Leo Gestel, an all-round artist

His lines are always on point, without any hesitation, and instantly recognizable. Leo Gestel, together with Piet Modriaan and Jan Sluijters, is one of the great Dutch Modernist masters. He was a one of kind artist due to his gifted artistry, but his drawing was probably his biggest talent. Born Leendert Gestel, the public knows him as Leo; a name that is a remnant of his time at the Royal Academy in Amsterdam, where his study-mates lovingly named him ‘Leo’, after Leonardo da Vinci.

He embraces this badge of honour and uses it to sign his works, from 1904 onwards. It is around the time when he works at the Jan Steen-attic, the legendary atelier in the Amsterdam Pijp-quarter, where avant-garde artists and art-critics meet up and exchange insights and views. Here lie seventeen years of his productive life, seventeen years that proved to be a defining period in his life.

Experimental with styles
Gestel is an artist who isn’t easily labelled. His close friendship to Sluijters and Mondriaan poses him at the vanguard of Dutch painting. Gestel seeks to develop himself and to innovate throughout his lifetime. He was very much up to date on the latest in modern art, due to his many visits to Paris in the early twentieth century. He experiments with styles such as cubism and fauvism. He uses these styles to draw from and interprets them in his work, developing a new signature imagery.

At 1914, Leo Gestel stays at the isle of Mallorca. Cubism is one of the leading inspirational movements. He deconstructs reality as he experiences it, and then puts it together in a new, reinterpreted reality. During his stay at the Spanish island, he produces a series of landscapes in intense, zingy colours, oozing the energy of his surroundings then and there. They show his unparalleled skill to captivate the Mediterranean light and how Gestel plays with geometrical shapes.

Leo Gestel’s tenure as an artist was fairly limited; his constitution was poorly and Gestel passes a couple of days after his 60th birthday. In the years following his death, Gestel’s popularity diminishes. But today, his work is appreciated more than ever, by a wide audience. Many museum collections, both national and international, have Leo Gestel’s work, for instance, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and the Haags Gemeentemuseum.