of inner feeling and symbolism. The work contains elements of music -- such as volume, mood and rhythm, which are translated into tonality, colour and composition."

Example of Henri van Bentum's Spatial Rhythms series, 1983
Watercolour on handmade paper, width 20", height 30"
Vertical series, created while living in Banff, Alberta 1980-85.

Example of Henri van Bentum's Spatial Rhythms, 1983
Watercolour on handmade paper, width 20", height 30"
Horizontal series, created while living in Banff, Alberta 1980-85.

What the Critics Say about the Work

of Artist Henri van Bentum

 “His microscopic attention to detail comes out most strongly in evocations of coral seen through the luminous waters of tropical seas, and in the textures of rock and ice caught in the suffused light of underground caverns.”   TIME Magazine

 “The best one-man show of abstract art I have seen in a long time is that of watercolours by Henri van Bentum. While too many artists seem to torture watercolour for expression, van Bentum exploits the natural delight of the medium so that it serves his most exacting thought.”  Globe & Mail

 “Henri van Bentum’s series of work, “Spatial Rhythms”, reflects his development into a controlled, simple interpretation of inner feelings; this series of paintings interprets the elements of music such as volume, mood and rhythm and are translated into tonality, colour and composition.   Peter Whyte Museum, Banff, Alberta

 When he marshals his colour into circles, then places them like water drops on the white canvas, van Bentum gets a rich intricacy of light and depth. Some have jewel facets, while others contain the subtleties of earth, leaves and bark.  Globe & Mail

 “Viewing a painting by Henri van Bentum is a stimulus to the imagination. Perhaps his background as a diamond-faceter’s son is responsible for the almost crystalline aspect of his work. The single most extraordinary quality in all his paintings is an incredible luminosity, a radiance that emanates from within.

 Completely introspective in his work, van Bentum is probably a born abstract painter.  J.W.G. ("Jock") Macdonald, with whom he studied, was one of the first to encourage van Bentum to develop his individuality, and it is certainly under Macdonald’s influence that he achieved his present independence.

van Bentum uses blank space as a positive.  The missing element is essential to the whole.  While none of his current work depicts any recognizable object, it immediately conjures up a mental word picture of a time, space, melody or situation”.   Canadian Interiors

Contact: Natasha van Bentum
vanbentum "at" gmail.com
June, 2022