On Tuesday September 10, my portrait of Wil de Hollander, the recently retired CEO and president of Velcro Industries N.V., was unveiled. I assisted Wil’s successor, Alain Zijlstra, in removing the drapery that covered the portrait. We had some difficulty pulling it off, so of course everyone joked that it had probably been attached with Velcro – it hadn’t! After he spoke about Wil’s legacy, Alain asked me to say a few words about the portrait’s creation and this is what I said:
I’m very excited being here today for the unveiling of my portrait of Wil de Hollander. It was a great pleasure for me to get to know Wil and an honor to paint him.
I’m very passionate about what I do. If I were to win the lottery, I would probably build a larger studio, perhaps on the French Riviera, but I would still keep doing exactly what I love to do the most: paint portraits. I consider myself very fortunate, in that regard.
My goal for each portrait I create is for it to be my best to date. In the words of Michelangelo, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”
When Wil and I first sat down to discuss the portrait, I was impressed by his charming, down-to-earth and engaging nature; as well as his sharp wit and intelligence. He mentioned that, unlike most CEOs, his career path came via the manufacturing route, and not through the business side. So right off the bat I ruled out a formal standing pose.
I’m a firm believer in allowing the best solution to reveal itself, and I immediately realized the way Wil sat before me, with the window light coming from the side, would make for a great portrait. The paneled wall and a low credenza behind him set him off beautifully. They also created a series of verticals and horizontals, which I felt could serve as a perfect metaphor for corporate structure.
I felt that the painting still needed something to balance Wil and visually connect him with the background. I saw in the far corner of the boardroom a brass sculpture which demonstrated the basic way that Velcro worked. I removed it from its pedestal and placed it behind Wil. I liked the way it mirrored the arabesque of his pose and it’s symbolism.
I terms of my technique, I build up of many thin layers of color to achieve a lifelike impression. It’s a very traditional approach and I feel is the most effective way to create the translucent and subtle transitions I seek. It’s very time-consuming but the results, I hope, speak for themselves, and the painting was well worth the wait.
A former client once told me that he felt people would always remember him based on his portrait. Being chosen to define someone’s legacy is a great responsibility, and in the case of painting Wil de Hollander, a very pleasurable experience as well.
Here are some close-ups and details of the painting:
After I spoke, Wil said a few words. He thanked everyone for coming and acknowledged me for my efforts, but what he was most emphatic about pointing out was a very small detail in the painting – which could have been easily overlooked – a Heineken bottle cap.
During our first meeting I had asked Wil, as I do all my clients, if there was something I could add to the painting to personalize it. He immediately responded that he would love being painted holding a bottle of Heineken Beer. Heineken was the first company he worked for and it’s his longstanding beverage of choice. Of course, he said, there is no way it would be appropriate for a boardroom portrait. I suggested that I could paint a Heineken bottle cap hidden in the sculpture’s shadow. There would be no logo visible and unless someone was specifically looking, it would probably remain unnoticed. Wil loved the idea.
During my little speech, I had purposely said nothing – wanting to keep the secret intact – but Wil was so excited upon seeing it in the painting, he pointed it out to everyone.
Until next time…