Nico Bulder (1898-1964) – World-renowned Ex Libris creator, graphical artist, book illustrator, monument designer, painter and teacher, Hoogezand, The Netherlands.
Nicolaas Johannes Bernardus (Nico) Bulder (Hoogezand, 10/29/1898 – Groningen, 1/30/1964) was a Dutch artist of many talents. Although he used various printmaking and painting techniques, he became best known by his wood engraving work especially for ex libris (bookplates) and novel illustrations. For school books illustrations, he primarily used the scratchboard technique. Later in his life he painted more. His 1955 version of the Apocalypse is especially impressive.
Bulder was the youngest son of carpenter Martinus Bulder (1/20/1853 – 1/16/1924) and Gesina Johanna Fikkers (2/9/1853 – 5/30/1941). He had two older brothers “Bernardus Henderikus (5/2/1882 -7/5/1962)” and “Henderikus Bernardus (10/2/1890 – 4/1/1955)“and two older sisters, “Fien” and “Cathrien”. He lived most of his adult life with his two sisters, later joined by his niece “Sien” in the stately house on the Hoofdstraat in Hoogezand.
Nico Bulder worked from 1919 until 1924 as a draughtsman on the Gideon shipyard in Groningen. When the shipyard closed due to a lack of orders, he decided to pursue an art teaching degree at the “Academie Minerva” also located in Groningen. After his graduation in 1928, he became an art teacher at the “Instituut Hommes” in Hoogezand. After the end of war in 1945, he joined “Academie Minerva” to teach drawing, etching, batiking, lithography and stained glass design.
In addition to his regular job as teacher, Nico Bulder created approximately 1800 art pieces. He was one of the best European “Ex Libris” creators of his time. He spent a lot of time and effort from 1926 to 1963 to refine this most intricate form of graphical art. The level of detail that Nico Bulder could incorporate in these small wood engravings is almost incomprehensible. And he cut the mirrored image in the wood block, every little detail with his left hand. (Being left-handed was frowned upon in that era possibly inducing his stuttering when upset). Although he was often commissioned to create specific pieces of graphical art, Bulder also let his inspiration free reign. He was very much influenced by the work of Albrecht Dürer (1471 – 1528) and like him, preferred to depict biblical scenes and saints. But Bulder’s work was far more dramatic and expressive. This wood engraving of one of the Apocalypse horsemen is a superb example of his expressive style.
He also enjoyed creating beautiful landscapes of his beloved Groningen province. Other achievements include the design of the coat of arms for the city of Groningen and two sculpture designs: the obelisk for the city of Sappemeer (1948) and the Bow (“Boeg”) for Hoogezand which was completed after his death by Gerrit Piek.
Nico Bulder was a man of contrasts. According to his friend and colleague Evert Musch, Nico generally had a gentle personality, but he could also be very hard to himself especially when he failed to achieve what he had in mind. We don’t know how many blocks on which he had worked for days ended up being destroyed by himself because he was not completely satisfied. While Evert Musch was an extrovert person, Nico was more introvert and serious. But beneath the stern appearance was also a sense of humor although not shown very often, click here to read some funny stories. He also felt unappreciated or underappreciated by the local community. But strangely enough that did not lead him to pursue the wider world. Maybe because he did not like to travel due to his health issues. Although Nico was raised Catholic, he seemed more at ease with his Protestant compatriots. See for example the eulogy, “Hommage aan Nico Bulder 1898-1964” in the September 26, 1964 edition of the news paper “Gereformeerd Gezinsblad”. Click here to see the article. Strangely enough, he was almost never commissioned by the Catholic church although he regularly provided them artwork for free.
He was a man inspired by the Old and New Testament, but also by the old mythological stories. He was especially fascinated by the more brutal stories with a lot of action in it. You see that reflected in the choice and style of his many book illustrations. He did not avoid depicting extreme violence although he could also provide art works with a more soft and sensitive touch. Clearly a man of contrasts driven by both both angels and devils as his own Opus 75 ex libris so vividly illustrates. Opus 104 provides a contrasting example of a more subdued style.
Nico Bulder passed away on Jan 30, 1964. His physique could not overcome his chronic lung problems anymore. At the bottom of this page, you see the oil painting that he was working on when his final sickness hit him. The rider on the rearing horse in a thunderstorm never made it home. According to Evert Musch, the painting’s title is “Mephisto in de Veenkoloniën”. We do not know why “Mephisto” (the demon in the Faust legend) was referenced in the title, but obviously the painting is a first design and unfinished.
If you are interested in a 1995 tour of the house on the Hoofdstraat in Hoogezand where Nico Bulder lived most of his adult life click here on the word “Video” or on the Video icon on the top menu bar (courtesy and copyright RTV Noord).
On December 20, 1993, the “Nico Bulder Stichting” (= “Nico Bulder Foundation”) was established in Hoogezand to procure, preserve and promote the work of Nico Bulder. The Foundation is still active and supports the development of this on-line Nico Bulder museum. On initiative of Hendrik Veenhof, one of the past board members who is actively involved with this site, the foundation had their own ex libris made. The design was made by Pam Rueter in honor and appreciation of Nico Bulder. As you can see, Pam tried to incorporate a bit of Nico Bulder’s style.
Here are a few examples of the engraved blocks and of a stone litho next to the end results. My hand is sometimes shown as well to give you an idea about the dimensions. Notice the mirrored images.