Poortvliet's nostalgic look at Dutch farm heritage

IN MY GRANDFATHER'S HOUSE Written and illustrated by Rien Poortvliet

New York: Harry N. Abrams, 240 pp. $39.95

RIEN POORTVLIET, the Dutch painter, is also an admirable writer. When these two skills converge in one person, they enlarge each other. His previous books, ``Gnomes,'' ``The Farm Book,'' ``The Living Forest,'' and others, are rich combinations of his talents.

Poortvliet's latest offering for the coffee table (it's 117/8 by 10 inches) is an extensive and unashamedly nostalgic look at his own roots, his family, and Dutch farm life. It's about the daily times of a pastoral people, about farm animals and market towns, beautiful old houses and changing seasons.

Probably no one else painting today has the capacity to transfer to the page the mood of weather and landscape that Poortvliet has. The tabletop flatness of the land, barely above sea level (and some below), might lack the drama other painters would require.

But for Poortvliet it's a stage for the wonderful lowland architecture, the isolated copses of trees, the solitary farmer and wagon trudging back from town, and the enormous sky - essentially an ocean sky, filled with the desultory fog and drizzle hanging over the villages, themselves glowing with friendly warmth.

He is the 11th-generation Poortvliet in this lowland country, tracing his ancestors back to when land was reclaimed from the sea, in love with this place and its people. This shows in his attention to detail. The essential mechanisms of farm life and animal husbandry, of family economy and village government, are all explored and documented as they change through the centuries. His interest in home life is pervasive, down to the furniture, fireplaces, lamps, and eating utensils.

By the end of the book you feel you know the life of the land and its history, and that's some accomplishment, since the Netherlands is a rather private and unspectacular place.

Poortvliet's grandfathers are numbered, going back to the earliest one for whom records could be found - grandfather No. 9, a dike builder in the 1600s. They are all naturally addressed as ``Opa.'' Opa No. 8, a day laborer, was born in 1607, about the same time as Rembrandt van Rijn. The others are Dutch working stock down to Poortvliet's immediate grandfather, who left the country to become a plasterer who, in his spare time, painted pictures.

Rien Poortvliet has become Holland's most famous contemporary painter, and maybe one of its most evocative. In some paintings he renders things a little too photographically to please all the critics. There's a Rockwellian warmth and cutesiness that will cause some viewers dismay.

But his narrative is clear and authoritative - marking Poortvliet as a special talent. To my mind he is closer to Eric Sloane, the American country landscape artist who was popular a generation ago, than to anyone who has come along in a while.

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