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Lilian De Vries-Abegg


In December 1995, Lilian de Vries-Abegg surprised the Surinamese public, with a solo exhibition of works in gouache and watercolour on special oriental papers, at the Centro de Andres Bellos. Lilian de Vries-Abegg was previously known as the wife of Artist Erwin de Vries and a virtuoso flautist.

The biggest surprise for art-loving Suriname was that Lilian had managed to present her totally unique style.

Especially the women among us realize how difficult it is as a woman, next to a dominant, dynamic man, a great master in his field, enter his field and still find your own way.

Lilian Abegg was born in Brabant. As a young girl, she wondered: “Who am I? What does life have to offer?” She knew there had to be more than the little world she lived in. She left “au pair” for Paris in search of for herself. Paris wasn’t really what she was looking for after all. There are 75% foreigners live in Paris. You hardly come into contact with the authentic Parisians. After Paris, she went to Amsterdam. There she met Erwin. She was then 19 years old. She liked the Surinamese atmosphere she found herself in.
‘By immersing yourself in another culture, you get to know yourself better. Surinamese people are more extroverted and can relax more. The Dutch are much more introverted and have the European work stress of always performing’.

When she meets Erwin, he is preparing for his first solo exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum. In his studio, it is a cheerful, convivial scene with his assistants, lots of plaster, burlap, and stone mesh. Through Erwin, the world of art is opened to Lilian, and she meets what she was looking for. Lilian experiences Art as letting go of the material and search for values in life.

Music and the arts
At the age of 23, Lilian decides to go to the conservatory. She is admitted and during the 5-year course she specializes in Baroque music. Holding her 1-year-old eldest daughter Gudrun, she proudly receives her diploma from the, at the time, very conservative Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam.

There are two main reasons why Lilian did not become a performing musician.

  • After Gudrun came a second daughter Sabine.
    Lilian chose motherhood. She feels that motherhood is undervalued and that you have to make time for it. As a professional musician, you have to play 6 hours a day. Motherhood is difficult to combine with that.
  • Not long after the birth of Sabine, Erwin wanted to return to Suriname. As a flautist, you usually play with others, not all by yourself. In Suriname, she fell into a void in that respect.

The transition from music to visual art is less significant than one might initially think. As the 20th century progressed, visual artists increasingly moved away from classical painting or sculpture. Examples include Meret Oppenheim’s gazelle fur-covered cup/dish/spoon (1936) and Marcel Duchamp’s found objects, such as the urinal declared a work of art (1960s).

As Performance Art, among others, develops in the 1970s, art forms begin to cross each other’s borders. Drama, visual art, music, and dance merge.

Lilian then states:

“Music is vibration. Visual art also consists of concentrations of vibrations of energy. Music is art and art is music.”

Vision and philosophy
“Artists used to be craftsmen, now art has become a purely individual matter, and some well-known artists cannot even draw,” says Lilian. Still, she thinks it is important for an artist to master basic techniques. Before coming to Suriname, she did model painting for 2 years. Nude model painting, because she finds that in it everything is covered: composition, space, form, etc.

She often paints nature: birds, plants, flowers; because she thinks nature is important for humanity. “Especially the European has lost contact with nature, while man is part of nature, and should live in harmony with nature.”

In her abstract work, she tries to bring out the emotional bearing of art. “In Europe, abstraction has come to an end point with Mondrian. Art has become too analytical and uninformative. Man has become alienated from his own nature. We have an emotional side, which is negated. Technology makes people run after material things. Ancient Eastern philosophies go much further into the nature of man. There, for centuries, the circle, the square, the triangle has been seen as summarizing certain emotions.

Text: K. Tjon Pian Gi
Paramaribo, March 1998

Her first exhibition in 1998 was followed by several exhibitions in Suriname and the Netherlands. On February 11, 2021, Lilian Abegg passed away. Read more about her career here: