In the history of art, I am particularly impressed by Jan van Eyck’s paintings. I understand them immediately and my response is quite spontaneous […]. From Vermeer, I have learnt a lot about colour and colour in space, […]Vermeer, Van Eyck and I perceive nature in a similar way. Our depiction of the natural world has nothing to do with the natural landscape, but with an eternal rhythm .3
Here, it is obvious that Verheyen recognised the connection between the tradition of representational painting and his own non-representational art. They shared the characteristic on which his entire aesthetic programme was based — colour. He regarded the depiction of nature in painted colours not as a representational reproduction of reality, but as an artist’s interpretation of the “eternal”, transcendental connection of being, made visible in colour. In his published writings and numerous unpublished annotations, letters and interviews, Verheyen dealt extensively with colour theory, the relationship between colour and space and the effects of light and colour materials. He was not concerned with developing a colourful, individual style or establishing a set of personal principles. What he was seeking was a universally valid law of effect. In his manifesto, Pour une peinture non plastique (A Plea for Non-pictorial Painting), he argued that colour recognition was an “exact science”. According to Verheyen, most painters “complain about the INACCESSIBILITY of colour”, but, he claims, only their own lack of interest in colour was to blame: They are all trying to develop a personal way of using colour as a means of expression. However, not one of them has even begun to discover the exact value of a colour. They use colour without realising that they must also understand the connectivity that exists between colours. Instead of investigating colour per se, they attune their skills to the materials they have readily to hand.4
3 Ibid. 4 Pour une peinture non plastique 1959, quotation from the typescript of the unpublished German translation, Für eine nicht plastische Malerei in the Verheyen Archive. 5 Ibid.
Even so, he continues, in practice it depends on “giving a colour its highest level of effectiveness” which, in turn, requires a precise definition of the tangible and intangible characteristics of the colour in question: “It is possible to define a colour, insofar as we can recognise it as a connection between tangible matter and absolute, namely intangible, transparency.”5 Here, it is not possible even to begin to present the rudiments of Verheyen’s physical and metaphysical approach to colour. Even a quarter of a century after his death, his theoretical deliberations and their relationship with tra82
monography of the works of Jef Verheyen