#38 The Brabant landscape

The entrance with photos by Karel Tomeï and Paul Bogaers on the wall. Due to the lockdown, one of the video works by Noortje Haegens is in the window. photo Hetty de Groot

As part of the landscape triennial, the Pennings Foundation, together with the Brabant Collectie of Tilburg University and Brabants Landschap, organized an exhibition about Het Groene Woud.

Since 1999, Het Groene Woud has been the romantic name for the green heart within the city triangle of Tilburg, Den Bosch and Eindhoven. This includes the nature reserves Bossche Broek, Kampina, Oisterwijkse Bossen and Vennen, the Loonse and Drunense Duinen, the Mortelen and the Scheeken.

The Groene Woud is an initiative of Brabants Landschap with the aim of preserving the open area and preventing the three cities and their agglomerations from slowly growing towards each other and the area becoming silted up with buildings and business parks. The Groene Woud is part of a larger area that, if all goes according to plan, will be called the Van Gogh National Park.

Opening of the exhibition with Thijs Caspers and Petra Cardinaal in front of photos by Marc Mulders. On the block photos by Anke van Iersel. photo Louis van den Meijdenberg

At the opening on Sunday December 13, 2020, Thijs Caspers of Brabants Landschap gave an inspired speech about Het Groene Woud. He explained that there are a large number of nature reserves in the area that are linked as much as possible by buying land from farmers who have stopped and by constructing wild viaducts over motorways so that animals can move freely. However, because of different interests related to living, working, recreation and infrastructure, Brabants Landschap collaborates with various organizations. All these different interests ultimately determine what the landscape looks like.


Three themes have been elaborated in the exhibition: the landscape in transition, different interests and experiencing the landscape. Both historical photography and work by contemporary photographers and visual artists who have worked in Het Groene Woud are shown. The historical photography comes from the Brabant Collectie and has been selected by curator Emy Thorissen.

It is less known that Martien Coppens also took photographs in Het Groene Woud. photo Paul Slot

Following painters, photographers in the early twentieth century in Brabant captured the idyll of simple farm life and unspoiled nature, knowing that this would disappear through technical progress, economic growth and prosperity. After all, they saw cities expand, industries established and agriculture mechanized.

Van Gogh wrote in 1882 that the area in West Brabant where he grew up was changing. “As a boy I remember the heather and the small farms (…). Now that part of Brabant where I am familiar with has already changed enormously due to reclamation and industry. With a certain melancholy nowadays I see a new pub with a red tiled roof in many places where I remember seeing a mud hut with a mossy thatched roof.” Two years later though, in Nuenen, he still finds the idyll of simple farm life. “And the Brabant that people have dreamed of, reality is sometimes very close to that.” (quotes from letters to his brother Theo)

In the first half of the twentieth century photographers such as Nard Vogels (1900-1973) and Martien Coppens (1908-1986) went in search of that idyll and recorded it. Sometimes literally in a picturesque way, with a low horizon, clear skies and with a flock of sheep or mown hay in the foreground. “The landscape as we know it was created mainly by human intervention. He chops and he plants, he digs and he closes, and his insight is constantly changing… ” (Martien Coppens in his book ‘Landscape of the Dommel’, 1977).

A single landscape by Anton Schellens (1878-1954) has also been included. However, he mainly focused on nostalgic peasant interiors, which are not part of this exhibition.